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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Greenwood, James (1839–1882)

by David Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

James Greenwood (1839-1882), Baptist pastor and politician, was born at Todmorden, Lancashire, England, son of Richard Greenwood, factory worker, and his wife Betty. He studied theology under Edward Bean Underhill (1813-1901) and philosophy and economics at the University of London (M.A., 1866). At St Pancras Church of England on 26 June he married Mary Ann Wallis Ward.

Greenwood became pastor of the Baptist Church in Nottingham where he absorbed the politics of the Midlands Dissenters. In July 1870 he arrived in Sydney, called by the Baptist Church in Bathurst Street. In June 1874 he convened a meeting of the clergy and prominent laymen of the Protestant churches to consider 'the propriety of establishing a more efficient and unsectarian system of public instruction'. In August the first public meeting of the Public School League was held and in September Greenwood published its manifesto: New South Wales Public School League, for Making Primary Education National, Secular, Compulsory and Free. In the Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September, its four principles were summarized: the league aimed at making education universal by adopting a uniform system embracing all children of school age and was opposed to the support of denominational education from public funds. He also published a Speech … in Reply to the Hon. Henry Parkes on Education and Sermons for the People. Greenwood was also invited by the Public School League to stand for parliament but he insisted that he could serve the league and the country better out of parliament. His parishioners were becoming restive over his secular and political commitments, and in 1876 he resigned from the Bathurst Street Church and abandoned all his pastoral duties. According to his daughter's 'Recollections', Greenwood had found Baptist theology restrictive. In January 1882 he lectured on 'Free Thought' and told his large audience why he no longer believed in Christian dogmas: he referred to the imperfections of the Bible which 'contained passages which he never dared to read to wife or daughter … If it was to be commonly used it should be made decent by expurgation as Shakespeare had been'.

In 1877-80 Greenwood represented East Sydney in the Legislative Assembly. In 1878 he gave notice of a motion on the league platform but it was never put. However, the first three of the league's objectives were embodied in Parkes's Public Instruction Act, 1880. The editors of A Century of Journalism (Sydney, 1931) claimed that Greenwood was largely responsible for the Act. An active and conscientious member, he was an able public speaker but lacking in tact. He had written in the Sydney Morning Herald on the education question even before 1876 when his resignation from pastoral duties freed him to work for that paper and for the Echo. He was widely read and the breadth and variety of his knowledge made him a competent statistician and he was credited with improving many government statistical returns. He died aged 44 at Paddington on 6 November 1882 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery; no minister of religion officiated. He was survived by his wife, one son and three daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Austin, Australian Education, 1788-1900 (Melb, 1961)
  • A. C. Prior, Some Fell on Good Ground
  • a History of the Beginnings and Development of the Baptist Church in New South Wales, Australia, 1831-1965 (Syd, 1966)
  • A. R. Crane, ‘The New South Wales Public Schools League 1874-1879’, Melbourne Studies in Education, 1964, pp 198-229
  • D. Morris, ‘Henry Parkes—Publicist and Legislator’, in C. Turney (ed), Pioneers of Australian Education, (Syd, 1969), vol 1, pp 155-92
  • Baptist Magazine (London), 1850-70
  • Banner of Truth, 1880-82
  • A. L. Green, Recollections of a Pioneer's Daughter, in Mary Gilmore papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • letters (Central Baptist Church, Sydney)
  • minutes, 1867-78 (Baptist Assn of New South Wales)
  • minutes, 1869-80 (Bathurst St Baptist Church, Sydney).

Citation details

David Morris, 'Greenwood, James (1839–1882)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

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