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Archibald Gilchrist (1843-1896), servant of Christ

Archibald Gilchrist was born at Rutherglen, Scotland, on 22 March 1843[1] to Alexander Gilchrist (1813-1891) a cotton spinner,[2] and Catherine nee Henderson (1816-1881). Archibald was the fourth child of seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood: Alexander (1837-1916); Agnes (1847-1923); Ann (1849-1936); and Catherine (1853-1877).[3] Along with his siblings, Archibald came to the colony of NSW at the age of 10, arriving on the Empire in July 1853 with his parents.[4] He was thus ‘a Scotsman and not a whit behind the most enthusiastic in his attachment to “Caledonia stern and wild” but he came to regard Sydney’[5] and Australia as his home.

Gilchrist’s primary school education began in Glasgow, was recommenced in Sydney, but was interrupted for a few years as he took employment and was apprenticed to a trade. In what was to become a reoccurring pattern, his health broke down and he relinquished the position and went and spent some time with his brother Alexander and family on the goldfields near Braidwood.[6] On his return to Sydney, unemployed and again unwell, Gilchrist used his time in private study of English, Greek and Latin.[7] His father was encouraged[8] to send him to the Sydney Grammar School, which he entered when he was 17 years old. After 15 months at the school,[9] he took up private teaching and set up a school in his father’s parlour at 276 Crown Street.[10]

Archibald Gilchrist

The Rev Dr Robert Steel, his minister, first suggested to Gilchrist the possibility of a teaching appointment at St Mary’s School. He also suggested that should Gilchrist secure such a position, he might also assist the Presbyterians on the Sabbath through preaching.[11] In the end, he did not undertake an appointment to the school but, in February 1863[12] and with the active encouragement of his minister and that of the Rev James Cameron, Gilchrist was appointed a catechist home missionary at Penrith, South Creek and St Mary’s in connection with the Synod of Eastern Australia.[13] He began his remarkable career as a preacher with his first sermon at St Marys on 22 February 1863 at 19 years of age.[14] His position at St Marys was an experiment in the use of lay preachers. It was noted that

in sending Mr. Gilchrist to Penrith, the Presbytery had tried an experiment as to the value of lay agency in the outlying districts, and much anxiety had been manifested in various quarters as to the probable result of such a trial.[15]

Both Robert Steel and James Cameron who had been instrumental in this matter believed that, due to the response of the people to the ministry of Gilchrist, the experiment was a success. It also affirmed Cameron’s view that ‘a man with a love for souls may be a very good preacher without much learning.’[16]

Gilchrist himself said about the appointment, giving an indication of the eloquent zeal that was to characterise his life, that his position had been

rather a peculiar one having to discharge the duties of an ordained minister (with the exception of dispensing the sacraments,) and he sincerely thanked them for the forbearance which they had manifested towards him. He ignored the proposition so irreverently maintained by many, that education alone could make a useful minister of the Gospel. There were many, be said, who, although well educated seem to have no call to the ministry, and the absence of this was very prominently exhibited by them in the pulpit, standing there like icebergs, and “reading” their discourses which were as cold as the waters of the Arctic Sea, and as devoid of feeling as the motions of the slimy snail were devoid of activity. No one could deny that such men were mere drones in the clerical hive, and altogether unsuited to the work of the ministry. And one of the great causes of the low status of the Presbyterian Church in the colony is to be traced, in a great measure, to the utter want of energy and zeal displayed by such ministers, who, instead of fostering a love for Christ in their people, excite feelings of an opposite character.[17]

Yet this was not a depreciation of the value of education for Gilchrist was relinquishing this position to take up studies at the University of Sydney. He had come to the view that a ‘thorough University training was needed by a man who wished to thoroughly qualify himself for the Christian ministry’.[18] He left St Marys with the encouragement of the congregation that he would do well as a minister. He was farewelled with gifts and with the songs of the school choir conducted by the schoolmaster, and his friend Peter McCormick. In the choir was a rosy-cheeked sixteen-year-old named Hadassah Kendall (1847-1901) who had caught his eye and with whom he had fallen in love. Four years later he would marry Hadassah[19] and they would have 11 children, nine of whom reached adulthood.[20]

At the beginning of 1864, Gilchrist matriculated for University and graduated with a BA in 1867. He entered theological studies under tutors appointed by the Presbytery of Sydney[21] and was licensed as a preacher of the gospel in 1867,[22] the first licentiate of the Presbyterian Church which resulted from the union of 1865. On being licensed, Gilchrist was appointed to preach in Braidwood for three months[23] and the people of Braidwood issued Gilchrist with a call to be their minister;[24] he refused it. Instead, he took up the request of the Pitt Street Church to be an assistant pastor to the Rev Dr Fullerton who was in poor health. In doing so, he chose to take on a task that was more work for less pay than would have been the case in Braidwood.[25] The reasons he chose to do so were probably both personal and academic. On his return, he married Hadassah Kendall[26] and he was also able, in returning to Sydney, to continue his academic career at the University.

