Philanthropists and Philanthropy

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Joseph Paxton (1828-1882)

Joseph Paxton (1828-1882) Miner, Musician, Philanthropist and Churchman

Joseph Paxton was, to a remarkable degree, both a financial and a governance philanthropist. He was born on 10 May 1828 at Dunbar, Scotland, to James a journeyman boot maker and Margaret (nee Greig) Paxton. Though a brass founder by trade Joseph was a gifted singer and musician and he taught music and also led the singing in one of the Edinburgh churches for some six years.[1] He married Elizabeth Bennett in 1853 and they left for the colony of NSW arriving in Sydney in early 1854.[2] Their daughter Margaret born in 1854 died in 1855 but two further children, James Alexander (1856) and Elizabeth Bennett (1860) were born to the family at Tambaroora (Hill End).

Joseph Paxton

Joseph Paxton

The Entertainer

Initially Paxton earned a living in Sydney by giving performances of Scottish Songs and he also toured giving concerts in the Hunter Valley. His singing was appreciated and was compared in style to the famous Scots singers Wilson and Templeton with ‘interest being sustained by anecdotes and explanatory remarks illustrative of the songs’.[3] It would appear that Joseph, as an entertainer, was comfortable being a public figure and throughout his life was willing to express his opinions on various subjects. These public skills and attitudes would later lead him to often be chosen to chair public meetings of various organisations.

The Gold Miner

In late 1854 the family left for the Gold Diggings on the Turon River in NSW where Paxton took up a miner’s right on Hawkin’s Hill at Hill End.[4] By 1866, Paxton entered a partnership with William Holman and some others to form Paxton, Holman and Co whose purpose was to mine a claim on Hawkins Hill.[5] There were some 32 men employed on the site working both day and night and probably six days a week and after thirteen months of extremely hard work the first ore was crushed in March 1869. In the period June 1870-May 1871 the mine was producing some £16,000 (approximately $2 million current value) worth of gold[6] and the value of the area was shown when, in 1872, one nugget was found which on its own was worth £16,000.[7] Paxton was involved in numerous other mining ventures and partnerships at Hill End[8] as mining required considerable capital to exploit the deposits. There were 255 Companies on the Hill End goldfield in 1872-1873 and they had a combined nominal capital of £3,673,937 of which Paxton’s company was the biggest by far with a nominal capital of £160,000.[9]  As a miner and mine owner, Paxton was concerned for the safety of mining and was part of a deputation to the Minister for Lands to seek the appointment of a mines inspector for gold mines. He said that many accidents which had taken place on the gold-fields were due in many instances to the incompetency and utter ignorance of men appointed by boards of directors as mine managers.[10] He had no patience with those mine owners and companies that cited cost as a deterrence to the appointment of a mines inspector for such miners who were under capitalised had no right to exist if they did not have the funds to protect the lives of their men.[11]  He thought that by such an appointment the Government might incur the displeasure of some but would at the same time earn the gratitude of thousands of miners.[12]

Hill End Activities

Paxton did not spend all his time in the mines looking for gold as he was appointed to the Hill End Public School Board in 1870,[13] a Justice of the Peace in 1874,[14] an Alderman of the Hill End Council from 1884-1887[15] and was also a devout Christian who was deeply involved as a member and Elder of the Hill End Presbyterian Church. As there was no minister at Hill End Paxton took it upon himself to go about the district after Sabbath services, which he had probably conducted, visiting people. Where possible he gave them a bible tract and prayed with anyone who would admit him to their house. As Paxton said:

this is what they who have been tested in Sabbath schools had to do in the bush, where a minster was not seen except at intervals of six or twelve months and where the people had to be their own schoolmasters as well as their own minister [16]

By 1871, Paxton had become an exceedingly rich man and he used some of his wealth to support the construction of St Paul’s Presbyterian Church at Hill End as he was later to do in 1877 at Glebe.[17] When laying the Hill End Church foundation stone in December 1871 he said that

 he had prayed and laboured long for what they now were about to witness. This day they had been called together to see a stone laid on which was to be reared a house for God wherein the Presbyterians could meet and worship.[18]

Mrs Elizabeth Paxton

Mrs Elizabeth Paxton

Move to Sydney

His wealth enabled him to leave the goldfields and by the end of 1871[19] he and his family had moved permanently to Sydney. On his arrival there the Paxtons took a house in Macquarie Street Sydney[20] and later that year were living in Ashfield[21] at Paxton House on a seven acre property, and by around 1874 they were living in Glebe.[22] Shortly after the family moved to Sydney tragedy struck Joseph and Elizabeth as their son, James Alexander, who was attending the Grammar School with a view to training for the ministry, was drowned in the Hawkesbury River during an excursion for his cadet corps. Paxton was to be deeply affected by this loss.[23]

After moving to Sydney Paxton retained his involvement at Hill End and also developed various business interests. He was a director of several gold mining companies and also served for many years on the board of the Australian Gas Light Company.[24] He was a diligent member of the Paris Exhibition Commission[25] being responsible, together with Professor Archibald Liversidge and CS Wilkinson,[26] for the minerals and mining exhibit. These activities were not indicative of his major interests, but the wealth gained from mining allowed Paxton to live off his assets and investments and enjoy a life in which he could devote himself to promoting those causes that concerned him. Joseph’s main interests from this time were religious, musical and philanthropic. This change in emphasis in his activities, particularly his philanthropy, did not suddenly result from his trying bereavement but was more an intensification of existing interests for

 even when Joseph Paxton was a poor labouring man he continued through the long years of this struggle to contribute his mite to the advancement of any good cause, and when this failed he gave his personal service. During his late years he had the satisfaction of finding himself more free in person and purse to carry out his benevolent intentions.[27]

