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Thomas Parker Reeve (1824-1913) Methodist, financial, governance and spiritual philanthropist

Thomas Parker Reeve was born on May 6, 1824 at Deptford in Kent, England, to Isaac Reeve, a mathematics and classical scholar and teacher[1] and his wife Elizabeth Parker. While living in Norwich, Thomas attended the St Mary’s Baptist Chapel where, aged 17, he was received into membership on December 1, 1841. He later recalled that:

in my youth while attending the ministry of the Rev W Brock of Norwich, my mind gradually opened to a sense of danger as a sinner, and of my need of a personal interest in the Great Atonement of Christ, but it was not till sometime after that I could realise a sense of God’s pardoning love.[2]

Thomas married Lydia Pepperday (1825-1898), a Methodist, in 1848 at St Ives in Huntingdonshire, England. Having travelled in steerage aboard the Calphurnia, they arrived in the colony of NSW on September 17, 1853,[3] with their two sons John (1849-1911) and George (1851-1951). Further children were born to them in the colony: Emma (1853-1863), Annie (1855-1943), Thomas (1857-1938), Lydia (1860-1946), Frederick (1861-1940), and Ada (1864-1867). The marriage was a happy one and on their 24th anniversary Thomas wrote ‘I think I can say we love each other more as we grow older and we are an [sic] happy yea, happier in all senses and I trust far nearer to God than we were years ago. I thank God for a good and affectionate wife’.[4]


Thomas Parker Reeve

Thomas Parker Reeve


Thomas was a teacher like his father, but in November 1853[5] he set himself up in George Street, Sydney,[6] as an importer and ironmonger. He sold goods ranging from shoes, galvanic pocket generators (which purported to remove pain) to a wide range of ironmongery which included saucepans, boilers, knives and forks. It was said he remained there until ‘aided by his good wife, he amassed a modest competency, and then retired to Stanmore to enjoy the fruit of his honest toil.’[7] It would seem that he moved to Cavendish Street, Petersham (later Stanmore), around June 1873,[8] but continued working for some time probably retiring from active involvement in the business around 1880. By 1888, his son Thomas Henry had assumed control of the business as an ironmonger and organ importer.[9]advet smh nov 21853

Sunday Schools

On arrival in the colony, the Reeves immediately associated themselves with the Wesleyan (Methodist) Church and its activities.[10]  Thomas began his long association with the colonial
Christian education of children by becoming first Secretary and then Superintendent of the Hay Street Sunday school.[11] By 1855,[12] he had become General Secretary of the Wesleyan Sunday Schools of the South Sydney Circuit which embraced Chippendale, Hay Street, Glebe and Mt Lachlan.[13] This was a position he held until 1873[14] and in this capacity he visited local Sunday schools and sought to improve the communication skills of the teachers. With his move to Petersham (Stanmore), he opened a Sunday School class in a cottage at Stanmore saying ‘I hope and pray that this may be the nucleus of a large and prosperous Sabbath School’[15] and he became Superintendent of the Stanmore Wesleyan Church Sunday School from 1875 until 1879.[16] Something of his interest and zeal for the work is seen in a meeting he organised for the Rev William Taylor to address a group of Sunday School teachers. He did this because he was concerned that ‘the spiritual success in the way of conversions was not commensurate with the labour and zeal thrown into Sunday School teaching’.[17] His interest in Sunday School work was ‘the passion of a lifetime’ and was shown by his long-term participation in teaching and his frequent visits to schools and the numerous prizes he contributed for scholars.[18]

