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HENDERSON, James (1820-1905)

HENDERSON, Reverend James (1820-1905)

Rev. James Henderson was among the founders of Geelong College as a member of the committee convened to enquire into the feasibility of establishing a Presbyterian Grammar School in Geelong in April 1861. At the time he was in charge of the Ryrie St Presbyterian Church.

He is mentioned several times in the 'Jubilee History of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria' describes his appointment to Geelong:
'The first important act of the Melbourne Presbytery of the United Presbyterian Church in their isolated position was a pleasing one, and seemed to indicate that, under the grace of the Great Head of the Church, their days of useful service were not ended. The Geelong congregation had been vacant from November, 1857. It proved a very hard matter to move the Synod in Scotland to send out preachers, and there were a number of vacant charges which it seemed next to impossible to fill. During 1858 Rev. A. M. Ramsay, who paid a visit to Scotland, and who returned in February, 1859, found it a difficult thing to induce a sufficient number of suitable ministers to emigrate.

The Rev. James Henderson, of Duntocher, after full and serious deliberation, resolved to resign his charge and emigrate with the prospect of undertaking the pastoral oversight of Ryrie-street Church, Geelong. He presented to the Presbytery satisfactory testimonials of his full ministerial standing. He was duly called by the congregation, and the Presbytery met at Geelong on the 17th May, 1859, and inducted him into his charge. Mr. Henderson continued to minister acceptably to the congregation till May, 1866.'

His appointment terminated under curious circumstances: 'May. — An extraordinary meeting of Presbytery was called by Rev. James Henderson, Moderator, to be held in Ryrie-Street Church, Geelong, to consider the petition of Rev. J. Henderson for counsel and advice in connection with certain critical circumstances which had arisen in the congregation. After patient investigation and prayerful deliberation, it was resolved to dissolve the tie between Mr. Henderson and the Ryrie-street congregation. The tie was dissolved accordingly, and the pulpit declared to be vacant.'

In February 1867 it was further noted that: 'Rev. James Henderson, labouring at Sebastopol, had sent a letter informing the Presbytery that he had gone to Adelaide on invitation to preach under the sanction of the Presbytery in some of their vacancies; that he had left in December, with the prospect of being absent five or six weeks, but that it was doubtful whether he should return at all.'

The Geelong Advertiser however, took a positivie view of these events when it recorded that: 'The Rev. James Henderson, late of Geelong, who has recently migrated to South Australia, appears to be immensely popular in that colony, as I learn that he has received calls from the Presbyterian congregations of Port Adelaide, Kapunda, and Wallaroo respectively, and there would appear .to have been a considerable struggle for his services. Finally, after prolonged and earnest consideration, he has concluded to accept the cure of Port Adelaide, and he will be inducted into his new charge on 18th April.'

The Observer newspaper of Adelaide reported Rev. James Henderson's death: 'The many friends of the Rev. James Henderson will regret to learn of his death which occurred at Finniss street, North Adelaide, on Wednesday. The deceased gentleman was born at Glasgow on January 26, 1820, and completed his education at the university in that city. Shortly afterwards he was ordained a minister of the United Presbyterian Church, and his first charge was at Duntocher, near Glasgow.

After a successful pastorate there he was invited to take charge of the Ryrie Street Presbyterian Church, Geelong, Victoria, and came to Australia with his family early in 1859. He continued at Geelong for about seven years. During that period he took much interest in the public institutions of the town, particularly in those of a benevolent or literary character. He was a member of the boards of the Geelong Hospital and Mechanics' Institute, and assisted his wife in founding two free schools for ragged children in that town.

In 1867 he came to South Australia, and was simultaneously offered the pastorates of the Presbyterian Churches at Port Adelaide, Wallaroo, and Kapunda. He accepted the call to Port Adelaide, and his ministry there was arduous and successful. In 1871 he was called to succeed the late Rev. Robert Haining as minister of St. Andrew's Church, Wakefield street. He continued there for 10 years. It seemed to be Mr. Henderson's mission to fill empty churches. He was an impressive, eloquent, and popular preacher - a sound theologian, and a man of broad views and kindly nature. He was especially popular with young men. At Port Adelaide he founded in 1868 one of the first young men's societies in the State. Among its active members in his time were Mr. J. H. (now Mr. Justice) Gordon and the late Mr. David Bews. The St. Andrew's Literary Society, which last week celebrated its thirty-third anniversary, was founded by Mr. Henderson.

With literary tastes and elocutionary gifts of a high order, Mr. Henderson was a popular lecturer and platform speaker, and many Scotsmen will recall with delight his eloquent speeches at Caledonian gatherings. For many years he led a retired life, devoting himself to literature. He was a frequent contributor to the columns of The Register.

He has left a daughter (Mrs. McEwin, of Finniss street), five sons (Messrs. James and William Henderson, barristers; Dr. J. H. Henderson, of Crafers; and Messrs. Robert and Bruce Henderson, of Kalgoorlie). The late Lady Downer and Mrs. G. E. Fulton were daughters. There are 20 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.'

Rev. James Henderson died on 19 April 1905 aged 85 years.

His son, James Henderson (1854-1905), was educated at Geelong College. His daughter, Elizabeth Henderson (1852-1896), married John William Downer (1843-1915) in 1871. John Downer was twice Premier of South Australia, 16 June 1885 – 11 June 1887 and 15 October 1892 – 16 June 1893.

Sources: The Geelong Advertiser 21 March 1867 p3 (NLA); The Observer (Adelaide) 22 April 1905 p31 (NLA); A Jubilee History of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria p241, 278.

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