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WILLIAM MACQUARIE COWPER, 1ST NATIVE BORN CLERGY, DEAN of SYDNEY

The entire was addressed to The Revd W. M. Cowper, Stroud, Carrington and it has a large black ink ms. ‘12'. It was postmarked with an oval CAMDEN/ [Crown]/ JU 1 [Rosette]/ 1842/ NEW.S.WALES (Figures 1 & 2).

The reverse has an unopened letter and an oval with a large crown above with GENERAL POST OFFICE/ JU [Rosette] 2/ 1842/ SYDNEY (Figure 3).

As the latter postmark is faint, the five oval Sydney reception postmarks all used in 1842, as seen in James S. White’s ‘The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901' on page 47, are shown to distinguish between the different types (Figure 4).

William Macquarie Cowper was born at Sydney on 3 July 1810, the only child born to Rev. William Cowper and his second wife, Ann Barrel. Governor and Mrs. Macquarie were his god-parents. After being educated by his father at home, in 1827 sixteen year old ‘Mac’ left for England to prepare for Holy Orders. He holds the honour of being Australia’s first native-born clergyman, and, because he was educated in England, he would always be regarded as a first-class clergyman, not just a colonial.

His father wrote to him regularly during the period of his education, not only answering his son’s questions and offering advice for further reading, but also urging ‘Mac’ to carefully watch his life as well as his doctrine, because of the seriousness of the call to the ministry of Christ’s gospel. These letters clearly played an important part in William Macquarie being more firmly grounded in the evangelical vision which he had caught from his father, and which he would himself staunchly maintain the rest of his days.

In 1835 William Macquarie graduated, was ordained and married to Margaret Burroughs. The pair arrived back in NSW in 1836, and almost immediately went to Stroud, where Cowper junior served as the Chaplain to the Australian Agricultural Company for the next twenty years. When Bishop William Tyrrell arrived in 1848, he found W.M. Cowper to be his loyal supporter and a key influence in the building of the Diocese of Newcastle. Tyrrell recognized Cowper’s considerable gifts and invited him to move to Morpeth to begin a training institution for Newcastle Clergy.

But it was another theological college that took Cowper from Stroud. Following the death of his wife Margaret in 1854, and the arrival of the new Bishop of Sydney in 1855, William Macquarie felt it was time to return home. Bishop Barker provided him the opportunity to do so by inviting him to become the Acting Principal of Moore College, which opened at Liverpool on 1 March 1856.

Once William Macquarie Cowper was back in Sydney, he was there to stay. Having served in the ministry for 20 years already by the time he arrived, he went on to serve in this diocese for a further forty-six years. After Moore College, he went to St John’s Bishopthorpe, Glebe, at the end of 1856. Here he supervised the planting of a new church in the Blackwattle Swamp area, later known as St Barnabas (Broadway). When his father died in July 1858, he was almost immediately appointed to be his replacement at St Philip’s. At the same time, Bishop Barker announced that Cowper had become the first Dean of Sydney. This was a nominal appointment for about ten years, but when St Andrew’s Cathedral was consecrated in 1868, Cowper properly entered the ministry that gave him his long-remembered title, that still differentiates him from his father, Archdeacon Cowper, namely, Dean Cowper.

William Macquarie Cowper became Barker’s right hand man, thus bringing the older evangelical heritage of Sydney into the inner circle of Barker’s ‘new broom’. When Cowper died on 14 June, 1902, and he was buried at St. Jude’s cemetery in Randwick after a long illness, and still in office, just before his 92nd birthday, Australia’s first native-born clergyman had earned such respect that he was ‘the Church’s unquestioned patriarch’. A picture of the Reverend William Macquarie Cowper is seen in Figure 5.

Together, the two William Cowpers were largely responsible for the strength and vitality of Evangelicalism in Sydney. This father and son succession took the evangelical beliefs and patterns of ministry rooted in eighteenth century Yorkshire, and brought them across nineteenth and into early twentieth-century New South Wales.

This paper was largely derived from Mark Thompson’s paper ‘Theological Theology’ with a contribution from The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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