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Hassall, Thomas (1794–1868)

from Sydney Morning Herald

Thomas Hassall, by William Bradley, c1866

Thomas Hassall, by William Bradley, c1866

State Library of New South Wales, 887969

from the Australian Churchman:

It would hardly be consistent either with our own feelings, or with what we believe to be the wishes of the readers of the Australian Churchman, were we to allow the decease of the late senior chaplain of the colony to take place without some special notice in our columns of the details of his active and useful life. Mr. Hassall has for some years formed one of the connecting links between the present and that memorable past, in which the foundations not only of the Church of England in the Australian colonies but of the colonies themselves were laid. The records therefore, of his life will be found to supply some useful and interesting information bearing upon our church history and at the same time, may serve to remind many, who loved his very name, of one who through a long ministry of forty-seven years maintained a simple consistent unwavering and holy testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus.

Mr. Hassall was born in Coventry, May 29th, 1794, while the princes and statesmen of Europe were seeking the means of withstanding the progress of the French revolution, and of warding off from their own dominions its demoralising results. Some Christians in England, who had formed themselves into the (London) Missionary Society, were engaged in laying the foundations of a scheme for the evangelisation of the South Sea Islands and thereby extending the kingdom of the Lord Jesus. In pursuit of their object the ship Duff, commanded by Captain James Wilson, a man of eminently Christian character, was chartered and sent to Tahiti and other islands of the South Pacific, with such missionaries as had approved themselves to the directors of the society. Among the number of those who were landed in Tahiti was Roland Hassall, who was accompanied by his wife and two children. Samuel, the younger of the two, was but an infant in his mother's arms. The elder, the subject of this memoir, then about three years of age, appeared in his infantine dress running in and out among the missionary party when the first meeting with the Tahitian chiefs took place, and when Pomare, the ancestor of the present royal family of Tahiti, ceded the district of Mataviah to the strangers. Roland Hassall did not remain at the island more than about fifteen months; when he with some of the others removed to the newly founded settlement of New South Wales, and arrived at Sydney in the year 1798.

We are not directly informed what circumstance led Roland Hassall to live at Parramatta. Yet those who know that "the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" may well believe that in this circumstance, as well as in those which brought him to the southern hemisphere at all, there was a hand of infinite wísdom directing and guiding him. The immediate effect was that the missionary's elder son, Thomas, as he advanced from boyhood, came more and more under the notice of the Rev. Samuel Marsden. That true servant of Christ watched with no unobserving eye the progress of Divine grace in the boy's heart. His father seems at one time to have designed him for a farmer's life, and sent him to the Hawkesbury, and at another time sent him to an office in Sydney, entrusting him to the care first of "merchant' Campbell, as he was called, and afterwards of Captain Burney. But although in these situations he acquired that love for farming pursuits and those methodical habits which clung to him through life, and formed friendships which only ceased with death, he was not designed to be either a merchant or a farmer. Mr. Marsden, partly influenced it would appear by his young friend having successfully established a Sunday school for the religious education of the children in Parramatta, took a more just view of his inclinations and endowments. He therefore recommended his seeking the ministry.

With this object in view he sailed for England in 1817, in the Kangaroo. We need not dwell upon the events of that voyage, further than to state that the vessel went round by Batavia, and was ten months in reaching England—that the time was one of peculiar trial to the young student, trial however greatly alleviated by his being made the instrument of the conversion of a poor convict, found "stowed away" after the Kangaroo had sailed, and who died on the voyage. He arrived in England in 1818, and having been introduced by Mr. Marsden to some of those eminent men, under whom the Church of England was beginning to awaken from her lethargy,—William Wilberforce, Dr. Mason Good, the Rev. Charles Simeon—he was by Mr. Simeon, brought under the notice of the excellent Dr. Burgess, Bishop of St David's, and by him placed in the Diocesan College, at Lampeder, under the charge of the Rev. Dr. Williams, the then Principal.