Philanthropic Activities

Paxton was a notable philanthropist, but was so for a relatively short period of time. He only had the resources for significant philanthropy for only some ten years from the time of his amassing a fortune until his death. Nineteenth century philanthropy in which Paxton engaged can be regarded as a spectrum of activity and may be classified into five overlapping categories: philanthropy as civic engagement which seeks to build better community structures and services, as reform that seeks to solve social problems addressing issues of justice though legislation, as relief which seeks to alleviate human suffering, as improvement which seeks to maximise individual human potential, and as spiritual engagement that seeks to introduce people to and encourage them in the Christian faith.[28]

 Philanthropy as spiritual engagement

Paxton appears to have been a member of the Orange Lodge describing the Orange Institution as ‘one of the most useful, yet one of the least understood and most misrepresented in existence’. He was of the view that being an Orangeman was meant to make one ‘all the better neighbour, husband, father and Christian’ and that one could not be a good Orangeman without being a Christian.[29] Yet he gave little time to the Orange Lodge but he was a loyal and involved Presbyterian and a member, in addition to Hill End, successively of Philip Street and Macquarie Street Sydney,[30] Ashfield (St David’s) and the Glebe Presbyterian Churches. In 1874,[31] although no longer residing in the district, Paxton was ordained an elder of the Hill End Presbyterian Church, being its representative elder at the GANSW,[32] but by 1875 he had agreed to become an elder at the newly formed Glebe Church.[33] The Hill End Church expressed

 their deep sense of the services rendered to religion generally and this congregation in particular by the liberality evinced by Mr Paxton in the support afforded by him of all that tended to advance the cause of our Zion and the spread of evangelical religion and morals on Hill End.[34]

Paxton was active within the Presbyterian Church as an elder and sought to promote the ministry of the church. He donated £300 for the purpose of bringing three ministers out from Scotland to increase the numbers and the quality of the NSW church’s clergy. In 1874, as a result of this, three university trained men all under the age of the thirty,[35] namely the Rev John Auld (Free Church), John Wardrop (Established Church) and Andrew Gardiner (United Presbyterian), began their ministry in the colony.[36] Later in 1879, together with other prominent elders, such as John Hay Goodlet, Paxton donated £100 to guarantee the salary of John Ross who was brought to the colony to help the PCNSW commence a sustentation fund to supplement the salaries of its ministers. While Paxton lived to see the good that these men would do he was spared the heartache of seeing the trouble that both Ross and Gardiner would bring to the Church, and in the case of Gardiner the devastation to Paxton’s own family.[37]

As Convener of the PCNSW Sustentation Fund Paxton travelled with Ross throughout NSW visiting local churches. Paxton was often asked to lay the foundation stone of various Presbyterian churches and during this time of church building he laid the foundation stones of Forbes[38] [1874], St Andrews Adelong[39] [1877], Tumut[40] [1877], Cooma[41] [1880] and Lismore[42] [1881]. He was even asked, perhaps with an eye to a donation he might leave, to lay the foundation stone of the Primitive Methodist Church Pyrmont[43] [1876] and the Primitive Methodist Church Pitt Town[44] [1876]. Paxton’s activism on behalf of the Presbyterian Church was part of his desire to realise its grand aim, which Paxton expressed as ‘to occupy the whole of their vast territory, and to establish a Presbyterian cause in every town and hamlet in the land’.[45]

Musical Activities

Paxton’s musical activities were an extension of his service in the cause of the Presbyterian Church. Paxton was appointed the Convener of the committee on Psalmody for the PCNSW in 1875[46] and was instrumental in the formation of the Presbyterian Psalmody Association. This was a group of men and women, precentors and others, whose aim was to promote and improve psalmody within the Presbyterian Church.[47] While touring the state Paxton also exercised his musical talents often lecturing on psalmody and the use of music in church. He frequently led worship services and especially services of songs for children which involved his considerable musical and choral skills. To promote ‘The Service of Song in the House of the Lord’[48] at these meetings he took a cabinet harmonium or organ with him. He was in great demand and travelled extensively throughout NSW, Tasmania,[49] Victoria and once to New Zealand[50] as he sought to improve the church’s use of music and song. In 1878, he published a lecture on Psalmody which contained the content of the instruction he gave on such visits.[51]  He believed that the Presbyterian Church and its members had undervalued ‘praise as a part of public worship’ and decried the view that ‘by singing very slow, and as melancholy as possible’ that such praise was what was acceptable to God.[52] Yet he was critical of turning worship services into ‘opera houses’,  with choirs singing to the glory of themselves,[53] and of the American practice of having stages and paid choirs, full orchestras and professional singers.[54] On the other hand, he was critical of the monopoly on praise of precentors who produced an ‘unearthly and by no means heavenly sound’ which was a one man show that others were unable to join, or if they did so the effect was dreadful.[55] He was concerned at the jettisoning of old tunes in favour of new ones, not that he opposed the use of new tunes, but that ‘when the old tunes were polished up and sung in proper time nothing can equal them’.[56] The cause of bad singing, he said

 is attributed by some to the ‘precentor, ’the want of a choir’, ‘the want of an instrument’, ‘the people’, ‘the minister’; but I make bold to say, that in my opinion the fault lies with the office-bearers. They are appointed by the people and they should do their duty.[57]