For whatever reason, the assistantship with Fullerton did not prove to be a long-term relationship and the newly formed congregation of Newtown issued Gilchrist a call which he accepted. He was now able to be ordained to the ministry and this took place at Newtown on September 1, 1868.[27] Dr Steel addressed Gilchrist on the occasion and exhorted him to ‘faithfulness, diligence in study and in pastoral visitation, prayer, and consistency’.[28]  Gilchrist was to prove himself able in all these areas and one in particular, that of diligent study.

Gilchrist was a gifted scholar and in his BA, in his first and second years, he was awarded the Professor John Smith’s prize for viva voce examination in chemistry and physics and held, in his third year, the Deas-Thomson Scholarship for Physical Science.[29] He continued his studies and took out an MA (1870),[30] an LLB (1871)[31] and an LLD (1873).[32]

Having concluded his formal studies and five years at Newtown, Gilchrist may have been looking for a greater challenge and wider usefulness in Christian ministry. In December 1873, he was inducted as a minister at Scot’s Church Sydney with John Dunmore Lang retaining the position of senior minister but retiring from all charge of the congregation.[33] Lang went overseas in April 1874 and did not return until February 1875.[34] On his return, Lang became aware that in the very brief interval since the commencement of Gilchrist’s ministry ‘the church had been going down very rapidly both in membership and in the number of adherents as well as in funds’.[35] When Gilchrist received a call to Goulburn Lang wrote to Gilchrist in November 1875 giving his advice to Gilchrist that he should, given the state of Scots Church, give serious consideration to accepting the call. Lang, not overly tactfully, compared Gilchrist’s ministry to that of other assistants he had had and said to Gilchrist that

although you may be superior to both of them as a scholar, a lecturer, and a preacher, they are both greatly superior to you as pastors; and that is the very important point in which you seem to have failed.[36]

Despite Lang’s original recommendation of Gilchrist, he had concluded that Gilchrist did not have the required skills to minister to a congregation like Scots. Whatever Lang’s motives were for his letter, Gilchrist took offense at the letter’s contents and showed it to some congregational members who supported Gilchrist; this led to considerable unpleasantness at congregational meetings over the issue. Gilchrist remained at Scots until May 1877 when he received a call to the Union Church, North Melbourne. Many of the Scots congregation realised his worth and did want to lose Gilchrist and resolved to tell their minister that they regarded him as

an able and faithful preacher of the Gospel and are become attached to him as their pastor. That they, therefore, wish him to continue with them and would regard his removal as highly injurious to the best interests of their church.[37]

Despite their pleas Gilchrist accepted the call, whether he was tempted by the higher salary or not, as suggested at the Scots congregational meeting, he did have the support of an expanding family of four children to consider. It is more likely that Gilchrist went to Melbourne for the additional challenge of the work and working with Lang in the wings could not have been an easy thing even for someone as gifted as Gilchrist. Many in the congregation obviously found Gilchrist a welcome relief after Lang and in order to keep Lang out of the pulpit the office bearers locked the doors of the church on the Sabbath following Gilchrist’s departure. It was to no avail as Lang ignored the agreement that he was merely a nominal senior minister and he got the police and carpenters to deal with the doors and he resumed ministering at Scots.[38]

Whatever the feelings of Gilchrist towards Lang over these matters, he was later to acknowledge the debt Presbyterianism owed to him saying that John Dunmore Lang was

the venerable father of Australasian Presbyterianism, the heroic vindicator of Presbyterian rights and liberties in the early days of the colony, the great representative Scotchman of Australia for more than half a century, the far-seeing and enlightened statesman, whose patriotic services are now universally acknowledged, and whose memory the citizens of the country he loved are determined to keep green. [39]

Gilchrist was inducted as the minister of the Union Church Hotham, Victoria, a church of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (PCV), on June 19, 1877.[40]  Gilchrist was an active minister and January 1879 oversaw the laying of a foundation stone for a new church[41] and its opening in August 1879.[42] Once again, after a few years of energetic ministry, Gilchrist became unwell and felt the need to resign his position and have a complete rest. His resignation was accepted on March 17, 1884, after a ministry of nearly seven years. He did so because of a decline in his health, but he also ‘hoped that all differences would be blotted out by his resignation’.[43] While the Rev D S M’Eachran said that Gilchrist had ‘built one of the finest churches and gathered a most worthy congregation’,[44] clearly not everyone was happy with his ministry. A reading of the newspaper reports of congregational meetings does tend to give the view that Gilchrist often had an agenda that he relentlessly pursued at such meetings and a number of times lacked fairness in dealing with those who opposed him.[45]

