How the evangelical convictions of Sir William Edward Parry influenced his running of the Australian Agricultural Company from 1829 to 1834
Sir William Edward Parry was a successful and well-regarded man in his own right. Previously famed as an arctic explorer and Hydrographer of the Navy, he arrived in New South Wales in 1829 to embark on his newest endeavor: the running of the Australian Agricultural Company (hereafter the ACC). The company had formed four years previously with a government grant of one million acres to establish farms with the purpose of raising fine wool sheep.After a disastrous start, the company altered its operating structure by removing the advisory Colonial Committee and instead appointed Parry as a sole Commissioner.The task before him was monumental. He was the sole proprietor over the entire company, including its servants (both indentured and convict), property and officers. Only someone with his experience, qualifications and ability would have a chance at success. His brief was to restore to order, and then maintain the AAC’s assets and operations, including reviewing, and if necessary, altering the location of the million acre plot, which was then situated on the northern shores of Port Stephens in the Hunter Region of NSW. At no point did his brief mention the spiritual plight of his ‘subjects’.
In a letter to Sir John Stanley (from December 1830), Parry remarks about the poor state of the AAC’s affairs on his arrival: ‘I found the Company’s affairs, on my arrival, in a loose and disjointed state, as circumstances had led me to expect [[…]]’. Until this point, many of the officers and officials had been able to run amok. Indeed, Parry vents some frustration at the company accountant, Mr Barton, who he describes as a dangerous man. Problems of drunkenness and licentiousness also plagued the community. After expanding on this comment, he continues: 'You must not, however, imagine, from what I have just said, that all I have been doing is of the character above mentioned… In our character of the parson of the parish and his wife, we have visited, admonished and assisted every body within our reach.'
Thus from the outset, Parry considered himself to be a ‘parson’ in addition to his official role as Commissioner. He certainly spent considerable time fulfilling his official duties to the company, and he succeeded in bringing order to a failing business. Yet in all this, he never neglected the spiritual wellbeing of his charges. Indeed, both he and his wife Isabella took it upon themselves to do all in their power for the spiritual wellbeing of the employees, servants and others living on company land. Parry’s aim was to bring morality and religion to this ‘moral wilderness’ that they had found themselves in.
It is this aspect of Sir Parry’s role that this paper will examine. Here we will seek to show not only that Sir William and Lady Isabella were firmly evangelical in their Christian convictions, but that out of these convictions flowed an abundance of gospel-based initiatives to help those under their care. The Parrys went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that those in their charge had access to, and were taught from, the word of God.In this paper we will show the sincerity of their faith in the fact that they went above and beyond what was expected of them in order to care for the lost in their midst.