Other Educational Interests

Sunday School work was not Thomas’ only educational interest. In England he had been trained as a teacher in the Lancastrian schooling system by the British and Foreign School Society.[19] The system was similar to the Madras system and involved ‘schooling which relied on the use of monitors – older children who had been taught or drilled by the school master and who then passed on their knowledge to younger pupils’.[20] This system of education was used in schools for the poor where pupils could not afford to pay fees and where there was a shortage of teachers. That he should show an interest in the Ragged School movement in Sydney was a logical continuance of his commitment to the provision of education for the poor. In 1864, he made a donation for the support of the Ragged Schools, commenced by Edward Joy in 1860, whose very purpose was to provide a basic education for the poor. From that time on, and almost every year thereafter, Thomas donated a pound or a guinea to this work. In 1888, he was elected to the Ragged School committee, a position which he held for 25 years. His membership of the committee was a very active one as he frequently visited the various ragged schools, taught scripture, encouraged the children and the teachers in their work,[21] and left a £50 bequest to the schools.[22] In Reeve’s view the Ragged Schools were

of immense importance to the Government and to the City Council in helping them to maintain the order and peace of this City. But for these schools 100[s] of young people would grow up to swell the criminal classes and the larrikins.[23]

The schools, thought Reeve, provided a bridge over the chasm between the Public Schools and the very poor children whose lack of clothing shut them out from the Public Schools and the Church Sunday Schools. The Ragged Schools sought ‘to give these children a plain commercial education, so that they may be fitted to take their place in any shop or business’.[24] This, however, was not sufficient to equip them for life for they needed more and so Reeve emphasised that ‘we specifically aim to give them a religious and spiritual education for, after all, it is only the Christianity of Christ that can give them power over temptation, self, the world and the devil’.[25]

In 1870, there was a subscription list opened to build a proposed New Wesleyan College on a site at Stanmore and to this Thomas made a £25 donation.[26] Seventy boys and four theological students moved from Silverwater in July 1880 and the new school, now named ‘Newington College’, was formally opened on 18 January, 1881.[27] Thomas was a member of the council of Newington from 1872 until 1906[28] and was particularly involved in the management of the property.[29] He was also a member of the council of the short-lived Parents’ Educational Union which sought, through literature, to encourage improved parenting skills which would enhance the effectiveness of parents in bringing up their children.[30] As a former teacher Thomas had a great interest in education and as a Wesleyan Christian he shared his church’s dissatisfaction, expressed as early as 1858, in both the systems of education (church and state) that existed within the colony. He was appointed to a committee by the Wesleyan Conference in that year to express to the government the view of the Wesleyan Church.[31] Such a view expressed the desirability for the government to ‘afford some public assistance to all bodies who practically interest themselves in the education of the people, without respect to their religious beliefs, or interference with their religious teachings.’[32]

The Wider Church

The Church beyond the local or circuit level also engaged much of Thomas’ time. He was a member of committees connected to the first Conference in 1855 which was responsible for governance within the Wesleyan Church.[33] He was present at the inaugural meeting in 1858 of the Metropolitan Wesleyan Church Building Association, later to become the Church Sustentation and Extension Society. Its aim was, said Reeve, ‘to expand the network of God all over this State by planting Churches and Schools, Ministers, parsonages and Home Missionaries’[34] and in order to do so it sought to erect one church every four years in Sydney and suburbs.[35] By 1869, he was its honorary lay secretary and he continued in this role until at least 1909[36] and as a member of the committee until 1913.[37] When surveying the work of this committee in his time in NSW he strongly contended that the church was not dead as some thought ‘No, no, no. The Church of Christ is not dead. God still reigns and Christ is still with us and God’s word shall cover the whole land as the waters cover the sea.’[38]

While Reeve served on Connexional Committees for about 60 years and was a member of the Board of Missions for 55 years[39] this was not his most significant contribution. His Methodism also found expression in two key features of this denomination: in his leadership for many years of a Class Meeting and in his role as a lay preacher. Thomas first mentioned his Class Meeting in his diary in 1869 and then made various mentions of such meetings until 1873.[40] In 1913, he resigned as a Class Leader and a letter of appreciation recorded ‘his devoted labor as Class Leader at Stanmore and elsewhere for the long period of 40 years or more’.[41] Such leadership meant weekly attendance and leadership of a group numbering from 3 to 18 people[42] and at the meetings Thomas sought to encourage members in their Christian walk through exhortation, the reading of scripture or some profitable Christian biography.[43] His own personal daily reading of the scriptures and prayer and the constant reading of Christian books[44] nourished his soul so that he could impart encouragement to others. Such ‘zeal and fidelity’ not only extended to the weekly meeting, but also to his visitation of its members when sick or approaching death.[45]  That he exercised such spiritual leadership was not easy for Thomas who was throughout his life deeply self-critical and reflective on his own life and uncertain of his own worthiness.

