Thomas Stow

Thomas Stow (1801 – 1862) Congregational minister
stow2 Thomas Stow pitched his marquee in Adelaide and preached his first sermon in it.  He with ten others formed the first Congregational Church in South Australia and was elected pastor.  At the request of some leading colonists he opened a daily classical academy, thus beginning higher education in the colony.

On 12 October 1836 Stow was accepted for service in South Australia by the newly formed Colonial Missionary Society. In an announcement to his people, published at Halstead in 1836, he proved that his decision was not hasty: ‘Six years ago I wrote a piece in the Congregational Magazine, recommending the formation of this very society which now commissions me with its affairs in Australia’. With his wife and four young sons he sailed from Gravesend in the Hartley and arrived in South Australia in October 1837.

Stow pitched his marquee and preached his first sermon in it in November. Next month, with ten others, he formed the first Congregational Church in South Australia and was elected pastor. Early in 1838, on North Terrace, he helped to build a temporary place of worship with gum-wood posts, pine rafters and reed thatch. At the request of some leading colonists he opened a daily classical academy, thus beginning higher education in the colony. In December 1839 the foundation stone of a new Congregational chapel was laid in Freeman Street. Opened in November 1840, it had a heavy debt, which caused Stow much embarrassment during the depression years. He supplemented his income by farming a property on the River Torrens which he named Felixstow.

Stow was responsible for forming many new churches and for recruiting and training several ministers. He was the first chairman of the Congregational Union of South Australia in 1850, and he did much to foster friendly relations between all denominations. He was appointed to the first board of education in 1846 and served on many other public committees, always ready to promote moral, social and intellectual progress. As the outstanding preacher in early Adelaide, his firm stand against state aid to religion had a powerful influence from 1846 until the grants were abandoned in 1851.

In June 1851 George Taplin was recruited for the ministry by Rev Thomas Stow.  George Taplin’s church is shown on Australia’s $50 note.

stow churchSeveral of his sermons were published. His strenuous activities took their toll and his health suffered. After a ministry in Adelaide of nineteen years, Stow was obliged to resign his pastorate in September 1856. In February 1862 he went to Pitt Street Congregational Church, Sydney, on a temporary engagement. He died there on 19 July at the home of John Fairfax. He was buried in West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide, on 7 August, mourned by the whole city: parliament and banks closed for the occasion. Public subscription gave him a costly headstone and in 1867 Stow Memorial Church in Flinders Street (shown above) became his best known memorial.


Stow was a man of much ability and great honesty of purpose. He was a ready and efficient speaker, with a sense of humour and a turn for satire that was never ill-natured. He did much to form the character of the growing settlement, and this was fully appreciated at the time; twice he was given substantial pecuniary testimonials to which men of all sects contributed. The Stow Church at Adelaide stands as a memorial of him. He was married in England and brought his wife, who survived him, and four sons with him. Of his sons, Randolph Isham Stow is noticed separately. Other sons were Augustine Stow, who was a member of parliament for several years between 1863 and 1871, and entering the public service became chief clerk in the South Australian supreme court; and Jefferson Pickman Stow who went to the Northern Territory in 1864 and sailed in a ship’s boat from Adam Bay in the Northern Territory to Champion Bay in Western Australia. He published an account of this voyage as a pamphlet in 1865, Voyage of the Forlorn Hope, and Notes on Western Australia. He was afterwards for a time editor of the South Australian Advertiser and was the author of South Australia, its History Productions and Natural Resources, published by the South Australian government in 1883, second edition, 1884.

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