Gilchrist and the congregation had been in dispute for some time with the PCV over what Gilchrist and the congregation regarded as an unfair and discriminatory impost on their funds which had been derived from a sale of property. The PCV seem unyielding on this and the situation was at one point so grave that Gilchrist contemplated resignation and succession from the PCV.[46] The congregation wished to avoid such an action as it would want, it felt, to support Gilchrist and in doing so would have to relinquish their property. They pleaded with Gilchrist not to resign and with great reluctance Gilchrist agreed. Gilchrist and the church, however, retained the belief that the denomination had treated them unfairly and unjustly.[47] This belief was reinforced when a petition, presented to the Victorian Assembly by ministers of the denomination who felt the Assembly’s treatment of Gilchrist and the Hotham congregation was not satisfactory, was dismissed without a hearing. Gilchrist’s feelings were evident by his comment that it was

a singular want of fairness displayed in the conduct of those who succeeded in throwing out the petition without giving the petitioning brethren the opportunity of being heard. In the face of such un-British and unmanly procedure, need we wonder if we are told that the very name of the Presbyterian Church courts has come to stink in the nostrils of the community?[48]

There were also other matters of controversy that arose towards the end of Gilchrist’s time of ministry in Melbourne. In 1883 at Hotham there was a dispute over the use of Church funds for charitable purposes and problems over the financial terms of Gilchrist’s proposed sick leave.[49] By the beginning 1884, Gilchrist had been unwell for months and was getting worse and the congregation’s finances were suffering due to his long absence from the pulpit so he took the decision to resign. His intention was to take a trip to England and then probably return, not to Victoria, but to the colony of NSW where he hoped that with his health restored he could be useful:[50]

He did not think a man at 40 ought to entertain the idea that he was altogether broken down, that there was no future for him, no prospect of a sphere of usefulness in another clime, and he entertained the hope that when enjoying the benefits of a change, and of travel, and of new society, he should get restored to health and strength once more, and he as vigorous as ever for carrying on the Master’s work.[51]

Gilchrist went overseas leaving Melbourne[52] and returned to the colony of NSW in 1885. He received a call to St Johns Paddington and was inducted as the minister on 24 March 1885,[53] and once again became active in the work of the parish and beyond. In the years 1886 to 1888, Gilchrist gave lectures in modern history for the University of Sydney’s ‘Scheme for University Extension’, each course of lectures extending over 10 weeks.[54] The subjects included: ‘The French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’ (1886); ‘England under the Houses of Lancaster and York’; ‘England under the Plantagenet Kings’ (1887); and ‘Europe in the Days of Louis XIII and Louis XIV’ (1888). Other public lectures that he gave were on ‘The rise of the Dutch Republic (1886),[55] and earlier in his career on Scottish themes such as Sir Walter Scott (1877),[56] Robert Burns (1882),[57] and General Gordon (1885).[58] Gilchrist was appointed moderator of the Presbyterian Church in the State of NSW (PCNSW) General Assembly from 1889 to 1890,[59] the first NSW-trained minister to be so appointed.[60]  All the while his health was fragile and he again became seriously ill in 1891.[61] After returning from this bout of ill health in mid-1891 he said

He now felt himself to be in the fair way to complete restoration, and he trusted by the blessing of God to be soon able to discharge all the duties of his office as in days gone by.[62]

He did return to active ministry and his health was far from fully restored. In 1892, the provisional council of The Scots College chose him to be the first principal,[63] but he refused the offer. In 1893, he was appointed the Convener of the Home Mission Committee of PCNSW. 

In early 1894 Gilchrist again became ill and by December he had had a ‘paralytic seizure’, most probably a stroke, and lost his power of speech. By 1895 he had suffered a second stroke.[64]  He was granted leave from his parish, but eventually took the decision to retire from the ministry as hopes of a recovery faded.[65] Gilchrist demitted the parish of St Johns and was granted £100 per annum by St Johns as a first charge on its funds and the provision of a manse and £100 from the Aged and Infirm Minister’s Fund.[66] In October 1896, he suffered a third stroke and died at Willoughby on 15 December, 1896; he was 53 years old.[67]

Near the end of his life Gilchrist was described by one newspaper as a ‘great polemic … almost as great the late Dr M’Gibbon’.[68] Gilchrist was an able and passionate speaker who did not avoid controversy and spoke to the issues of his day. One newspaper editor expressed his admiration for Gilchrist ‘because of his pluck and perseverance, and also … of his fighting qualities’ but noted that ‘he has held good positions in his church, and would probably held better, but for the fact he has had just a little too much of the pugnacious element to his nature’.[69] His clarity of expression and forthrightness meant that his speeches were noted and often recorded at length in the newspapers. These reports give an insight into his views on various topics.