Yesterday was a trying day to my mind and soul. I am generally very nervous but the enemy works upon my nerves and fears and fearfully rasps me through an over scrupulous conscience whom mere trifles that 999 persons out of 1000 would never think of: for sometimes I mention them to my wife and she points out to me how ridiculous they are and how unnecessary are all my fears and I wonder why I am permitted to be tried so, but I must not murmur. O may I have more trust and confidence in my Heavenly Father. I had a good Class last evening 15 besides myself present. May the Holy Spirit make me a faithful and successful Leader.[46]

His constant refrain though out his life was that ‘I still find the Christian life a warfare’[47] and his spiritual life was neatly captured in a diary entry when he said ‘I am still the subject of nervous depression though I feel safe for heaven. I have not yet the victory over self.’[48] His yearning was ‘I want more holiness and more power. May I be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen, Amen.’[49] He in Wesleyan fashion said, like Wesley the founder of his church, ‘I am still longing for entire sanctification, but do not attain to it.’[50]

Reeve became a local preacher in July 1876, and on passing his exam he said that ‘it was only by the help of God my Father that I was enabled to pass … may he forgive me my unbelief and want of faith in His promises and increase my faith mightily.’[51] He remained a lay preacher for over 30 years and was still preaching at the age of 88 within a year of his death. He was described as a

venerable figure in the pulpit in recent years, and his clear resonant voice, made a deep impression, apart from, or rather accompanied by the kindly and earnest presentation of truth as he had personally experienced and enjoyed it.[52]

Preaching was a family activity for the Reeve family as The Methodist of 1912 reported that on one Sunday in May ‘TP Reeve occupied the pulpit at Camdenville, his son at Gerringong, and his grandson at Summer Hill; three generations preaching at the same hour’.[53]

Four generations of the Reeve Family in 1913

Four generations of the Reeve Family in 1913

Reeve also regularly visited the Sydney Female Refuge and gave religious addresses. His diary records that on March 8, 1869, he attended the Female Refuge and summarised his talk on that occasion by ‘Happiness is not in our circumstances but on the state of our heart before God. If we are out of harmony with God we cannot be happy’.[54] He was also particularly diligent in his visitation of the Ragged Schools and continued to visit and address the children up until his death in 1913.[55]

Other Organisations

Reeve was a member of the governing committee of the Sydney City Mission from 1866 to 1913[56] and an honorary Superintendent for some 47 years.[57] Frederick Smith, a City Missionary, in an appreciation of Reeve gave some insight into Reeve’s work as an honorary Superintendent. Reeve would meet with Smith each Monday and read a record of his work and give him advice. On top of this Reeve would give half a day each week to accompany Smith on visits to the poor and through this he became a well-known and welcome visitor. Through the Missionary, he often financially assisted those he visited and sometimes did so for considerable periods of time.[58]

He was also a supporter of the NSW Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society where he was a founding member from 1870 to 1913[59] and he was appointed a Vice President in 1913.[60]  In 1911, it was noted that a donation of £10 was given to the Society to support a native Bible-woman in China and that ‘the peculiarity of the donation lies in the fact that it represents four generations of a family, being sent by Mr T. P. Reeve, his son, his grand-son, and his great-grand-son.’[61] Reeve also served on the management committee of the Sydney Female Refuge (1898-1913), the Bush Missionary Society first as an auditor (1870-1878)[62] and then as a member of the management committee from 1882 and as a member of the committee of the Ragged Schools (1888-1913). Increasing deafness in his later years prevented his attendance at public meetings, such as those of the Sydney City Mission, but his practical support continued unabated.[63]