He remained at Lampeder for nearly two years, when he was ordained deacon by Dr. Howley, who was then Bishop of London, 1820. There was a difficulty about his title to orders. Willingness to serve in the colony, and to assist the few—Marsden, Cowper, Cartwright, and Hill, who were bearing the burden and heat of the day—this was not enough, what was to be done? 'I wish I were a Bishop,' said Mr. Wilberforce, "I would ordain you, and send you out at once.' At last, however, acting upon the suggestion of the Bishop of London, he produced a letter from Mrs Macquarie— a kind motherly letter written to him when leaving New South Wales warning him against the temptations incident to a life in England, advising him as to his Christian conduct, and expressing great interest in his future ministry in New South Wales. He showed this letter to the Bishop, and upon it as his "Title" he was admitted to orders.

Three months afterwards he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Ely, by letters dimissory from the Bishop of London, and receiving his appointment as Colonial Chaplain under the sign manual of George IV, he immediately returned to the colony. He arrived in Sydney in the convict ship Mary, January 1822. His first cure was Parramatta, of which parish (having married Ann, the eldest daughter of the Rev. Samuel Marsden) he took sole charge during one of Mr. Marsden's visits to New Zealand. In September 1821, he went to Port Macquarie, at that time a "special" penal settlement, and remained there until the beginning of 1820, when he was removed to Bathurst, while there he resided on a little property which belonged to him at O'Connell Plains; and every Sunday he rode in to the township of Bathurst to hold Divine Service, and returning in the evening preached at "Salem Chapel", which he had built near his own residence, Salem Chapel has now given way to a more commodious and substantial structure, which has, not inappropriately been called St. Thomas.

He left Bathurst in March 1827, and in April of the same year he went to the Cowpastures to take charge of a parish which he often used to describe as consisting of "Australia beyond (or south of) Liverpool." Here he laboured during the remainder of his life, a period of nearly forty-one years. He lived, however, to see "Australia beyond Liverpool," divided and sub-divided into dioceses and parishes, clergymen appointed, churches built, and all the ordinances of the Church of England, provided for congregations which he had himself been the first to collect. We have before us a list of sixteen different places which he was accustomed, more or less frequently, to visit; the nearer places weekly or monthly, the more remote quarterly, half-yearly or annually; at fifteen of these substantial churches or school churches are now erected and the ordinances regularly administered. Nor was his zeal in forming these congregations more remarkable than the regularity of his visits to each, and consequently he seldom found an empty church. Few men have been more dearly loved by their congregations. Not possessed of that kind of eloquence which might rouse a large and critical audience, there was yet in all he said and did such an evident humility, such zeal for his Master's honour and such intense love for souls that no one knew him but loved him. And perhaps it was owing to his own most affectionate disposition that few—and of the " old hands " perhaps none—knew him as Mr. Hassell, still less as the reverend. It was generally Thomas Hassall, and not unfrequently Thomas.

And yet as a mark that his services were known and recognised by those in authority, he received the honorary degree of M. A. from the Archbishop of Canterbury, through the late Bishop Broughton; who himself also entertained for him the highest respect and esteem.

We have spoken of his frequent and regular visits to his numerous outstations. He was fond of itinerating. His journeys to and fro were always those of a Missionary. Not only were the wealthy cared for; but the cottages by the roadside and the huts in the lonely bush could each tell of his visits, and each visit was the occasion of friendly intercourse and Christian conversation. He was always about his Master's business, in season and out of season, at home or abroad. Many a lonely shepherd found something to cheer him in his loneliness when Thomas Hassall had ridden by on his Timor pony, and had left an encouraging Christian exhortation behind him or a suitable tract.

But while he was thus diligent and active abroad, that portion of the parish which lay nearer home was not neglected. When he first went to the Cowpastures the materials were collected for building a parsonage at Cobbedee. But the opportunity of purchasing Denbigh having offered itself, the materials were used in building a commodious room in which he might assemble the people for Divine service. This room he called "Heber Chapel", after Bishop Heber; and in it he continued to preach until 1842, when St. Paul's Church was completed. That church, at once the result of his energy, and to a very considerable extent of his liberality also, may now be regarded as forming a fitting earthly monument of one whose body sleeps beneath its shadow, but whose real resting place is on high.