While in Victoria, Gilchrist took a part in the education debate speaking at a meeting of the National Education Defence Association. He believed that a national system of education was preferable to the denominational system of education. The aim of the state in education was to make good citizens and to enable the rising generation to exercise intelligently the rights and privileges of citizenship. This was best achieved, he argued, by having one class of schools without sectarian distinctions. ‘By dividing the schools into factions there would be dissension, hatred, and strife, rather than union, harmony or brotherhood.’[70] He championed a view that supported education that was ‘Firstly, purely national; second, purely secular; third, compulsory; and fourth free’. By secular education Gilchrist explained he meant ’it should not be religious in the sense of imparting religion according to any system of doctrine but that it should not necessarily be irreligious, that it should include religion in the practical bearing on the everyday duties of life’[71]

Yet such views did not stop him from taking a leading role in the formation of The Scots College in Sydney in 1892 and 1893. In his moderatorial speech of 1889, Gilchrist did not refer to the need for a school such as Scots. In his address as moderator he made a strong case for a ‘properly equipped Theological Seminary’[72] wholly under the supervision of the Assembly, separate from St Andrews College, to train an Australian ministry. Gilchrist, prescient of related issues which would arise after the Church Union in 1977, saw the arrangement with St Andrews, which permitted its use to train ministers, as unsatisfactory as ‘the church must reserve to herself the right of determining who shall be taken into training for ministerial office’.[73] The formation of a dedicated seminary would give, he said, ‘the appearance of completeness to our educational machinery’:

With the ladies’ college at Ashfield for the superior training of our girls, the Cooerwull academy at Bowenfels for the higher education of our boys, and St Andrews’s College for the help of our young men attending the University we want the Theological Hall to put the cope stone to our educational edifice.[74]

As Sherrington and Prentice note, most Presbyterians were happy with the State’s provision of schooling. There was, however, a concern about the need for boarding facilities for children from remote areas and the provision of suitable education for future ministers as well as a fear of losing children to other churches that provided superior secondary schools.[75] After much dithering by the Presbyterian Church Assembly-appointed committees, Gilchrist took charge and energetically pursued the formation of the school. It was a difficult time economically in the colony but by dogged persistence and enthusiasm, when almost every other member of the appointed committee with him had given up, Gilchrist found a way forward.[76] A guarantor was found, a provisional council appointed, a suitable site was being investigated and the college was to commence at the beginning of 1893. All of this took place without any further reference to the Assembly.

In August 1892, the provisional council unanimously offered Gilchrist the position of principal. Gilchrist asked for time to consider the matter[77]  and a little over a week later[78] he indicated he would not take up the position. He gave no reason, but that he did not accept the appointment straight away indicates he had some reservations about doing so at the time and the most obvious and likely reason would have been his fragile health.[79] Sherrington and Prentice also suggest that other factors may have been the likely hostility of the Assembly towards him, given the controversy surrounding the formation of the College, and of Aspinall being a guarantor and someone who was keen to do the job.[80] While these may have been factors it is unlikely that his concern was about hostility towards himself in the Assembly as the controversy had yet to begin when Gilchrist gave his response to the committee.[81] Furthermore, it did not seem to be within Gilchrist’s character to be intimidated in the face of opposition.

Loyal Orange Institution

Both Archibald and his brother Alexander were active members of the Loyal Orange Institution. Alexander was more deeply involved, being NSW Grand Secretary from 1876 -1916,[82] and he was also secretary to the Grand Council of Australasia which was formed in large measure through his efforts.[83] During his time in Melbourne, however, Archibald was elected the Right Worshipful Master of the Loyal Orange Lodge of Victoria[84] and was defensive of its activities stating that

the fact that a number of leading clergymen belonged to the order is a guarantee that nothing occurred within its halls of which an honest man should feel ashamed.[85]

This was perhaps a defense against the charge of it being a ‘secret society’ and its reputation in Ireland and Scotland where members were known for their intemperance and love of a drink.