Giving Financial Support

From the time Reeve became a church member he practised tithing, giving away one tenth of his income to various organisations. He was a cheerful giver. The longer he lived the greater the percentage of his income he gave and towards the end of his life, in the period 1894 to 1913, of an income of £7, 052 he gave £2,627 which was over 37% of his income.[64] He always said that ‘he was none the poorer for his givings.’[65] Through his business Reeve had become financially secure and was reasonably well off having accumulated some $500,000 (present value) worth of shares at his death.[66] In his will he made bequests to the NSW Methodist Church Sustentation Society (£300, present value $32,369), the Methodist Foreign Missions (£200, present value $21,579), the Stanmore Methodist Church and Parsonage (£100, present value $10,790), the Methodist Central Mission (£50, present value $5,395), the Sydney City Mission (£200, present value $21,579), the Ragged Schools (£50, present value $5,395), the Bush Missionary Society (£50, present value $5,395), the Bible Society for Colporteurs (£50, present value $5,395), the Sydney Rescue Society which was G E Ardill’s work at Sussex Street (£50, present value $5,395), and the Aborigines Mission at La Perouse (£50, present value $5,395). These amounts indicate something of his relative interest as he gave most to his Methodist Church and then to the Sydney City Mission with his other interests receiving the same level of support. His estate was valued at £9,674 ($1.043 million present value).

Reeve remarked that his life was guided by two principles derived from Scripture. The first was ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness’[67] and the second was ‘Honour the Lord with thy substance and with the first fruits of all thine increase’.[68] Reeve clearly lived consistently with these principles. His life was dominated by a concern for holiness and by philanthropic endeavours, through his commitment to wide-ranging service within the Methodist Church and with other philanthropic organisations. T P Reeve was an example of those philanthropists who both gave of their time in governance and of their money to provide finance for various philanthropic endeavours and he had an emphasis on philanthropy as spiritual engagement through the Methodist Church. This engagement underpinned his support of almost all of his philanthropic endeavours and ‘his life was a long service in the interest of his fellow-men wherever he had an opportunity of doing it.’[69]

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

An excellent family history of Thomas’ family is T.M. Reeve, St Ives to Sydney (Campbelltown, NSW: Hurleyview House 2006) [Copies are  available from PO Box 53, Campbelltown NSW 2560] to which the reader is directed for more detailed information and photographs. I am indebted to Tom Reeve for allowing access to various family documents.

The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. Thomas Parker Reeve (1824-1913) Methodist, financial, governance and spiritual philanthropist, February 10, 2016. Available at

[1] SMH, June 15, 1867, 1.

[2] T.M. Reeve, St Ives to Sydney (Campbelltown, NSW: Hurleyview House, 2006), 20.

[3] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), July 28, 1906, 2; SMH, September 19, 1853, 4.

[4] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, His Father, (Kiama, December, 1913), July 29, 1872.

[5] SMH, November 2, 1853, 8. Seems to indicate his store has only just commenced business.

[6] Initially at 132 George Street South and later by November 1854 at 555 George Street South, Haymarket. SMH, October 15, 1853, 2; January 29, 1855, 2. From 1855 he styles his business as that of an ironmonger only. The shop number though not the location changed over the years being variously numbered 655 and 659. T.M. Reeve, St Ives to Sydney, 29.

[7] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), July 28, 1906, 2.

[8] T.M. Reeve, St Ives to Sydney, 32, but the address is not listed until 1875. Sands Directory 1875, 424.

[9] Sands Directory 1885, 47. Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (Sydney, NSW), December 8, 1883, 1099. T.M. Reeve, St Ives to Sydney, 32.

[10] The Church in NSW was known as the Wesleyan Church and later in 1902 through the union of various branches of Methodism became known as the Methodist Church of Australasia. In this article the terms Wesleyan and Methodist are used interchangeably.

[11] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), July 28, 1906, 2; Empire (Sydney, NSW), November 10, 1869, 4.

[12] SMH, March 26, 1856, 5.

[13] The Methodist (Sydney NSW), October 25, 1913, 2. Mt Lachlan is in the present day Waterloo, Sydney area.

