Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Waterfield (1795–1868)

by C. A. McCallum

This article was published:

William Waterfield (1795-1868), Congregational minister, was born on 24 March 1795 at Derby, England. After a youth 'devoted to unprofitable amusements', he became a church member, Sunday school teacher and lay preacher. He was accepted for the ministry and trained at Rotherham College, Yorkshire. In May 1828 he was ordained as a pastor of the Independent Church at Wrexham, north Wales. He remained there for ten years and then offered his services to the Colonial Missionary Society, to which Henry Hopkins of Hobart Town had appealed for a minister for the Port Phillip District. Waterfield was appointed; in December 1837 he sailed from England in the Aberdeenshire, and reached Hobart in the following April and Melbourne in the Adelaide a month later.

Waterfield was cordially welcomed by the small group of Congregationalists in Melbourne as their first minister. On 17 May 1838 he preached to some fifty persons in the little wooden Church of England building in William Street. Later he held services in the home of John Gardiner, in a large room fitted as a chapel in John Pascoe Fawkner's hotel in Market Street, and in a temporary place of worship in Bourke Street. Soon after Waterfield's arrival the Independents applied to the government for a site for a church and school. They were given an acre and three-quarters (0.7 ha) of section 10 of the Melbourne survey, on the north-eastern corner of Russell and Collins Streets. In December 1839 Henry Hopkins set the foundation stone of a brick church, Melbourne's first permanent place of worship. Waterfield lived in a cottage in the grounds, and until the end of 1839 his stipend was paid privately by Hopkins. The church was opened on 1 January 1841.

The financial crisis of the 1840s seriously obstructed Waterfield's ministry and he met unexpected discouragement from some of his church members. He resigned in March 1843 and in July went with his wife to Van Diemen's Land, where for five years he served as a missionary on the Forth, Don and Leven Rivers. The work proved too heavy for him and in 1848 he accepted the charge of the Congregational Church at Green Ponds. In 1860 he suffered a severe illness which left him with impaired health. He finally retired from active work in 1866 and died of apoplexy on 17 May 1868. He was buried in the Green Ponds cemetery. He was survived by his daughters; his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Liddell Purvis of Berwick upon Tweed, whom he had married in June 1842, had died at Green Ponds in April 1865, aged 48.

Waterfield was a genial and warm-hearted man whose upright life and devotion to his pastoral duties earned him the regard of the members of his own and other denominations. As the first Independent minister in Melbourne he served his church and the community well. He gathered a strong congregation and took a prominent part in religious affairs. He was liberal in his outlook and sought and gained, to an unusual degree, the co-operation of his fellow clergy of the other churches.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Burchett, ‘History of Victorian Congregationalism’, Jubilee Volume of Victorian Congregationalism (Melb, 1888)
  • Victorian Congregational Year Book, 1870
  • ‘Extracts from the Diary of the Rev. William Waterfield, First Congregational Minister at Port Phillip, 1838-1843’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 3, no 3, Mar 1914, pp 105-27
  • Hobart Town Courier, 1 Feb 1845
  • W. Waterfield diary, 1838-43 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

C. A. McCallum, 'Waterfield, William (1795–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 September 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


24 March, 1795
Derby, Derbyshire, England


17 May, 1868 (aged 73)
Tasmania, Australia

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