Archibald saw its positive effect:

that a keener watch was being kept on the movements of events both in the religious and political world, with a view to the taking of such action as might secure the free play of liberal Protestant principles in the conduct of public affairs, as well as the prevention of sectarian partiality in the appointment of public officers.[86]

He maintained that the role of the Orange order was the same as in Britain, and

that it was necessary to preserve an attitude of antagonism to the Church of Rome, inasmuch as although she had not moved with the advancing intelligence of the ages, she still claimed an infallible authority over the conscience in all things, and the right to depose kings, to absolve peoples from allegiance to their princes, to persecute those holding doctrines opposed to her own, and to have a controlling voice in the state arrangements for the education of youth.[87]

But while living in the utmost harmony with their Roman Catholic fellow citizens, and acknowledging the claims of charity, they must maintain a firm protest against their principles and practice, and adhere to truth and righteousness. [88]

As an Orangeman and a clergyman, Gilchrist’s concern was both theological and political. If Roman Catholics gained great political influence this would, in the orange view of the world, lead to greater theological influence. Roman Catholicism, while it still needed to be carefully monitored, was on the wane in Gilchrist’s view:

the condition both of Italy and Spain, as he contended, demonstrated this, and the greater facilities afforded for worship according to the protestant faith in the one country, and the greater circulation of the Bible in both, proved that the reign of Roman Catholicism was virtually over.[89]

He was opposed to “Home Rule”, and thereby what he considered to be the break-up of the British Empire,[90] and he spoke passionately concerning it:

Men might have their own views about home rule and autonomy for Ireland, but he believed that every honest-thinking man agreed with Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher, that the proposals of William Gladstone were those of a madman, and that to give over the Protestant population of Ulster to the tender mercies of an Irish parliament in Dublin would be an act of treachery towards those to whom they were bound by the strongest ties … without wishing to endanger the general principles of home rule … it was not the question of self-government, but whether they would allow those belonging to the same religious association to be placed in circumstances that would endanger their observance of those principles handed down by their forefathers …[91]

For Gilchrist the issue was not Home Rule, but ran the danger of being “Rome Rule”. He considered that the proposals for Home Rule handed the minority protestant population of Ireland into the hands of the Roman Church’s hierarchy and their subservient political agents.[92]

It was during the period of Archibald’s presidency of the Loyal Orange Order that a suspicious package, addressed to him as President of the Orange Lodge, arrived at his house. It contained a glass syringe filled with liquid which was, in an act of abundant caution, thrown out a window by the Gilchrists and thus destroyed. It was later suggested by a chemist from the remaining fragments of the syringe that it contained ‘nitro-glycerine’.[93] It was said that Gilchrist was in the habit of putting on his advertisements for domestic servants that ‘No Irish need apply’ and this, it was suggested, had caused offence. More accurately, Gilchrist actually placed on his advertisements that applicants should be Protestants. This was done, it was said, as

the doctor, in common with most other clergymen, is in the habit of having every member of his household in to family prayers at night and morning, and so as to prevent unpleasantness in having among his domestics any of a different religion, he adds to his advertisements for servants “Protestants”.[94]

The origin of the commitment of Archibald and Alexander to Orangeism is unknown. As nineteenth-century protestants they shared with their fellow religionists a rejection of Roman Catholic theology and were wary of the political and social motives of the Roman Catholic church. But this common protestant caution does not explain their adherence to Orangeism within Australia. The Gilchrists were not from Ulster, which was a stronghold of the Orange Order, but were Scottish born and Scotland was not particularly receptive to Orangeism.[95] Presumably, Orangeism was a commitment nurtured within their working-class family arising from their origins in the Glasgow area where adherence to the Order was quite strong among the working class. This family influence flowered in the Gilchrists in the developing religious and political scene of both NSW and Victoria.

Government in a Christian State

Gilchrist saw colonial society as a Christian society and state where he, as a Christian minister and citizen, often involved himself publically in political and social issues. He said that

the Government of a Christian country must be carried on upon Christian principles, because anything done by the Government had or ought to be merely the expression and will of the majority of people.[96]

In Gilchrist’s view Protestant Christians, with their view of the Divine obligation of Sabbath day rest, were in the majority in the colony. Thus the state ought to act to allow those who constitute the bulk of people a free exercise of their religious convictions. So the Government, though it might be said to have nothing to do with religion, ought not to allow such things as Museums to open on the Sabbath or relax Sabbath laws to allow businesses to open as people would not be able to enjoy a Sabbath rest as their convictions required.

His attitude to the French annexation of the New Hebrides, with the acquiescence of the NSW and the British governments, reveals his understanding of the role of citizens towards their government. He said ‘We have, however, reached an age when Governments have been taught to understand that they exist by the will of the people and that the popular voice must not be disregarded in questions of State policy.’[97] Therefore, if nothing is said, Government will conclude that the people are with them, so citizens have a special obligation to make their voice heard when they disapprove of an action of their rulers as unwise or unjust. Especially it is essential that ‘pious and godly men to raise their testimony in behalf of truth and righteousness’… they must ‘resolutely buckle on the Christian armour in the confidence that, however weak in themselves, the truth they contend for is strong and must ultimately prevail, because ‘the Lord is in his Holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven’.[98]