[14] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, August 6, 1873 notes the move to Stanmore and leaving the Hay Street Church and having laboured for 19 years in the Chippendale Circuit. He also records that since leaving the Chippendale Circuit he has had comparatively nothing to do in Stanmore.

[15] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, December 1873.

[16] SMH, June 5, 1879, 5.

[17] Sydney Mail, September 4, 1869, 5. William Taylor was an evangelist and a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church of America and of the California Conference. He was touring Australia at the time. SMH, August 4, 1869, 7.

[18] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 25, 1913, 2.

[19] In the 1851 England Census his profession is recorded as British School Master.


[21] SMH, October 13, 1913, 2.

[22] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 18, 1913, 3.

[23] Speech 1906 on Ragged Schools, Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, Prayers and Addresses (compiled by George Reeve, Kiama, December 1913), 98.

[24] Speech 1906 on Ragged Schools, Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 98.

[25] Speech 1906 on Ragged Schools, Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 99.

[26] SMH, May 18, 1870, 16.

[27] [accessed September 3, 2015.]

[28] SMH, February 5, 1885, 7; The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), February 24, 1900, 7; T.M Reeve, St Ives to Sydney, 40.

[29] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), November 27, 1926, 2s.

[30] SMH, December 4, 1891, 8.

[31] SMH, November 24, 1858, 3.

[32] The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, June 4, 1859, 6s.

[33] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 25, 1913, 2.

[34] Address at the Jubilee of the Church Sustentation Society, Lyceum Theatre, Sydney March 3, 1909, Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 116.

[35] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), July 2, 1904, 1; July 28, 1906, 2.

[36] SMH, December 13, 1869, 1; The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), March 15, 1902, 7; July 28, 1906, 2; SMH, March 4, 1909, 9.

[37] SMH, October 13, 1913, 2.

[38] Address at the Jubilee of the Church Sustentation Society, Lyceum Theatre, Sydney, March 3, 1909, Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 120.

[39] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), July 28, 1906, 2; October 25, 1913, 2.

[40] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, February 26, 1869.

[41] Letter John Fletcher, Society Steward, Stanmore Leader’s Meeting, September 18, 1913. Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal 110.

[42] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, April 23, 1869; August 30, 1873.

[43] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, October 28, 1870; July 29, 1871; November 22, 1873.

[44] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, July 29, 1871; August 19, 1871.

[45] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, March 11, 1871; October 17, 1871.

[46] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, March 5, 1869.

[47] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, January 14, 1859; June 7, 1877; June 3, 1912.

[48] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, October 23, 1875.

[49] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, February 1, 1877.

[50] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, December 12, 1876.

[51] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, July 11, 1876.

[52] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 25, 1913, 2 said ‘nearly 50 years’. The SMH, October 13, 1913, 2 said he had been a lay preacher for 30 years. Thomas dates his passing the examination for becoming a local preacher in NSW as 1876, which would give 36 years.

[53] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 25, 1913, 2.

[54] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, March 8, 1869.

[55] His last visit was to the Glebe School in February 1913. G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, February 28, 1913.

[56] He continued to be the Superintendent of one of the missionaries until 1913. G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, February 2, 1913.

[57] Cutting of Sydney City Mission 52nd Annual Report, 1914 in Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 69.

[58] Sydney City Mission Herald, November 1, 1913 in Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 113-114.

[59] SMH, March 16, 1870, 6; SMH, October 13, 1913, 7.

[60] G. A. Reeve, Private Diary of TP Reeve, January 1913.

[61] SMH, December 16, 1911, 8.

[62] SMH, August 2, 1870, 5; July 23, 1878, 5; July 25, 1882, 7.

[63] Letter from Sydney City Mission to TP Reeve, May 22, 1913. Thomas Parker Reeve, Journal, 104.

[64] Spectator and Methodist Chronicle (Melbourne, Vic), September 15, 1916, 1201.

[65] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 25, 1913, 2.

[66] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), December 11, 1913, 5.

[67] Matthew 6:33.

[68] Proverbs 3:9.

[69] The Methodist (Sydney, NSW), October 13, 1913, 7.

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