Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Wight (1817–1900)

by G. L. Lockley

This article was published:

George Wight (1817-1900), Congregational minister and journalist, was born at Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, son of James Wight, gentleman, and his wife Marian, née Brock. Trained for the ministry of the United Secession Church he chose to be ordained a Congregationalist and served at Doune (1843-47), Haddington (1847-54) and Portobello (1855-57), where he edited Hogg's Instructor and published Geology and Genesis: A Reconciliation … (London, 1857). With Moreton Bay about to become Queensland he accepted the task of establishing a church in Brisbane. Wight reached Sydney on 4 February 1858, supplied the Balmain pulpit temporarily and arrived in Brisbane on 15 May. He immediately gathered a congregation, prepared people for communicant membership, formed a church on 6 July 1859, and opened the substantial Wharf Street chapel on 10 June next year. Convinced that the colony should be inaugurated without state aid to religion and with a National rather than a Denominational education system, he campaigned successfully to have those principles enacted in the first parliament.

Believing that his Church was firmly established he resigned on 29 July 1860 and returned to his family in Scotland. His wife died and, after his remarriage, the family settled in Brisbane in 1863. While Wight undertook no formal pastorate he built a chapel on his Eildon Hill property, and maintained services there until its removal to O'Connelltown (Windsor) in 1879 for use by a new Congregational church. He remained active in Church affairs and was twice chairman of the Queensland Congregational Union (1864-65, 1886-87).

To support the secular education campaign, Wight founded the Queensland Guardian in May 1860 and maintained his interest in it until it ceased publication in the bank crisis of 1869; his own influential articles appeared over the pen-name, 'Willinghood'. He also published Queensland, the Field for British Labour and Enterprise … (London, 1861), The Old Faiths of India and Christianity … (Brisbane, 1886), and Congregational Independency: Its Introduction to Queensland … (Brisbane, 1887). His interest in science made him a foundation member (in 1859) and committee-man of the Queensland Philosophical (Royal) Society. Until 1867 papers presented to the society, including three of his own, were published in the Guardian.

In 1874 Wight became the colony's immigration lecturer in Scotland, and distributed 50,000 copies of his pamphlet, Queensland, the Colony for Working Men. He returned to Brisbane in 1877 to expressions of government gratitude for effective work. In failing health he moved to Melbourne in 1888 and, aged 83, died there on 25 October 1900. He had first married Jessie Clapperton, née Chapman, possibly in 1843. She died in the late 1850s and on 24 December 1860 he married Mary Ann Laing, at Burntisland, Fifeshire, Scotland; she died in Brisbane on 14 August 1868. In Melbourne on 19 September 1889 he married Ellen Penketh Brown. There were five children of the first marriage, and four of the second of whom two daughters drowned in the wreck of the Quetta in Torres Strait on 28 February 1890.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Mackelvie, Annals and Statistics of the United Presbyterian Church (Edinb, 1873)
  • H. Escott, A History of Scottish Congregationalism (Glasgow, 1960)
  • E. N. Marks, ‘A history of the Queensland Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of Queensland from 1859 to 1911’, Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 71 (1959)
  • Victorian Independent, Nov 1900
  • Colonial Missionary Society, Minutes and reports (London).

Citation details

G. L. Lockley, 'Wight, George (1817–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 July 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

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Willinghood

Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland


25 October, 1900 (aged ~ 83)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.