In the Mount Rennie rape case, he spoke at the Sydney Town Hall meeting in favour of not exacting the death penalty as it was, he thought, not commensurate with the crime. His plea for mercy for the perpetrators, he said, did not spring from the character of the victim, she was a prostitute, nor from any sympathy with the criminals nor of a desire to get them off as the ‘most abandoned woman in the community should not be without the protection of the strong arm of the law. But [he] held that the death penalty was too severe a punishment for the crime of rape.’ The execution of ‘mere boys’ would be ‘an act of barbarism altogether unworthy of the Executive of a civilised, enlightened, and Christianised people …. Crime of this nature was not punished by death in England, Scotland, or on the Continent, or in other civilised lands of the present day’.[99]


Gilchrist said of himself that he was an admirer of Luther and the Reformers. He was a son of John Knox, and ever would be. He was never afraid of the grand old principles and he was never afraid to tell his fellow colonists that they owed the freedom they enjoyed, under God, to the efforts of the Reformers. He agreed with Queen Victoria that the Word of God was the foundation of the British Empire’s prosperity and the secret of England’s greatness and glory. [100]

William Dill Macky said of him that ‘As a theologian Dr Gilchrist belonged to the old school, having but little sympathy with the new thought, with the school of higher criticism. He lived his life in the simple faith of the fathers.’ [101]

In his moderator’s address, Gilchrist said to a Church beginning to grapple with the issues of rising theological liberalism and the advances of scientific knowledge that

Saving Theology is not a development, but a revelation, and that the Christianity of the present age will be influential for good just in the degree in which it approaches in character to the Christianity of the Apostolic age. The theology of Christ and His inspired Apostles, and not the theology of ‘Modern Thought,’ will be found effective in stemming the flood-like advance of worldliness and infidelity.’[102]

Commenting on what he considered the laborious efforts of some to square Scripture and popular scientific theories of the day, he says that ministers of religion

should be the friends of every true science, and give a cordial welcome to all its discoveries. Having the conviction that the God of the Bible is the God of Nature, they should receive every well-established fact of science as in itself as revelation of Deity. But the acceptance of the established facts of science is one thing, and the approval of the unsupported theories of scientific men is quite another.[103]

In this regard, the Darwinian theory of Evolution was in his sights. He believed it was atheistic in its direction and if true would mean that the biblical schema of the work of God in creation, fall, and redemption was not true, and thus ‘the whole fabric of Christianity is founded on imposture and delusion, and must come to the ground’. He thought that whoever supported the theory of Evolution was opposed by ‘stubborn facts’ such as the sterility of hybrids and the geological record not supplying the transitional forms required. The claim that future discoveries would provide the ‘missing links’ was, he said, a poor refuge in the argument.[104]

Preaching and speaking

 In an article on Gilchrist The Presbyterian said of him:

In debate he is ready, acute, powerful and trenchant; and he never knows when he is beaten. Both sides feel that he is an opponent to be dreaded and an ally to be courted. By common consent he is the foremost debater in the Church. If he had gone to the bar or entered Parliament, his eminent abilities would have placed him in the first rank.[105]

As a preacher, Gilchrist was said to have ‘a melodious voice and an eloquent address’[106] and Dill Macky said that ‘As a preacher he was pointed, direct, powerful, persuasive and eloquent.’[107] An example of such eloquence was his address at the Church service to celebrate the opening of the Centennial Hall, in the Sydney Town Hall. He concluded by saying:

When those who now filled [this] building … had been gathered to their fathers, and the very memory of their sayings and doings has perished – when new generations of men and women should tread our streets and throng our places of public concourse; when science should have wrought changes in the opinions, habits, and customs of civilised society of which the boldest speculator now amongst us never dreamt, might there still live there, in vigour  and freshness, a national Faith in the efficacy of the divine blessing, leading earnest souls to clasp their hands and lift their faces heavenward while they cried:

O God! Our Help in ages past!

Our Hope for years to come!

Our Shelter from the stormy blast!

And our Eternal Home![108]

Last words

His good friend, fellow minister, and Orangeman William Dill Macky, said of him:

In his disposition Dr Gilchrist was extremely persevering. Once he put his hand to the plough there was no looking back, there were no difficulties too great for him to overcome, no obstacles too insuperable for him to surmount. The last work which he accomplished for the Presbyterian Church – the establishment of The Scots College – would always remain a standing testimony to the indefatigable zeal and earnestness and perseverance with which he undertook any work with which the Church entrusted him.[109]

On the fourth speech day of The Scots College, the day after Gilchrist’s burial, Dill Macky reminded the boys that their motto ‘Utinam patribus nostris digni simus’ (O that we may be worthy of our forefathers) was the creation, he said, of ‘the busy brain that had now ceased to plan for your welfare’. He exhorted the students to:

live it out in your lives! So will you honour him who wrought to the utmost of his ability for your advantage, and so you will prove yourselves worthy scions of the race from whom you have sprung’. [110]

Gilchrist’s dynamism was a personal characteristic of the man, but it was a dynamism in the cause of Christ – he sought in his life, learning, churchmanship, and words to promote Christ’s message. He was, as his name ‘Gilchrist’ meant, a ‘servant of Christ’.


