Joseph Coles Kirby

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File:Joseph Coles Kirby.jpg
Joseph Coles Kirby ~1890 when he was the minister for the Congregational Church of Port Adelaide.

Joseph Coles Kirby (01 June 1837-1924)[1] was an English flour miller who migrated to Sydney, Australia in 1854. In 1864, Kirby was ordained in the Congregational Churches and then ministered to rural and city congregations in Queensland and South Australia and supported or led many causes for social reform such as the temperance movement, women's suffrage and raising the age of consent to 16 in Australia.

Early life

Kirby was born on 10 June 1837 at Castle Mills, Buckingham, Buckinghamshire, England to John and Mary (née Coles) Kirby. Educated at Sibford School, a Quaker boarding school in Oxfordshire, the young Kirby inherited his mothers concern for social reform which would shape his later life. At 13 he entered his father's flour-milling business but always loved reading and had a passion for self-improvement.[2]

Migration to Sydney

The family migrated to Sydney in 1954 when his father's business went bankrupt but the 17-year-old Kirby was able to find work at another flour-mill in Sydney. It was in Sydney that he joined the Pitt Street Congregational Church where the members at that time included David Jones (founder of David Jones Limited), John Fairfax and Rev. John West.[2] Here Kirby criticised the dominant social groups in New South Wales and advocated total abstinence.


Early Ministry in Queensland

Kirby received his ministerial training from Rev. B. Quaife and was called as assistant minister at Ipswich, Queensland in 1863. In 1864 he was ordained and became a Congregational Minister at Dalby in Queensland. It was here in Dalby that he married Margaretta Hall.[2]

Ministry in New South Wales

From 1871 to 1877, Kirby was the pastor of the Congregational Church in Woollahra, New South Wales. During this time he was active within the community, supporting the Public Schools League's campaign for free, compulsory secular education and campaigning for the temperance movement. Kirby took over the church extension work of the Congregational Union of New South Wales in 1877 and was chairman of the Union in for two years in 1879-80. As chairman he attacked academicism in the ministry and advocated stronger central initiative in home missions and acceptance of land from the government to build new churches.[2]

Ministry in South Australia

In 1880 he was called to the Port Adelaide Congregational Church after the previous minister died of tuberculosis.[3] Kirby started the Young Christians' Union, the Young Men's Christian Society here and, through his assiduous work campaigning and ministry, was able to bring his denomination solidly behind temperance, Women's Suffrage and social reform.

While still the minister of the Port Adelaide church, Kirby became secretary of the Social Purity Society in 1882 and spent time in Melbourne and Sydney advocating temperance and women's suffrage. In 1885 he won ecumenical support in a campaign to raise the age of consent in Australia from 13 to 16.

In 1886 and 1906 Kirby was the chairman of the Congregational Union of South Australia and from 1910 to 1913 was the chairman of the Congregation Union of Australia and New Zealand. In 1891 he had been an Australian representative at the first International Congregational Council in London. During this trip he travelled Europe and India.[2]

Final Years

In 1915 Kirby was the leader in the successful campaign for 6 o'clock closing of hotel bars.[4] Kirby also supported religious instruction in state schools and helped persuade the South Australian Congregational Union to abandon its insistence upon purely secular instruction.[2] Later, he promoted Aboriginal protection and was an advocate of an Aboriginal reserve in Arnhem land.[3] Although deeply devoted to the Bible and opposing any criticism of it, Kirby was open minded towards Darwinism and eugenics.

Kirby died 1 August 1924 in Semaphore, South Australia, survived by two sons and three daughters.

Since 1986, the Port Dock Brewery Hotel in Port Adelaide has produced an ale named Old Preacher, in memory of Kirby, who successfully campaigned for the original hotel to be closed down in 1909.[5]

See also


  1. "Obituary". Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954). Adelaide, SA: National Library of Australia. 9 August 1924. p. 55. Retrieved 7 January 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 John Garrett, 'Kirby, Joseph Coles (1837 - 1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp 35-36 [1]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Couper-Smartt, J (February 2003). Port Adelaide: Tales from a "Commodious Harbour". Friends of the South Australian Maritime Museum Inc. ISBN 0-646-42058-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Prest, Wilfrid; Round, Kerrie (2001). The Wakefield companion to South Australian history. Wakefield Press. ISBN 1-86254-558-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Port Dock Brewery Hotel website