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James Swanton Waugh (1822–1898)

by Renate Howe

This article was published:

James Swanton Waugh (1822-1898), Wesleyan clergyman, was born on 22 March 1822 at Newtownbarry, County Wexford, Ireland, son of Rev. John Waugh, of the Irish Wesleyan Conference, and his wife Sarah, née Swanton. He was educated at private schools and at the Royal School, Dungannon. In 1837 he was indentured to a physician and surgeon in Dublin but decided to prepare for the ministry and went to the Wesleyan Theological Institution at Hoxton near London. Ordained in 1840 he was appointed to Dublin circuits, but poor health, his father's death and depression in Ireland led him to volunteer to serve on the goldfields in Victoria. On arrival in the Beulah in Melbourne on 8 February 1854 he was appointed superintendent of the St Kilda circuit. In 1858 he returned to Ireland and married Olivia Eleanor Fayle of Parson's Town, King's County (Offaly); they had five sons and five daughters.

Waugh returned to Victoria and a year later was assigned to the newly built Wesley Church, Melbourne; he also edited the Wesleyan Chronicle and, despite conference threats to close it down, he improved its quality and increased its circulation before going to the Lydiard Street circuit, Ballarat, in March 1862. His election as president of the Australasian Conference in 1865 indicated his influence among the Wesleyans. As treasurer of the Chapel and Building Fund, he was associated with Rev. D. Draper in obtaining sites for chapels and distributing money for buildings; and as chairman of the conference educational committee he wanted a single board which would allow local school committees to provide undenominational religious teaching. He maintained this policy after the 1872 Education Act and was later elected vice-president of the National Instruction League, an interdenominational organization formed to introduce religious teaching into state schools.

As president until 1883 of Wesley College (founded 1866), Waugh sought a 'liberal and pious' education grounded in Scripture. He was also tutor of the Theological Institution attached to the college although he advocated a separate school under an English theologian. Waugh was also custodian of Church deeds, the Church's appointee in its dealings with the Victorian government, and president of the General Conference of Australasia in 1881. After spending 1884 in the Richmond circuit he retired to Hawthorn.

Waugh was traditionalist in conference debates and opposed lay participation in the appointment and discipline of ministers. He also opposed union with the minor Methodist Churches because he feared the greater power of their laymen. He contributed more to Wesleyanism as an administrator rather than as a theologian and educationist. Although reputedly scholarly he wrote little outside the denominational magazine. In 1879 the degree of Doctor of Divinity was simultaneously conferred on him by Albion College, Michigan, and Indiana (de Pauw) University, Asbury. Predeceased by three daughters, he died of heart disease at Hawthorn on 6 November 1898 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Illustrated Australian News, 14 May 1884
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 19 Nov 1898
  • R. Howe, The Wesleyan Church in Victoria, 1855-1901: Its Ministry and Membership (M.A. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1965).

Citation details

Renate Howe, 'Waugh, James Swanton (1822–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

James Swanton Waugh (1822-1898), by John Cochran, 1865

James Swanton Waugh (1822-1898), by John Cochran, 1865

Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, National Library of New Zealand, ATL ref. A-043-004

Life Summary [details]


22 March, 1822
Newtownbarry, Wexford, Ireland


6 November, 1898 (aged 76)
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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