William Finlayson (churchman)

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William Finlayson ca. 1875

William Finlayson (1813 – 18 December 1897) was a churchman and farmer in the early days of South Australia, and father of nine children including two sons prominent in the early days of that colony.

William Finlayson[edit]

Born in Glasgow, he and his wife, née Helen Harvey (born Edinburgh 1811 – 20 October 1884), arrived at Holdfast Bay on the John Renwick around 7 February 1837, just seven weeks after Governor Hindmarsh.[1] as missionaries with the Baptist Missionary Society of England.[2]

Somehow his missionary ambitions failed to materialise. He found employment with the South Australian Company, keeping sheep at Brownhill Creek with Samuel Sleep.[3] He leased a nearby property of 164 acres from the South Australian Company, which he farmed while living in a cottage in Adelaide. By 1853 he had built a substantial residence "Helenholm" (frequently "Helenholme"), named for his wife,[4] and in 1855 converted his land title to freehold.[5]

He was a member of Robert Cock's 1937 exploration party that climbed Mount Barker and reached Lake Alexandrina. They were fearful of encountering the warlike Peramangk and Kaurna inhabitants, but never saw one, though no doubt their progress was being closely observed.[2]

Adelaide's first Strict Baptist church meeting was held in July or September 1838 at his cottage in Rundle Street (later the site of Charles Birks' shop[6]) with David McLaren acting as pastor.[7]

He was one of the founding members of the first Congregational Church under the leadership of T. Q. Stow,[2] then from 27 September 1857 acted as pastor (initially co-pastor) of Zion Chapel in Hanson Street (later renamed as part of Pulteney Street), a position he held for 40 years.[8] Jacob Abbott was co-pastor for some years before moving to the new church at Stepney 1860 to 1877.

He was, with Thomas Playford (1795 – 1873) and Thomas Mugg (1794 – 1880), a founding trustee of the Mitcham General Cemetery.[4]

In October 1895, he donated around 2 acres of land at Mitcham for the benefit of the destitute elderly, on which the 'Andrews Homes' were built, using money left by Mrs E.W. Andrews of Glenelg.[9]


William Finlayson had nine children.

  • Jane Connell Finlayson, (ca.1837 – ca.1926) never married. Reputedly the first (white) girl born in the colony of South Australia.[8] Another source has her born in Glasgow.[10]
  • Robert Kettle Finlayson (27 April 1839 – 27 March 1917)
  • William Finlayson jun. (18 May 1841 – 20 August 1925)[11] was educated at Adelaide Educational Institution, but did not figure prominently in the prize lists. He was employed at D. & J. Fowler's grocery warehouse and with fellow-employee George Brookman took over their retail outlet at 70 King William Street when the company went strictly wholesale around 1870. He sold that business to Crawford & Co. around 1890 to concentrate on his mining interests.
There was a first wife (ca.1842 – 8 February 1875), name and date of marriage yet to be found[12] by whom he had two daughters.
He married Emily Hambly Nickels ( – 1917) on 10 December 1879.[13] by whom he had two sons.
According to one report, his widow married William Burford and nursed him in his last years.[14] Burford died in 1925. If true, this could only mean that he married a third time.
  • John Harvey Finlayson (3 February 1843 – 30 March 1915)
  • Helen Harvey Finlayson (11 September 1846 – 8 June 1890) married William Ambrose of Mannum[15] She died after falling from a trap driven by her father.[16]
  • Ebenezer Finlayson (25 October 1848 – 2 October 1913)[17] was also educated at Adelaide Educational Institution. He served as navigator on the River Murray with Captain Randell, then in business in partnerships Finlayson & Parsons and Finlayson & Gollin.[18]
  • Jessie Grace Finlayson (26 Sep 1850 – 3 August 1931) never married.[19]
  • Elizabeth Mary Christina "Bessie" Finlayson (26 August 1852 – 9 December 1946) m. Herbert Nickels of Forreston 27 September 1876
  • Hannah Finlayson (8 Jul 1854 – 2 September 1928) m. Capt. William Beavis Randell (1856 – 1917) of Gumeracha[20]

R. K. Finlayson[edit]

Eldest son Robert Kettle Finlayson (27 April 1839 – 27 March 1917) was born in North Adelaide and spent his younger days on their farm in Mitcham.

He was educated at J. L. Young's Adelaide Educational Institution and even while young was a keen church-goer. He ran a Sunday-school in George Street, Stepney for the Rev. Allan W. Webb which became one of the most popular in Adelaide. He was appointed deacon of the Zion Chapel in Pulteney Street, Adelaide and in 1871 was appointed co-pastor, serving the churches in Pulteney Street, George Street and another at Burnside. He followed his father as pastor of Zion Church in December 1897. (Attendance at the Zion chapel later fell away and was used by Plymouth Brethren[8] then the Salvation Army, where it served as a soup kitchen during the Great Depression[21]).

He was secretary of the Adelaide City Mission for more than 25 years.

He was a regular and prominent participant in YMCA midday prayer meetings for 35 years.

He married Elizabeth Cornish (1842 – 1880) ca. 1862 and moved to the city in 1877. They had eight children, one of whom, Frank Arthur Finlayson (1864 – 11 October 1895), a talented cricketer, was involved in a tragic cricketing accident in 1885 at the Adelaide Oval which resulted in the death of another player, Ernest A. Stow,[22] a son of Judge Stow and grandson of T. Q. Stow.

