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Archibald Turnbull (1843–1901)

by Diane Langmore

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Archibald Turnbull (1843-1901), Christian Socialist clergyman, was born on 16 February 1843 in Sydney, son of Henry Turnbull, shoemaker, and his wife Mary, née Drummond. Repelled by convict transportation, Henry moved his family in 1849 to Collingwood, Melbourne, where he was later a councillor (1860-64, 1866-69) of the East Collingwood Borough. On leaving school, Archibald worked in his father's shop which had become a meeting-place for radicals and protectionists. On 13 October 1862 he married with Presbyterian forms his cousin Harriet Turnbull in Sydney; for the next decade they moved frequently between there and Melbourne.

In 1866 Turnbull abandoned the bootmaking trade to become a city missioner in Melbourne and to prepare for the Anglican ministry. He was made deacon at Blackwood, Victoria, in 1877. Next January Harriet, a mother of five, eloped with a local bank clerk who was a member of the church council. Turnbull was granted a divorce in September 1878; on 17 June 1879 at Christ Church, Geelong, he married with Anglican rites an 18-year-old governess, Ada Louisa Taylor.

After four years as deacon in rural Victorian parishes, Turnbull left the Church to join the United Evangelists ministering in the slums of Melbourne. In 1884 he moved to Adelaide where he worked with the Salvation Army until, after quarrelling with its leaders, he formed the Christian Crusaders. Returning to the Anglican Church in 1886, he served as curate at Balmain, Sydney, and at Cobargo in the Goulburn diocese where he was ordained priest in 1889.

Next year Turnbull became assistant curate at New Town, Hobart. Provoked by his militant Christian Socialism, Bishop Montgomery removed him in 1892 to Perth in northern Tasmania. Turnbull returned to New Town in 1893 and, with permission but without financial support, established a Church of England People's Mission. His shortened Anglican service with its political sermon and light musical items proved popular.

Concerned at the plight of Hobart's unemployed, in 1894 Turnbull led a forceful employment campaign, establishing a labour bureau and lobbying politicians. On 29 June he was escorted by 750 of the unemployed to the House of Assembly where they petitioned, without success, that he be allowed to speak of their grievances. With the help of the Trades and Labor Council, Turnbull formed a Labor and Liberal Political League through which, as president, he pursued his political objectives: freer education, better housing, prohibition of 'sweating', adult suffrage, adequate payment of members and reform or abolition of the Upper House. He criticized Bishop Montgomery who in May 1895 withdrew his licence as an Anglican priest. Turnbull's church became known as 'Our Father's Church'.

Moving in 1896 with his family to Carlton, Melbourne, he founded a Labour Church in Bourke Street. The church developed close links with the Victorian Socialists' League and co-operated with it in May Day activities. In July 1898 Ada founded the Women's Social and Political Crusade, an organization of labour women which became a focus for feminist opposition to the suffrage provisions of the 1898 Federal bill. Predeceased on 19 June 1899 by his wife whom he had described as his 'indispensable' colleague and 'greatest chum', Turnbull died of septicaemia on 10 March 1901 following a long illness and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery after a service performed by Rev. Charles Strong. Four daughters and a son of his first marriage, and the daughter and son of his second, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Barrett, The Inner Suburbs (Melb, 1971)
  • V. Burgmann, ‘In Our Time’ (Syd, 1985)
  • Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 12, no 2, Nov 1964
  • Observer (Adelaide), 8 Mar 1884
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23, 24, 31 May, 5 June, 12, 14 July 1894, 27 Apr, 31 May 1895
  • Tocsin, 26 Jan, 9 Mar 1897, 26 May, 9 June, 7, 28 July 1898, 21 Mar 1901
  • Age (Melbourne), 11, 13 Mar 1901
  • F. Kelly, The ‘Woman Question’ in Melbourne 1880-1914 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1982)
  • Merrifield collection (State Library of Victoria)
  • divorce proceedings, Turnbull v. Turnbull and Horne, VPRS 283, 1878/370, box 33 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Diane Langmore, 'Turnbull, Archibald (1843–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1843
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


10 March, 1901 (aged 58)
Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.