The appropriate way to cite this article is as follows:

Paul F Cooper. Archibald Gilchrist (1843-1896), servant of Christ Philanthropy and Philanthropists in Australian Colonial History, 9 December 2022, available at

[1] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 9.

[2] 1851 Scotland Census and on emigration was termed a farm servant.

[3] The other Gilchrist children were Neil (1838-1842), John (1841-1842).

[4] Contra SMH, December 15, 1896, 5 which has his age as 6.

[5] SMH, July 20, 1877, 6.

[6] Alexander was on the goldfields at least from 1859-1863 for the birth of three of his children and possibly remained there until 1864 when he came to Sydney for teacher training. SMH, December 22, 1916, 8. Alexander was to have a long career as a teacher.

[7] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[8] The encouragement was given by William Manson partner with John Fraser in the firm John Frazer and Co. The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[9] Gilchrist took out prizes in June and December 1861 in Classics, French and Mathematics and seems to have left the school at the end of 1861. SMH, December 14, 1861, 7.

[10] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 9. In 1863 Sands Directory he is listed as a ‘Teacher’; City of Sydney Assessment Book 1863; The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), December 25, 1896, 4-5.

[11] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[12] The date was February 18, 1863. Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), January 23, 1941, 5.

[13] P.D. McCormick was appointed to teach at the national school on the recommendation of Gilchrist. Empire, (Sydney, NSW) July 24, 1863; January 7, 1864; Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), January 23, 1941, 5.

[14] He had, however, preached there on December 14, 1862 probably as an encouragement to the congregation to accept his appointment on a more permanent basis the following year. Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), January 23, 1941, 5.

[15] Empire, (Sydney, NSW) January 5, 1864, 5.

[16] Empire, (Sydney, NSW) January 7, 1864, 5.

[17] Empire, (Sydney, NSW) January 7, 1864, 5.

[18] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[19] Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW), January 23, 1941, 5.

[20] Jessie (1869-1945), Wallace (1871-1876), Rosabel (1873-1943), Livingstone (1875-1889), Wallace (1877-1845), Archibald (1880-1955), Bruce (1883-1945), Alexander (1885-1944), Dessah (Myrtle) (1887-1927), Kathleen (1888-1928) and Norma (1892-1894). Western Mail (Perth, WA), May 12, 1906, 30.

[21] They were the Rev Dr Steel, Adam Thomson, Dr McGibbon, R.S. Patterson and Dr. Wazir Beg. The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[22] November 5, 1867.

[23] SMH, November 13, 1867, 4.

[24] SMH, December 26, 1867, 4.

[25] SMH, March 13, 1868, 4.

[26] The marriage took place on 29th January 1868.

[27] The Presbyterian practice was that a person could only be ordained a minister if they had received ‘a call’ from a congregation to be its minister. ‘The call’ of the people was thus seen to confirm the ordinand’s inward call of God to the ministry.

[28] Empire (Sydney, NSW), September 2, 1868, 4.

[29] SMH, December 15, 1896, 5; Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 9.

[30] The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (Maitland, NSW), May 28, 1870, 5.

[31] Empire (Sydney, NSW), April 3, 1871, 3.

[32] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), April 12, 1873, 10.

[33] Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverine Reporter (Wagga Wagga, NSW), December 10, 1873, 3. He may have considered he could work with Lang as he had been a strong and vocal supporter of the appointment of Lang as the Principal of St Andrews College. Empire (Sydney, NSW), December 13, 1871, 2.

[34] John Dunmore Lang, The recent Co-pastorate of the Scots Church and how I fared under it [1877], 2. The NSW State Library dates this as 1876 but this cannot be correct.  Lang says on page 6 speaking of Gilchrist that his reason “for rejecting the call to Goulburn was that he anticipated a preferable one from Melbourne, which I am happy to find he has since got.” The call from Melbourne to Gilchrist was agreed to by the Melbourne Presbytery on 18/4/1877 [SMH, April 26, 1877, 5] and was accepted by Gilchrist at the Presbytery of Sydney 15/5/1877 [SMH, May 17, 1877, 5.]. Therefore Lang must have written his pamphlet no earlier than May 17, 1877.

[35] Lang, Co-pastorate, 2.

[36] Lang, Co-pastorate, 5.

[37] SMH, May 11, 1877, 4.

[38] The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld), June 30, 1877, 9.

[39] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 4-5.

[40] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), July 9, 1877, 1.