He married the widow of Charles Bowen (née Elizabeth "Edith" Burford (ca.1832 – 28 January 1900), eldest daughter of W. H. Burford) in 1884.[23]

He died at "Helenholm" after several months' severe illness, and was buried at Mitcham cemetery.

J. Harvey Finlayson[edit]

John Harvey Finlayson (3 February 1843 – 30 March 1915), editor and part-owner of the South Australian Register, was born at "Helenholm". He was educated at George Mugg's school and Adelaide Educational Institution.[24]

J.H. Finlayson joined The Register in 1861 and became head reporter 1866, a proprietor in 1877 and editor in 1878. He resigned in 1899 due to ill-health and went to England. There he was appointed resident reporter until retiring and returning to Adelaide in 1908, dying 7 years later. As an editor he was an outspoken supporter of female suffrage, free secular education, free trade between the Colonies, and Federation. He was an active Congregational churchman, and was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1880.[24]

He married Alice Shoobridge (ca. 1847 – 6 June 1933) on 20 March 1878. They had a son Harvey Pym Finlayson,[25][26] and a daughter Katharine, ("Kate").[20]


  • Reminiscences by William Finlayson Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia : South Australian Branch, 1902. (Manuscript annotated by Thomas Allen, Thesis (B.A. (Hons)), Flinders University, Dept of English, 2003)[27]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ Departure of J Harvey Finlayson South Australian Register 24 June 1899 p.8 accessed 24 July 2011
    a poor original - replace when better quality reproduction of source found
  2. ^ a b c The Late Mr. William Finlayson South Australian Register 18 December 1897 p.7 accessed 24 July 2011
  3. ^ Brown Hill Creek City of Mitcham
  4. ^ a b Baptist Churches in Mitcham, Mitcham Local History Service and Heritage Research Centre, July 2006, last updated 3/12/2009, accessed 17 September 2011
    "Helenholm" still stands at 1 Finlayson Street, Netherby
  5. ^ Netherby City of Mitcham
  6. ^ Correspondence South Australian Register 21 July 1887 p.4 accessed 20 July 2011
  7. ^ The Baptist Association South Australian Register 31 October 1863 p.2 accessed 20 July 2011
  8. ^ a b c Churches and Church Affairs The Register 9 August 1924 p.4 accessed 23 July 2011
  9. ^ Manning, Geoffrey H. A Colonial Experience accessed 25 July 2011
  10. ^ Jane Connell Finlayson from Nicko family tree
  11. ^ Death of Mr. W. Finlayson The Register 21 August 1925 p.13 accessed 11 September 2011
  12. ^ Family Notices South Australian Register 9 February 1875 p.4 accessed 24 July 2011
    DEATHS. Finlayson - On 8 February, at Glenelg, the beloved wife of Wm. Finlayson, jun., aged 32 years.
  13. ^ Family Notices South Australian Register 15 December 1879 p.4 accessed 24 July 2011
    MARRIAGES. FINLAYSON—NICKELS.— On 10 December, at Carrington-street, William, second son of Mr. W. Finlayson. to Emily Hambly, daughter of the late Mr. John Nickels. Crediton, Devonshire.
  14. ^ Mr William Burford dead. A Large-Hearted Citizen South Australian Register 7 March 1925 p.9 accessed 21 July 2011
  15. ^ Monthly Summary of Births, Marriages and Deaths South Australian Register 23 April 1872 Supplement p.8 accessed 24 July 2011
    MARRIAGES. AMBROSE—FINLAYSON. — On 30 March, at the residence of the bride's father, Carrington-street, by the Rev, Jacob Abbott, William Ambrose, of Mannum, to Helen Harvey, second daughter of Mr. William Finlayson.
  16. ^ An sad accident ... The Advertiser 9 June 1890 p.4 accessed 24 July 2011
  17. ^ Family Notices The Advertiser 3 October 1913 p.8 accessed 24 July 2011
    DEATHS. FINLAYSON.-On 2 October, Ebenezer Finlayson, the youngest son of the late Pastor William Finlayson, aged 64 years.
  18. ^ The Late Mr Finlayson The Advertiser Saturday 4 October 1913.20 accessed 25 July 2011
  19. ^ Family Notices Advertiser and Register Wednesday 5 August 1931 p.8 accessed 25 July 2011
    DEATHS. FINLAYSON.—On 3 August, at 78, Partridge-street, Glenelg, Jessie Grace, daughter of the late William and Helen Finlayson (formerly of "Helenholm." Mitcham). In her 81st year.
  20. ^ a b Death of Mr. John Harvey Finlayson The Register 31 March 1915 p.8 accessed 24 July 2011
  21. ^ Governor at Free Meal Kitchen The Advertiser 25 September 1928 p.12 accessed 25 July 2011
  22. ^ Death of Mr. F. A. Finlayson South Australian Register 12 October 1895 p.5 accessed 25 July 2011
  23. ^ Concerning People The Register 28 March 1916 p.4 accessed 24 July 2011
  24. ^ a b Finlayson, John Harvey Love, J. H. Australian Dictionary of Biography online accessed 14 July 2011
  25. ^ A Dashing South Australian Sydney Morning Herald 21 November 1900 p.7 accessed 24 July 2011
  26. ^ Elwood Motor Accident The Register 10 March 1915 p.8 accessed 24 July 2011
  27. ^ "Reminiscences by William Finlayson" Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia : South Australian Branch v.6, no.1902-1903, 1902, p.39-55 (ISSN 0085-5790)