In Paxton’s view it was the fault of the elders of the congregation who had oversight of such matters and it was they who needed to take action to ensure that the psalmody of the church was appropriate. He warned, however, that

to force the introduction of a new Hymn-book, or Harmonium, a Choir, or selection of Tunes, is likely to break the peace of the most harmonious congregation. Still there is a danger in the other extreme of being too intolerant of anything new or usual in the mode of praising God. There can be no doubt that the harmonium kept in its proper place is of great assistance in the service of God.[58]

Precentors should be chosen from those who ‘have given their hearts to God’ and he said that they should be in attitude like Haydn who said ‘when I was working at the creation I felt myself so penetrated with religion, that before I sat down to my piano, I prayed confidently to God to give me the talent to praise him worthily’.[59]

Paxton was, he said,

very desirous of promoting the interests of congregational singing in the praise of God, and he desired that leaders of music should pay great attention to suit the music to the words and nature of the subject.[60]

He demonstrated with organ and song what he meant and did so sometimes with songs of his own composition.[61] One newspaper, with perhaps excessive generosity, described him as ‘the Australian Sankey’.[62] Paxton felt that Psalmody had much improved since he was a boy but that there was room for further improvement and he was ‘endeavouring to lend a helping hand in this grand progressiveness of the praise of God in the sanctuary’.[63] Being progressive meant that on the then controversial issue concerning the use of music in church he was in favour of musical accompaniment and the use of hymns. He regarded ‘the human voice as superior to any instrument giving forth music’ but, for various reasons, found it not only desirable but necessary to use an instrument as an accompaniment, taking care so that the ‘voice prevail in our praises’.[64] His lack of sympathy with Free Church scruples concerning music and singing in worship also meant that ‘it was not right to sit while singing’.[65]

His presentations were greatly appreciated and well attended with one observer saying of him that

 the genial, happy style of Mr Paxtons (sic) reminded one of those Children’s Preachers, of a generation or two back, Rowland Hill, and Alexander Fletcher, and we can readily understand the charm by which Mr Paxton succeeds in attracting large audience wherever he appears.[66]

Others said of his services that ‘all appeared highly delighted with the popular and interesting service of song. Mr Paxton has a magnificent voice, and is a splendid player on the harmonium or organ, and the service rendered will not soon be forgotten’.[67] His emphasis on children through conducting children’s services and teaching them to sing was his solution to the problem of poor psalmody for they were ‘the hope of our church’.[68] His work among children was widely valued as he was constantly invited by various Presbyterian and other churches to conduct children’s Sabbath and Sabbath school services. He was also greatly appreciated for his ‘immense efforts and large expenditure of his means’ to improve the Presbyterian Church’s psalmody and was credited by Dr Steel for giving ‘considerable impetus to the movement for the improvement of psalmody’ which was of great importance in the worship of God.[69]

Paxton’s philanthropy as spiritual engagement was also expressed in his work with the Presbyterian Church, his music and singing as well as through being President of the YMCA for 1876-1877, having membership of the short-lived committee for the Association for the Promotion of Morality in 1874-5,[70] the Christian Convention Committee of 1879 even chairing one of the sessions,[71] the NSW British and Foreign Bible Society (1875-1882),[72] and the Sydney City Mission 1872-1882.

Philanthropy as civic engagement

Paxton was interested in some important social issues of the time and sought to build better social and community structures and address issues of justice through his philanthropy of civic engagement and reform. He was actively involved in the education issue that came to prominence in the mid-1870s when there were concerns expressed about the high rate of illiteracy in NSW. Along with others he had offered to provide the Rev James Greenwood, a Sydney Baptist Minister and an agitator for change in the public education system of the colony, a stipend of £800 a year to enter parliament to achieve change.[73] They realised that the system of sectarian schools was not sufficient to meet the needs of the colony of New South Wales. Paxton was a supporter of the New South Wales Public School League in its attempts to amend the Public Schools Act of 1866. He chaired a meeting of the League and saw the issue as dealing ‘with the fact that in this colony one-third of the children of school age were receiving no education; and the first and chief aim of the League was to make education universal by adopting a national system’ which was national, secular, compulsory and free.[74] The promotion of a ‘secular’ system by Paxton was not a desertion of his Christian principles, but rather a desire for a ‘non-sectarian’ education system which would allow for a generic Christian instruction from the churches. He was a strong advocate of the system being compulsory as he had seen from his time in the country areas the ‘deplorable negligence of parents in many instances in the bush towards their children, whose religious and secular education was neglected for the sake of attendance on a few sheep or the minor affairs of the situation or selection.’[75]

His time in the bush had probably also made him sympathetic and aware of the needs of Aborigines and he became a committee member of the newly formed Aborigines Protection Society. The aims of this society were spelt out at the 1881 meeting where Paxton was appointed a committee member.[76] They included

 the promotion of the social, religious, and intellectual welfare of the aboriginal natives of the colony of New South Wales and their descendants of mixed blood; and as the general condition of the blacks is marked by deep moral degradation and great physical discomfort, to which the drink and vices of the Europeans have largely contributed it was felt that something ought speedily to be done to alter this state of things.[77]

Regretfully Paxton’s early death meant that we only have an indication of his intentions in regard to the welfare of Aborigines as he had little further opportunity to give effect to his concerns. How enlightened his sympathies were to the issues the Aboriginals faced is unknown.

