Wednesday, 15 July 2015

In defence of Dr Fullerton


This is the Fullerton Memorial Church, corner of Crown Street and Albion Street, Surry Hills, in inner-Sydney. It was erected in 1905, using some of the proceeds from the resumption money paid by the state government to the Presbyterian Church when the Pitt Street South church was demolished at the turn of the 20th century, to make way for Central Railway Station. Dr James Fullerton was the first minister of Pitt Street South from 1839 until his death in 1886, very close to 50 years.

I have written two posts recently, which discuss Fullerton's manse, and his church.

Presbyterian Manse, corner Pitt Street and Hay Street, Haymarket
Presbyterian Church, corner Pitt Street and Hay Street, Haymarket

This parish is known as the Chinese Presbyterian Church. The building is the Fullerton Memorial Church. The Chinese Presbyterians made this building their home in 1957.


And just why is Dr James Fullerton (1809-1886) so in need of being defended? Why should I bother with an apologia? I indicated with my previous posts, that I was of the opinion that Fullerton had been "verballed". Once I collected all my evidence - over the last two and a half weeks - it is way too long to present here. So, when it is fully arguable, I will post it on my "Plumbing the Deeps" blog.


Dr Fullerton officiated at the marriage of my great-grandmother, Louisa Chapman, to her first husband, in late September 1874, and a few short weeks later, Louisa gave birth to Ellen, who lived for 10 months. By then this husband had scarpered, and Louisa was married but alone. She could not prove he was dead, nor could she divorce him. My great-grandfather came on the scene, and Louisa lived until 1919, a life of unmarried bliss, but with a gut-wrenching secret at its core. A secret known only to history, and Louisa Chapman and John Bennett Tonkin. Both their Death Certificates said they were married in Melbourne in 1875. This could not be proved by reference to Birth, Deaths & Marriages. I stumbled upon the James Fullerton story when trying to prove a second marriage.

The photo on the right comes from the "Sydney Organ" site.

There is an entry for Dr Fullerton in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, hosted by the Australian National University. It contains some allegations for which I needed to see evidence. Written in 1972, by an Elder of the Presbyterian Church, the entry alleges that Fullerton conducted 400 marriages a year, and that he was criticised by the Registrar-general (of B, D, and M) for running a "marriage shop". That is a lot of marriages a year; and, for how many years did this happen? Both these allegations have been taken, by family history researchers, to be factual, naturally enough. I tried for months to verify these allegations, by accessing newspapers of the period via Trove, without success.

Then I stumbled upon a link between Fullerton and a Dr William Bailey, who boasted in a Supreme Court hearing in November 1872, of conducting 400 marriages a year, provoking the Chief Justice, Alfred Stephens, to label this a "marriage shop". It is more complicated than this, and Fullerton is not lily-white. Neither, is he what has been portrayed, and I think the record should be set straight.

I will set out my case over on "Plumbing the Deeps", and when I am confident, I will apply to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, to have the entry for Dr James Fullerton, examined.

This is the Fullerton Memorial Presbyterian Church when it first opened in July 1905 (NLA).

6 comments:

Jo said...

What an amazing and heart-wrenching story of your great grandparents, Julie . I'll be back for your next post, for sure. Jo

William Kendall said...

It does sound complicated! Beautiful church!

Susan Bauer said...

WOW! You are one tenacious woman. I'll stay tuned for the rest of the story.

Julie said...

Yep. Deteremined. Focussed. I would be chuffed if both Jo and Susan were to stick around and read the "proof". It might be a smidge long, but it will be sourced, and THAT is the crucial thing for my application to the ADB.

EG CameraGirl said...

I very much like this architecture.

Joan Elizabeth said...

50 years in the same church. Crikey he could not repeat his sermons.