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Thomas Hobbes Scott (1783-1860) was the first ordained minister of a church (CE) in the Swan River Colony, although he was only here literally by accident.
On his return voyage to England in H.M.S. Success, the ship struck a reef off Fremantle in November  and Scott was marooned at the new Swan River settlement. For the first two months he was the only ordained minister at Perth. With help from settlers and particularly the garrison, he built a temporary church [the 'rush church'], where he held the colony's first Christmas service and the first Holy Communion. When the colonial chaplain, John Wittenoom, arrived Scott gave him brotherly assistance and unofficial advice, and won such popular regard that the village of Kelmscott was named after his birthplace. He sailed for England in the William by way of Batavia, where in November 1830 he opened an English chapel. Ross Border, ADB.
The service conducted on the Success after it was nearly wrecked was the first conducted in Western Australia (on about 30 November 1829, the running-aground being on 28 November). The first on land was probably the one Scott conducted for about 100 people at Government House on Sunday 6 December 1829, when he baptised seven babies. Two weeks later he conducted morning prayers at Fremantle, Sunday 20 December 1829.
The first church (in Perth), known as the 'rush church' because the walls were filled in with bulrushes, was instigated by Scott, designed by Henry Reveley, begun 16 December 1829 on the corner of what are now Hay and Irwin Streets, on land set aside there by Frederick Irwin, and first used for the Xmas service that year.
Scott also officiated at the first four burials in the East Perth Cemetery, John Mitchell of the 63rd being the very first, on 6 January 1820, Mitchell having died of dropsy (œdema [swelling] - a symptom as opposed to the underlying cause itself) on 5 January. And the first wedding: between James Knight, a clerk, and a servant named Mary Ann Smith, 18 January.
His last religious duty was a funeral on 17 February, as Rev. J.B. Wittenoom had arrived on 30 January. However, he continued to conduct baptisms and funerals at Clarence and on Garden Island.
For its first six months the Swan River settlement was without a clergyman. There 'should' have been one aboard the Parmelia when it moored in Cockburn Sound on 2 June 1829. The Colonial Office had offered the position as Colonial Chaplain to the Revd John Wittenoom on 9 January, Wittenoom had accepted on 19 January, but it was too late to join his fellow officials and leave Portsmouth on 8 February. This meant there was no clergyman in the colony to conduct Sunday services or perform baptisms, funerals and weddings.
The first clergyman at Swan River was not Colonial Chaplain John Burdett Wittenoom. He was recruited too late to join his fellow officials on the Parmelia, leaving our pioneers with no one to perform baptisms, marriages and burials. Colonial Office records show that the first burial services at the East Perth cemetery were conducted by the Rev. T.H. Scott, Rector of Whitfield in the Diocese of Durham.
Hobbes Scott had been Archdeacon of New South Wales and was on his way home to St John’s Church, Whitfield on HMS Success (Lt Governor Stirling’s old ship) when it ran aground off Carnac Island on 28 November 1829. Finding that there was no churchman or church in the colony, Scott set about getting a church built in Perth so that he could hold a Christmas Day service. He then remained in the colony for another eight months.
In 1813 Scott was thirty years old and a bankrupt wine merchant when he decided to enrol at Oxford University. On graduation he journeyed to Sydney as secretary to the J.T. Bigge Royal Commission. On return to England he took holy orders like his father and grandfather, accepting the living of Whitfield before returning to Sydney as Archdeacon. Surviving letters reveal his impressions of the young colony.
(Steve Errington has been a member of the Society since 1963, a member of Council since 2006, a vice president since 2013 and editor of Early Days since 2014. An academic chemist, Steve has been indulging his interest in WA colonial history since retiring from Curtin University in January 2009. He became curious about the Rev. Hobbes Scott when it emerged that he was probably the ‘unknown artist’ responsible for the well-known paintings showing the ‘rush church’ in Perth and the 1829 temporary town on Garden Island. HistWest, October 2016.)
Burton, Rev'd C. A. 1935, 'Notes on three archdeacons - Thomas Hobbes Scott, John
Ramsden Wollaston, Matthew Blagden Hale', Early Days, vol. 2, part 17: 20-27.
Errington, Steve 2016, 'Thomas Hobbes Scott: Western Australia’s first clergyman', Early Days, no. 100: 87-100. See also above.
O'Brien, Philippa 2023, No Stone without a Name: A Visual History of Possession and Dispossession in Australia's West, Ellenbook Cultural Foundation: 212-218 for reproductions of Scott's illustrations of Garden Island, and 226 for his drawing of the 'rush church'.
ADB entry by Ross Border.
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