Paxton’s time on the goldfields had also given him a sympathy towards the Chinese population present within the colony. He was strongly opposed to anti-Chinese agitation by groups such as the Political Reform Union[78] and he expressed views which were enlightened for the time and were a mixture of fairness, evangelical zeal and personal experience, when he said

 China had been opened by force to European trade and commerce, and on the understanding that the intercourse was to be reciprocal and that by treating the Chinese with more consideration and encouraging their useful industries amongst us, we would only be preparing them for their return to their native land as missionaries of Christian truth. His own experience of the Chinese was favorable to their honesty and usefulness.[79]

With other eminent Presbyterians, he was part of a joint petition to the Legislative Council of New South Wales in reference to the ‘Chinese question’. In this petition is was argued that ‘the Chinese in this colony are sober, industrious, and well conducted, and are entitled, as strangers, to the sympathy and protection from members of this community’ and requested that the Council ‘adopt such measures as may be calculated to protect from violence and persecution all Chinese residing in this colony who are peaceable and unoffending.’ They also encouraged the Council to induce the British Government to modify the Treaty of Nanking (1842) to ‘permit such Chinese as may desire to emigrate to take their wives and children with them’.[80]

Paxton was also a supporter of the eight hour day and supported reform of conditions under which the ‘working man’ laboured. In 1881, at the time of the ‘Curriers Strike’, he was a platform speaker at a meeting organised by the Trades and Labour Council of NSW which sought to promote the cause of ‘Eight Hours’ Work. Eight Hours’ Recreation. Eight Hours’ Rest.’[81] As a sometime large employer of labour his support of the cause was a mixture of pragmatism and principle. His experience taught him that a generous employer was treated generously by his workers. Eight hours was, he said, a sufficient period of daily labour for both worker and employer. In these eight hours he found he could get more work out of his men than he could in ten. His advocacy of the cause, which he was prepared to support financially, was not motivated by anything he wanted from the working class as he was no longer an employer nor was he seeking office. He had appeared for a first time at a working man’s meeting because he said he was an ‘ardent supporter of the eight hours’ principle’ which he believed was a ‘good and sound principle’.[82]

Philanthropy as relief

Paxton was involved in philanthropy as relief through his financial and governance support of the National Ship Wreck Relief Society (1877-1882),[83] St Andrews Scottish Benevolent Society,[84] the Sydney Infirmary (1873-1882), [85] the attempted formation of the Inebriates Asylum, his membership of the Home Visiting and Relief Society from 1872-1879, and the Night Refuge and Reformatory 1872-1877. These latter two societies dealt with the opposite ends of the relief spectrum, one with the educated classes who were reduced to poverty, and the other with the relief of working class poverty. As with most of the charitable works of the nineteenth century classified under the philanthropic spectrum there was an emphasis on the propagation of the Christian faith. Of the Night Refuge, whose aim was to ‘relieve and reform’ Paxton said

 It was called a night refuge – a protection and shelter to the weary, the broken-down and cast out; and it might well remind them of that shelter which was provided for them, not a night refuge, but a refuge which would be for ever, where there was no night.[86]

The staff of this charity were Christians and were commended by Paxton for

 the salvation of souls was also an object of the institution, and it was a delight to find such a manager as Mrs Druce.[87] When the men were brought in to be fed, that was time to talk to them, and to tell them of the love of God and of the crucified Saviour. They realised at once that this lady sympathised with them, and that she could point to the One who would bring them out of their troubles. This must be the great aim of the institution.[88]

Philanthropy as improvement

His philanthropy as improvement was seen in his membership of the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children (1872-1882),[89]  as a director of the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and Blind (1873-1882),[90]  and in his membership of the St Andrews Council (1879-1882)[91] and the Ragged Schools (1872-1882).[92]

Paxton saw the role of the Ragged Schools in terms of both their evangelical potential for introducing the children to Jesus and for their ability to improve the community and life of the children. His support of the movement was a mixture of philanthropy as improvement and, as with so many other philanthropic efforts of the time, spiritual engagement.  He said that ‘of all things it was necessary to know of Jesus; and it was pleasing to hear the children speak of that name’,[93] but he also recognised that the community neglected their own interests when they disregarded the discomforts and miserable condition of the necessitous poor. Paxton believed they were not to be so disregarded, and that the Ragged Schools furnished the proper means to elevate such boys and to do them good. His views on the role and value of the colonial Ragged Schools sprang from his pervious knowledge of the Ragged School movement in Scotland for he had seen ‘Dr. Guthrie’s first ragged school in Edinburgh. He saw children here to-night who reminded him of the Cowgate. He had seen Lord Palmerston in the position that Mr Fairfax now occupied.’[94] Temperance was also not far from his thoughts when he considered the work of the schools for it had been found in Edinburgh that the ‘parents of all the children were intemperate’ and he no doubt assumed that such was the case in the colony and so he advocated that ‘they should endeavour to enrol the children’s names on the Band of Hope, and teach them the evils of drunkenness. There was nothing like training the young – bending the twig.’[95] He gave the schools not just his time in governance but also his financial support, leaving them a bequest of £200.