[41] January 14, 1879. Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), January 15, 1879, 6.

[42] August 31, 1879. Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), September 3, 1879, 3.

[43] SMH, March 19, 1884, 10.

[44] SMH, March 19, 1884, 10.

[45] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), February 28, 1884, 6.

[46] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), November 19, 1880, 7; November 26, 1880, 6.

[47] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), December 4, 1880, 7.

[48] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), November 26, 1880, 6.

[49] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), October 5, 1883, 5 for an account of an unpleasant meeting that did not reflect well on Gilchrist.

[50] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), March 19, 1884, 5, 9.

[51] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), March 19, 1884, 9.

[52] He sailed, without his family, on the Chimborazo leaving Melbourne for Liverpool on April 5, 1884. Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), April 5, 1884, 8. He left London on November 8, 1884 and arrived back in Melbourne on the RMSS Clyde on December 20, 1884 and thence he went to Sydney.  Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), December 22, 1884, 4; SMH, January 10, 1885, 3.

[53] SMH, March 26, 1885, 7.

[54] His own daughter Jessie Gilchrist attended the lectures and was successful in the examinations. SMH, September 21, 1887, 5; January 9, 1888, 7.

[55] SMH, August 10, 1886, 1.  Lecture for the YMCA.

[56] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), July 25, 1877, 4.

[57] South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA), August 25, 1882, 6.

[58] SMH, February 20, 1885, 4.

[59] SMH, March 6, 1889, 4.

[60] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 2, 1889, 7.

[61] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), January 24, 1891, 9.

[62] SMH, June 2 1891, 5.

[63] SMH, August 13, 1892, 8.

[64] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), January 5, 1895, 4.

[65] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), September 28, 1895, 8.

[66] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), March 17, 1896, 5.

[67] SMH, December 15, 1896, 5.

[68] Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), November 26, 1896, 4.

[69]  Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW), January 5, 1895, 4.

[70] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), September 13, 1879, 5.

[71] Protestant Standard (Sydney, NSW), October 11, 1879, 5.

[72] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 4-5.

[73] Theological training was only removed from the facilities of St Andrews after the church union of 1977 when the NSW General Assembly decided that St Andrews, by its rejection of certain Assembly appointed staff appointed to train its ministers, was infringing upon the Church’s right to control its own training of ministers.

[74] SMH, March 6, 1889, 4.

[75] G. Sherrington and M. Prentice, Scots to the Fore. A History of Scots College, 1893-1993 (Hale and Ironmonger, Sydney, 1993), 27.

[76] W. Dill Macky, first Scots College Speech Day. Archibald Gilchrist ministers file, Ferguson Library.

[77] SMH, August 13, 1892, 8.

[78] Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW), September 3, 1892, 9. The meeting took place on 24th August 1892.

[79] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), August 27, 1892; March 18, 1893 Supplement iv.

[80] Sherrington and Prentice, Scots to the Fore, 29.

[81] Sherrington and Prentice,see the controversy beginning with an article by the Rev Dr AC Geikie in the Presbyterian dated August 27, 1892, however, Gilchrist had declined the position on August 24, 1892.

[82] SMH, December 23, 1916, 7.

[83] Watchman (Sydney, NSW), January 4, 1917, 7.

[84] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), February 6, 1882, 4.

[85] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), July 13, 1883, 4.

[86] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), February 6, 1882, 4.

[87] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), February 6, 1882, 4.

[88] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), February 6, 1882, 4.

[89] SMH, March 17, 1876, 5.

[90] SMH, August 13, 1886, 4.

[91] Goulburn Herald (Goulburn, NSW), July 15, 1886, 2.

[92] SMH, July 13, 1892, 3.

[93] An alternate version of events, given by Gilchrist which stressed his desire to play down the significance of the incident says the Chemist expressed no opinion. The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), April 11, 1883, 5.

[94] Bendigo Advertiser (Bendigo, Victoria), April 11, 1883, 2.

[95] See E.W. McFarland, Protestants First, Orangeism in Nineteenth Century Scotland (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1990).

[96] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), April 30, 1883, 7.

[97] SMH April 5, 1886, 5.

[98] SMH April 5, 1886, 5.

[99] SMH, December 30, 1886, 5.

[100] Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), April 3, 1884, 10.

[101] SMH, December 17, 1896, 5.

[102] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 4-5.

[103] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 4-5.

[104] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), March 9, 1889, 4-5.

[105] The Presbyterian (Sydney, NSW), July 29, 1893, 3.

[106] The South Australian Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), August 25, 1882, 6.

[107] SMH, December 17, 1896, 5.

[108] Evening News (Sydney, NSW), December 2, 1889, 2.

[109] SMH, December 17, 1896, 5.

[110] Archibald Gilchrist, minister’s file, Ferguson Library.

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