Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Pleydell Wilton (1795–1859)

by Herbert Marshall

This article was published:

Charles Pleydell Neale Wilton (1795-1859), Church of England chaplain, was born on 24 October 1795 at Stow, Gloucestershire, England, the son of Rev. William Wilton and his wife Charlotte, née Jelf. He was educated at St John's College, Cambridge (B.A., 1817; M.A., 1827), and ordained by the bishop of Gloucester in December 1820. On 1 January 1823 in the parish of Awre, Gloucester, he married Elizabeth Plaistowe. Appointed chaplain for New South Wales in October 1826, he sailed from London with his wife in the Elizabeth and arrived in Sydney in April 1827.

Wilton became incumbent of the parish of the Field of Mars and Castle Hill and master of the Female Orphan School at Parramatta, receiving £250 as chaplain, £150 as master, and a house. His wife was the matron and after her health broke down she had to be replaced, but Wilton still claimed her salary. He soon had other quarrels with his superior, Archdeacon Thomas Scott, over his duties and his connexions with Frederick Wright Unwin, a solicitor and fellow passenger who, as temporary accountant of the trustees of the Church and School Corporation, was thought by Scott to have connived with Wilton in dubious transactions of more than £1000. The charges proved baseless but Wilton resigned his appointments in December 1828 and talked of returning to England. He applied instead for the chaplaincy at Newcastle and was appointed in 1831, the third and last of its chaplains.

At Newcastle Wilton regularly visited the primary school and conducted services at Christ Church, in the gaol and in the general hospital, where he was also a vigorous president of the committee. Although he owned a farm and orchard on Moscheto Island in the Hunter River and personally supervised his assigned convict servants, he was prompt and energetic in his parochial duties. His earliest tour extended as far as Muswellbrook, and he later visited different parts of the Hunter River each month until Rev. G. K. Rusden was appointed at Maitland in 1834 and parishes were formed at Hexham and Raymond Terrace in 1839. Wilton shared actively in forming the Newcastle Church Society in April 1851, and was one of the four senior Hunter River clergymen who helped Bishop William Tyrrell in planning a diocesan synod and in drafting a petition to the Queen for an inquiry into the constitution of the Church of England in Australia.

To all his clerical duties Wilton added a lively and versatile concern for the spiritual and intellectual needs of the colonists. He was a fellow of the Cambridge Philosophical Society and of the Ashmolean Society of Oxford, and a corresponding member of the Tasmanian Society. In 1828 he founded and edited the Australian Quarterly Journal of Theology, Literature and Science, of which four numbers were published. Through his efforts a Mechanics' Institute was started in June 1835 in a room in King Street, Newcastle; its later home in Watt Street stood for over a century and, when demolished, revealed beneath its foundation stone a copper plate with Wilton's name as president. His lectures and publications ranged from burning mountains to education, from agriculture to sea snakes, from Aboriginals to encrinites, without losing sight of simple eternal verities.

Elizabeth Wilton died at Newcastle on 21 December 1836, aged 39, predeceased by two children. On 14 October 1839 Wilton married Charlotte Albinia, eldest daughter of Benjamin Sullivan, police magistrate at Raymond Terrace. To the end, a conscientious churchman and active in encouraging science, Wilton died on 5 June 1859 at Newcastle. He was survived by his widow, a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 14-16, 18
  • R. G. Boodle, The Life and Labours of the Right Rev. William Tyrrell (Lond, 1881)
  • E. C. Rowland, A Century of the English Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1948)
  • G. H. Nadel, Australia's Colonial Culture (Melb, 1957)
  • A. P. Elkin, ‘Some Early Chaplains and Churches in the Hunter River Valley’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 23, part 2, 1937, pp 122-48.

Citation details

Herbert Marshall, 'Wilton, Charles Pleydell (1795–1859)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 April 2024.

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, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 October, 1795
Stowe, Gloucestershire, England


5 June, 1859 (aged 63)
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

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