Paxton was not just an armchair supporter for he had first-hand knowledge of the degradation and poverty of some of those in Sydney and particularly of the children. He was well aware that neither the Ragged School movement nor a compulsory education provision by the government would fix the problem. He recounted movingly to a meeting some of his personal experiences:

 But there is a class our Ragged Schools cannot reach. Let me give you a case which came under my own notice. Some time ago a poor woman died in Sydney, she left three boys uncared for, I called to see them, I was going to say at the house, but let me call it by its right name, it was a cellar. As I entered the dark dungeon I began to wonder where I had got to, I could see no one, but heard the voice of a child coming from a dark corner telling me that his father was up the ladder, the child was crying for bread. I made my way up the ladder, and there I beheld a sight which language fails to describe. There in a corner sat a man crying out for drink, more drink, while his poor boys were crying bitterly for bread to eat. I gathered from this man that he had been in a good position, but through drink he had fallen, and his poor wife had died broken-hearted. I had no trouble persuading the father to let me take away his three boys, but they were almost entirely naked, and not in a fit state to be taken even to a Ragged school. Now the question is how is this class to be reached. We require more than a compulsory system to reach them.[96]

For Paxton education of the young, temperance and the Christian faith, were contributors to the solution to such problems.

The temperance movement had his support and he was elected as a founding member of the NSW Society for the Suppression of Intemperance.[97] At that time he reflected on his Scottish experience when

 twenty-five years ago, in Edinburgh when, all the public-houses were opened on the Sabbath, but they worked little by little, until they got them all closed on the Sabbath. If they knew what was drunk on the Sabbath they would be astounded. He had lately been in the bush, where they saw the vice of drunkenness in its most glaring colours. He congratulated the meeting upon the persons who had taken the cause in hand.  He quoted Mr Spurgeon’s experience, who found that if a minister desired his flock to abstain entirely, he must abstain entirely himself.[98]

Paxton himself had not always been a total abstainer, but became one in order to help a friend as he recounted

 one of his early associates had first persuaded his intended wife to begin, drinking intoxicating drinks, and afterwards found, to his grief, that she was pawning the furniture, and even his hat and clothes for drink. To rescue the unhappy pair, he (Mr Paxton) took the pledge with them, and thus encouraged them to enter on a new course.[99]

Yet Paxton was sufficiently realistic to know that some in the grip of drink needed shelter and special assistance and so he was a leading member of a group that sought, unsuccessfully, to commence an asylum for inebriates where they could find such help and support.

Paxton was an evangelical Christian who had his reservations concerning the temperance movement. While he had been connected to the temperance movement and the ‘Sons and daughters of Temperance’ he did not believe they went far enough. He thought it would be a good thing if everyone was a sober person ‘but how much better if, in addition to being made sober, he was made a worshipper of the true God’ and that ‘they should seek to convert the drunkard’s soul, to be not satisfied with the mere making him a sober man: they must convert the man or the woman’.[100] In concert with other evangelical Christians of the period, Paxton believed more was required than the message of sobriety and that that more involved the carrying of the Christian faith to ‘the very poor, the lost and the fallen’.[101] Thus, while philanthropic action of the various types was a good thing yet, if they did not also involve philanthropy as spiritual engagement, they were deficient. So it was that he gave strong support to the Sydney City Mission and its missionaries who not only sought to alleviate suffering and need, and who also went house to house ‘urging those who were leading careless and ungodly lives to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ’, and who were to be impelled in their work by the ‘love to Christ and to his fellow man’. Such love from the missionary, said Paxton, would triumph for ‘to reach the heart of those whose spiritual good he was seeking his words must rise from a warm loving heart. Such a spirit as this would triumph over difficulties and would accomplish great results by the divine blessing.’[102]

 Paxton the story teller

Paxton was, according to Robert Steel, naturally happy and ‘he had also a rare gift in making others happy’. In public he was an entertainer through song but also he was a teller of stories, or ‘racy anecdotes’ as Robert Steel called them,[103]  such as the following:

 Having been eighteen years in the bush he could not let this meeting pass over without being present, and at all events, to lend his influence to it, for everyone had influence to a certain extent. Perhaps they would permit him to relate a case which came under his notice about three years ago. As he was going his round with tracts one Sabbath afternoon, … he arrived at the house, which was on an old racecourse, he found it to be an old dilapidated place, with the roof hardly covered in, partly with blankets and partly with bark. A man, with his wife and family, occupied this old hut, and, as he drew near, be heard the sound of a hammer, as if someone were driving a nail. He went up to the man and asked him if he knew what day it was. The man said that he did — that it was Sunday. He (the Speaker) then asked him if he knew that he was breaking the Sabbath, when he turned round and, clenching his teeth, said, ‘ God does not care for me!’ He (Mr Paxton) then told him that he was breaking God’s commandment, and therefore could not expect to have his blessing, and, after a short silence, the man burst into tears, and asked him to go into the hut. He then found that the place inside was in accordance with the outside, and that the wife and children were starving with hunger. When he went away he succeeded in getting clothes and food sent to them, and in the course of time the man obtained employment in getting charcoal, by which he earned good wages, and at length became a member of a Wesleyan church, and a son of temperance; and when a band of hope was initiated at the place, his children became members of it. The man, however, caught cold through the exposure that he was subjected to in the bush, and he became so ill that the doctor who attended him despaired of ever seeing him well again. He then sent for him (Mr Paxton) to come to his death bed to see him. When he went there the man told him that he used to be an infidel and believed in no God, but on the Sunday that he (Mr Paxton) went to him and fed and clothed him and his children, instead of preaching to him he began to think there was something in Christianity after all. The man died, and there was reason to believe that he died converted.  Such cases were very common, and they showed the kind of missionary work that was required to be done, and he could assure them that any one going into the bush to help in the mission cause would find plenty to do.[104]

In the recounting of this story Paxton demonstrates a number of his approaches and attitudes. Firstly, when he chaired public meetings Paxton often told stories in his addresses. They were frequently recorded and repeated by newspaper reporters who usually at such meetings just dryly reported that ‘the chairman addressed the meeting’. Paxton was aware of the power and value of a story and his approach was sufficiently novel and interesting for the newspapers to report in some detail the anecdotes that he told. Paxton was a man who was at ease in the public eye and his background as an entertainer had prepared him well so that he performed effectively as a chairman, and as a speaker he knew how to engage an audience.