But even the longest ministry must at last come to an end. Arrived at his seventy-fourth year, it was evident to all that the silver cord was loosening and that the resting time after an arduous life was approaching. Towards the close of 1867 his health, which had hitherto hardly known an interruption, seemed to give way principally in consequence of the amount of work which he undertook. For some weeks he was kept from his labour of love. It was our privilege to visit him when beginning to recover from that illness, and we shall not readily forget the deep emotion with which he told us of his intercourse with a Jew who had come to his door as a hawker some time previously, how he had got into conversation with him on the subject nearest his own heart, how he had taken him into the study (that dear hallowed little room) for further conversation, how the poor fellow had come again and again to state his difficulties and read and converse and pray, and how only a few months back that same Jew had been publicly baptised as a believer in the Lord Jesus. And if the voice of the narrator did tremble with emotion as he spoke of the Lord's goodness to himself in making him the instrument of bringing back one of the "peculiar" people into the fold of Christ, and if the hand shook more than ever, and the head too with the feebleness of age, there was no feebleness in the faith by which he laid hold on the promise that "He that hath scattered Israel shall gather Israel," and that in His own good time the Lord would comfort all the waste places of Zion.

He seemed for a time to recover from that illness, and returned to his accustomed work, But it was only for a time. The measure was coming which was to call the servant home. "Why should you go out to-day," said his dear wife to him on the Sunday morning, "you know the doctor will be angry." "The doctor is not my master I am thinking of the people" was the characteristic reply. "I think I am strong enough at least for to-day," and he had strength given him for that day. He preached a very impressive sermon on "The Judgment"—and that evening was taken ill. And though the flame flickered a little, as if unwilling to leave, and although he himself almost to the last expected to recover, yet to those who stood around his bedside the heavenly nature of his remarks, his exhortations and prayers, and the child-like simplicity of his faith, might - had they loved him less—have told how soon he was to depart and be with Jesus. He was taken ill on Sunday March 8th and on Sunday morning, March 29th, he " fell asleep. "

"I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; yes, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."

We have little more which we shall add to this record of a good man's life, though much more might easily be added. That the whole neighbourhood should have been present at his funeral was not surprising. For who had not lost a personal friend in Thomas Hassall? Nor was it to be wondered at that, even on short notice, some should come from a distance. The friends of his youth (few indeed, remaining now, but they were there), the Bishop who spoke of him as the most dearly loved of his beloved clergy, the Christian man who regarded him as his father in the Lord, the domestic who had lived in his service for more than forty years. One of his sons was present, several of his grand children, and two of his sons-in-law. But there were many others, who were his sons in the faith, and many who had derived encouragement and strength from the contemplation of his godly example. How many have owed the commencement of their Christian life to his ministry he never know here. But the last day shall declare it all. Yet nothing gave him greater pleasure, while he was yet with us, than to know that his ministry had been blessed in the conversion of souls. One such instance, which came to his knowledge on his dying bed, cheered him not a little. Such instances were his joy here: they shall be his crown of rejoicing hereafter. They were gathered from all quarters: from families of the young (and he loved children), from the cottages of the poor; from the houses of the rich, from the sick bed, from the condemned cell. The salvation of souls through the cross of Jesus was his ambition, if the term may be rightly used in connection with one so truly humble. The Church of England, which he loved, and to which he clung with increasing affection (although he had room in his large heart for many who belong not to her communion,) has had greater scholars, more eloquent preachers, and more learned divines; but she has not had many who could with greater truth adopt the conscientious language of the Apostle:—"In simplicity (or 'holiness,' as critics read: in this case it makes little difference) and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world."

Servant of God well done!
Praise be thy new employ,
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master's joy.

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'Hassall, Thomas (1794–1868)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/hassall-thomas-2167/text28158, accessed 25 November 2017.

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