Secondly, when Paxton’s stories are examined, as in the one related above, they indicate that he often recounted stories about people and his personal experience and involvement and role in events concerning them. This could be viewed as a conscious piece of self-promotion and while that may be true, it is probably also a reflection of Paxton’s understanding of the power of the personal in communication. Paxton appreciated that people like to listen to stories about others, for ‘human interest’ stories engage the audience with experiences that are near to and known by them.

Thirdly, a number of Paxton’s stories arise from his experience ‘in the bush’ which is understandable as he spent a good deal of time there. The ‘bush’ provided for him not just a source for stories, but it also gave to him experiences that shaped his attitudes. It is evident from what he said on various other occasions that the sympathetic attitudes that he adopted towards issues relating to Aborigines, the Chinese and working class men, arose from this ‘in the bush’ experience.

Fourthly, the story recounted above also indicates something of Paxton’s religious views for he was clearly an evangelical with traditional views concerning the Sabbath. His view of religious authority was such that to honour his God he was not averse to rebuking someone for not conforming to his understanding of appropriate obedience to the law of God. He was not easily deterred by an angry response to this message and it is clear that he was also one who believed in the need for a ‘conversion’ experience as a prerequisite for a person gaining access to heaven. The Rev George Grimm, himself a defender of the Westminster Confession’s doctrine of scripture and the theology against the liberalising currents of the late nineteenth century idealism, pointedly said of Paxton that he was ‘orthodox in doctrine’. For him heaven was not ‘an abstract idea, or an ecstasy of the soul … to him it was glorious reality’.[105]

Fifthly, Paxton’s Christianity had a practical and philanthropic side to it which obligated him to render material aid to those in need. Paxton recounted this story to get the point across to his hearers that effective communication of the Christian faith required more than preaching. Paxton believed that both were essential to the propagation of the Christian faith. The words of the dying man of the story were the heart of what Paxton believed:

 he used to be an infidel and believed in no God, but on the Sunday that he (Mr Paxton) went to him and fed and clothed him and his children, instead of preaching to him he began to think there was something in Christianity after all.

These words encapsulate the view held by Paxton that preaching the word of God, which he strongly supported, was not enough. Accompanying the preaching must be the meeting of physical needs for food, shelter and protection. This view led him to not only support the ministry of the church and the bible society but also the work of the Soup Kitchen, the Ship Wreck Society and the Sydney City Mission.

Paxton’s priorities and attitudes

Paxton was wealthy but was not focused on his wealth. He was a devout Christian and was heavily involved with the Presbyterian Church and various organisations with an emphasis on spiritual philanthropy through the promotion of the Christian faith. He appears to have been an admirer of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, quoting him often in his speeches, and he saw in his ministry and life an example to follow[106] and once even offered to help pay to bring Spurgeon to the colony for he believed that ‘if they were to get him out he should stir them up, and do them much good.’[107] His significant fortune allowed him the leisure to make such offers and to spend his time in propagating the Christian work of various organisations. During his lifetime, and particularly when he became wealthy, Paxton supported many charities, distributing annually several thousand pounds.[108] At his death he bequeathed £500 to the City Mission, £200 to the Ragged Schools, £100 each to The Sydney Infirmary, Randwick Asylum, and the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. He also left legacies of £1,000 each to the Presbyterian Church’s Aged and Infirm Ministers’ Fund, the Widows’ and Orphans Fund, the Church and Manse Building Fund and to the Sustentation Fund.[109] Significantly, each of these bequests were to organisations and causes for which Paxton had also given his time in governance roles. The amounts he gave were indicative of his view of the relative importance of their work.

Of first importance to Paxton was the work of the Presbyterian Church. The bequests he left the church were evenly divided between ensuring that retired elderly ministers, their widows and children, were provided for and did not suffer hardship and with the ongoing development of the church through the funding of ministry and church building. Paxton clearly saw the need within the church to look after those who had served it in its mission as well as the need to advance the work of the church. He also left legacies to his family both in the colony and in Scotland. The largest legacy, of £10,000, was for the benefit of his daughter and her children, a large portion of which was soon recklessly and deceitfully squandered by his son-in-law Andrew Gardiner such that by 1891 the value of his daughter Elizabeth’s legacy was reduced to some £3,000.[110] Gardiner was able to do this because William McCredie, a trustee to the estate, died the year after Paxton and because Paxton’s wife Elizabeth, the other trustee, was totally trusting of Gardiner and signed whatever he presented to her.

Joseph Paxton’s view on life, his wealth, and the importance to him of the Christian faith, is well captured by an address he gave at the laying of a foundation stone of the Glebe church:

 Though we have been enabled to do much, yet an important occasion like this should be marked by corresponding liberality. I need not remind you that the man who gives not – he lives a life of mere selfishness, whose every word and action centre around self – is out of gear with the whole universe, The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; therefore, when we give for the erection this church we only give back a portion of what He has given us. Just one word to God’s own poor. Do not be downcast if you cannot give money. Remember we need your prayers that our united aim may be to live and labour for the glory of God. So that at the last great day this church may be recognised as the birthplace of many an immortal soul.[111]

In these words Paxton outlines his Christian view of material possessions. Whatever he or anyone else had gained in wealth through their labours this was given to them by the Lord who owned all things. Whatever was donated to the cause of the church was but a return to God of what was rightfully his. What was of paramount importance, however, was not wealth and the ability to be benevolent, but living and labouring for the glory of God so that others might come to know the Lord. The labouring that gave glory to God was, as his life testified, not just about being involved in things that were specifically religious, but also in seeking to improve the situation of others through philanthropic endeavour.

Paxton was not a perfect man, his shortcomings were sufficiently well-known to be referred to briefly by Robert Steel at his funeral saying ‘he had his peculiarities, and even his weaknesses’.[112] More revealingly, at a funeral sermon in memory of him on the Sabbath following his interment, George Grimm said that his labours were supported by ‘a singularly sincere and spotless example’ but

 that this eminent character was wholly exempt from the alloy of human infirmity is not claimed by the friends of the deceased, much less would it be admitted by himself. Mr Paxton inherited from nature a sensitive temperament, and this constitutional bias was strengthened in later years by various ailments under which he suffered. This being so, he could ill brook an affront, and sometimes took offence when none was intended.[113]

Paxton was aware of his difficulty in dealing with opposition to his plans and ideas, both imaginary and real, and so developed a ‘disposition to move in his own orbit whenever the work he had chalked out for himself could be accomplished in this way’. He possessed the means, leisure, and ability, and so was able to achieve what he planned without opposition and in doing so ‘the Church was relieved from many a burden of ways and means, and was conscious only of beneficent results’.[114]

Paxton’s untimely death at the age of 54 years shocked the church and cut short the life of a philanthropist who showed some nascent enlightened attitudes. Strangely, Paxton was presentient of his sudden demise for on the morning of his death he casually remarked that he thought he was going to see his son James that day. James was his son who had died some ten years before and whose loss had been such a sadness to him.[115]

Dr Paul F Cooper, Research Fellow, Christ College, Sydney.

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F CooperJoseph Paxton (1828-1882) Miner, Musician, Philanthropist and Churchman. Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, July 9, 2015.  Available at

[1] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), June 3, 1882.

[2] SMH, January 14, 1854.

[3] Two 19th century singers who took Scots songs all over the world: John Wilson (1800-49) and John Templeton (1802-86); The Illustrated Sydney News (Sydney, NSW), January 21, 1854.

[4] Empire (Sydney, NSW), August 22, 1854.

[5] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), August 5, 1871.

[6] SMH, August 4, 1871.

[7] SMH, March 2, 1872.

[8] SMH, March 20, 1872.

[9] Harry Hodge, The Hill End Story- a History of the Hill End- Tambaroora Goldfield Book 1. (n.p., 1964), 41-44.

[10] Empire (Sydney, NSW), May 13, 1873.

[11] Empire (Sydney, NSW), May 13, 1873.

[12] SMH, May 13, 1873.

[13] SMH, September 7, 1870.

[14] Empire (Sydney, NSW), August 12, 1874.

[15] Hodge, The Hill End Story, 103.

[16] SMH, November 6, 1872.

[17] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), February 10, 1877.

[18] SMH, January 5, 1872.

[19] Hill End Presbyterian Church Building Committee Minutes 15 December 1871.

[20] SMH, March 12, 1872.

[21] SMH, September 17, 1872. Paxton appears, however, to have retained the use of the Macquarie street property for some years as his place of business.

[22] SMH, February 8, 1874.

[23] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), June 3, 1882.

[24] From at least 1872 until 1882. The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), August 2, 1877; SMH, July 21, 1882.

[25] SMH, November 16, 1877.

[26] Archibald Liversidge (1846-1927), Professor of Geology at the University of Sydney, (1874-1907); Charles Smith Wilkinson (1843-1891), NSW Government Geologist (1872-1891).

[27] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), June 3, 1882.

[28] See Paul F Cooper, John and Ann Goodlet, a study in Colonial Christian Philanthropy (unpublished PhD, Macquarie University, 2013), 5-7.

[29] SMH, November 19, 1872.

[30] SMH, December 16, 1872.

[31] On 27 January 1874. Hill End Presbyterian Church Session Minutes 27 January 1874.

[32] SMH, October 29, 1874.

[33] His resignation to the Session is dated June 25, 1875. Hill End Presbyterian Church Session Minutes June 28, 1875.

[34] Annual Review of Session for 1875 Hill End Presbyterian Church Session Minutes November 6, 1876.

[35] Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW), May 12, 1874.

[36] SMH, May 8, 1874.

[37] Gardiner was, in 1877, to marry Elizabeth Bennett Paxton, Joseph and Elizabeth’s only surviving daughter. SMH, December 15, 1877. Gardiner was the minister of Glebe Presbyterian Church which was the church Joseph Paxton helped found and fund. Gardiner and Paxton worked closely together within the Presbyterian Church both at Glebe and also in touring the state visiting and ministering at various churches. At Paxton’s death Gardiner became an executor of Paxton’s estate and a trustee of the funds left for the support of his widow and daughter. Over the years Gardiner mismanaged the funds in speculative ventures. He also improperly used other funds of another estate of which he was trustee. Gardiner fled the country to the United States but later returned to face court. The Registrar of Bankruptcy said of Gardiner that he had ‘misappropriated trust funds, engaged in rash and hazardous speculations with those trust funds, did not keep proper accounts of such speculations, files accounts which contained false and irrelevant matter, and contradicted his sworn testimony, delayed fling accounts though repeated required to do so; his conduct during the examination was very unsatisfactory, he made material omissions in is statement of affairs.’ SMH, February 25, 1892. Elizabeth, in 1890, sought a divorce on grounds of his adultery with, Alison Alice Barbour a Sunday school teacher at the Glebe Church.  Petition for Divorce Gardiner V Gardiner 1890. The divorce was granted and the children went to live with their mother and adopted the name Paxton. Gardiner subsequently married his co-respondent in the divorce proceedings in 1892. He was deposed from the ministry and became a newsagent in Newtown and died in 1906. SMH, March 5, 1891; March 28, 1906.

[38] Empire (Sydney, NSW), June 2, 1874.

[39] SMH, September 22, 1877.

[40] SMH, October 19, 1877.

[41] SMH, March 6, 1880.

[42] SMH, September 13, 1881.

[43] SMH, March 6, 1876.

[44] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), April 1, 1876.

[45] The Argus (Melbourne, Vic), November 17, 1880.

[46] He was also from 1874 a member of the Sabbath School Committee; SMH, November 4, 1874 and the Manse and Church Loan and Buildings Committee; SMH, November 1874. He was also a Director of the Presbyterian Newspaper company.

[47] J. Paxton, Lecture on Psalmody 1878, 15.

[48] The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), November 25, 1878.

[49] In November 1878.

[50] From November 1876 until February 1877.

[51] J. Paxton, Lecture on Psalmody 1878.

[52] Paxton, Psalmody, 8.

[53] Paxton here is quoting Spurgeon. C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 22 (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids Michigan, 1984), 374.

[54] Paxton, Psalmody, 8-9.

[55] Paxton, Psalmody, 9-10.

[56] Paxton, Psalmody, 10.

[57] Paxton, Psalmody, 15.

[58] Paxton, Psalmody, 17-18.

[59] Paxton, Psalmody, 19.

[60] SMH, November 21, 1879.

[61] The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), November 4, 1878.

[62] The New Zealand Herald (Auckland, NZ), December 8, 1876.

[63] SMH, November 21, 1879.

[64] SMH, November 21, 1879.

[65] South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA), December 7, 1880

[66] The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), November 20, 1878; November 25, 1878.

[67] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), March 23, 1878.

[68] Paxton, Psalmody, 21.

[69] SMH, November 10, 1879.

[70] SMH, September 29, 1874; October 30, 1875.

[71] SMH, September 9, 1879; November 11, 1879.

[72] SMH, March 16, 1875; March 13, 1877; March 9, 1880; March 8, 1881.

[73] SMH, December 19, 1874. Greenwood did not accept the offer at that stage but resigned from Ministry in 1876 and entered parliament in 1877.

[74] SMH, March 4, 1876.

[75]The Queanbeyan Age (Queanbeyan, NSW), May 7, 1879.

[76] SMH, August 2, 1881.

[77] SMH, August 2, 1881.

[78] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), November 23, 1878.

[79] The Queanbeyan Age (Queanbeyan, NSW), May 7, 1879.

[80] SMH, February 7, 1879.

[81] The Evening News (Sydney, NSW), April 9, 1881.

[82] SMH, April 14, 1881.

[83] SMH, August 8, 1877; November 3, 1881.

[84] Empire (Sydney, NSW), July 4, 1872.

[85] SMH, February 11, 1873; September 4, 1877.  Paxton was appointed both a member of the Board and for his financial support a life governor.

[86] SMH, July 1, 1873.

[87] William and Hannah Druce took over the management of the Francis Street Woolloomooloo (Darlinghurst) Night Refuge in 1871 and continued to manage it until at least 1883. They did so without remuneration. Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), July 6, 1878. William Druce was Missionary with the Sydney City Mission. SMH, April 4, 1876. William did a lot of work among the sailors who came to the port of Sydney. He resigned due to ill health in February 1879. SMH, May 13, 1879. Paul F Cooper DRUCE, William (1827-1925) and Hannah (1829-1909)

[88] SMH, July 1, 1873.

[89] SMH, October 5, 1872; July 3, 1873; December 30, 1880.

[90] SMH, October 21, 1873; October 13, 1877.

[91] SMH, November 2, 1882.

[92] Empire (Sydney, NSW), September 17, 1872; August 11, 1874; SMH, August 12, 1873; September 4, 1877; August 9, 1881; Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), September 27, 1879.

[93] SMH, September 17, 1872.

[94] SMH, September 17, 1872.

[95] SMH, September 17, 1872.

[96] SMH, September 16, 1879.

[97] Empire (Sydney, NSW), July 23, 1872.

[98] SMH, July 24, 1872.

[99] Empire (Sydney, NSW), August 13, 1872.

[100] The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), July 24, 1873.

[101] SMH, February 17, 1881.

[102] SMH, February 17, 1881.

[103] Robert Steel, The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882. Presumably by which Steel meant ‘lively and vigorous’ rather than the more modern meaning of ‘ribald’.

[104] The Evening News (Sydney, NSW), November 6, 1872.

[105] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

[106] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), July 18, 1874.

[107] SMH, November 23, 1874.

[108] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

[109] SMH, August 12, 1882.

[110] The Argus (Melbourne, Vic), June 12, 1891.

[111] SMH, July 23, 1877.

[112] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

[113] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

[114] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

[115] The Presbyterian, May 27, 1882.

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