REV. JOHN HAM

MELBOURNE'S FIRST BAPTIST MINISTER


John Ham was born about 1797 in England to parents who were members of the Church of England. At an early age he was sent to live with relatives in Launceston, Cornwall where he attended school and worshipped with the Wesleyans and Congregationalists. He was particularly influenced by the Congregational pastor, Dr. Cope. On returning home he was generally discouraged from attending non-conformist services but found some support from an uncle who was a class leader in the Methodist Society. He joined the Wesleyans and before long was conducting their public prayer meetings and preaching at his own expense at villages in the north of Devon.

On 30 October 1818 in Madron Parish, Cornwall, England, John Ham married Ann Job Tonkin, daughter of Thomas Tonkin.

His study of theology later led him to become a Calvinist and be baptised into the Baptist denomination by the Rev. Mr. Smith of Penzance, Cornwall. He spent three years in this area studying for the ministry and preaching. However his failing health led to him having to move elsewhere in Cornwall. After his health improved he spent two years at Teignmouth, Devon followed by nine months at Crewkerne, Somerset.

On 20 August 1823, at a service in the local Baptist Meeting-house, he was ordained over the Baptist church in the borough of Warwick. He ministered there for five years during which time there was a considerable increase in what had been a declining church and congregation. About 1828 he moved to Bilston, Staffordshire where he remained for about five years. During his time there a cholera epidemic caused hundreds of deaths.

In August 1833 he was ordained to the ministry of the Zion Particular Baptist Chapel in Newhall Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire. The June 1841 census shows him living in Bath Street, Birmingham with his wife, their four sons and two daughters. Rev. Ham suffered from asthma and this was reportedly the reason why he resigned in 1842 and set sail for Australia with his family, seeking a more suitable climate.

They travelled in a new, 429 ton barque named the "Dublin" which called at Dublin, Ireland after leaving Liverpool. It was their intention to settle in Sydney but their ship called first at Port Phillip in December 1842. While in Melbourne the Rev. Ham was invited to preach in the Mechanic's Institute and the Collins Street Independent Church. He was well received and representations were made to him to stay in Melbourne. He initially agreed to stay on for a month during which time he would preach regularly in the Mechanics' Institute while his wife and children continued their voyage to Sydney. The following month, as he was about to set sail for Sydney on a coastal vessel, he was persuaded to stay longer in Melbourne, so his family returned from Sydney in March 1843 on the "Christina."

Rev. Ham preached each Sunday morning at the Mechanics' Institute to a congregation numbering between two and three hundred. He was much esteemed by his congregation and on 20 July 1843 a Church was constituted and before long they started planning to build a Chapel. A block of land on Collins Street between Swanston and Russell Streets was obtained from the government for the purpose.

[Collins Street Baptist Church, Melbourne]

In 1845 Rev. Ham temporarily exchanged pulpits with the Rev. John Saunders, minister of the Bathurst Street Baptist Church in Sydney. This was reported to have improved the health of both ministers. However, when the time came to lay the foundation stone of the Melbourne Chapel on 21 May 1845, it was the Rev. Saunders who performed the ceremony, though one of Rev. Ham's sons prepared a brass plaque for the occasion. Part of this original building is said to have been incorporated into the present day Collins Street Baptist Church.

Besides his pastoral duties Rev. Ham was involved in a number of other activities in Melbourne including the establishment of a mission for aboriginal children located at the confluence of the Merri Creek and the Yarra River. He was also a member of the Stranger's Friends Society and was on a committee to assist the survivors of the "Cataraqui" which was shipwrecked on King Island in 1845.

In August 1847 he resigned his position as pastor of the Collins Street Baptist Church and moved to Sydney where he was formally inducted as pastor of the Bathurst Street Baptist Church on 2 January 1848. Despite his worsening asthma condition he continued in this position for several years, eventually dying on 14 March 1852 at his residence, Maxwell's Cottage, Burton Street, Old South Head Road, Sydney. He was buried the next day following a service conducted by the Rev. William Hopkins Carey and the Rev. Dr. Robert Ross, an Independent Minister. His widow returned to Melbourne where some of their children had stayed, and she lived there until her death on 19 December 1870 at Richmond, Victoria.

Of his two daughters and four sons, the eldest daughter, Jemima Job Ham, born on 22 April 1819 at Penzance, Cornwall, had married Captain George Beckie Duniam, master of the "Dublin" just two days after they arrived in Melbourne. Following their marriage on 15 December 1842 in St. James Church of England she went to sea with her husband. She died in September 1848, while on board the "Penyard Park" en route to Sydney, probably in childbirth.

The younger sister, Amelia Job Ham, who was born on 9 November 1833 in Bilston, Staffordshire, married Henry Cooke on 5 August 1851 at the Bathurst Street Baptist Church, Sydney, New South Wales and settled in Melbourne.

The eldest son was Thomas Job Ham, though he usually chose not to use his middle name. He was born in Teignmouth, Devon on 17 February 1821 and by 1841 was apprenticed as an engraver. He became well known in Melbourne as an engraver, lithographer and publisher. He engraved the colony's first stamps as well as producing currency notes for banks, numerous maps and other publications. On 18 September 1851 he married Mary J. Collings at the newly opened Independent Church in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. He was also involved in pastoral interests with his brother Jabez, and had an interest in a quartz works at Taradale. He subsequently moved to Queensland, dying at Brisbane on 8 March 1870.*

The next son was Jabez Job Ham who was born at Bilston, Staffordshire on 13 July 1826. He was an apprentice printer in England in 1841. In Australia he became a pastoralist in partnership with his brother Thomas and was for a time involved with "The Age" and "Ballarat Star" newspapers. About 1862 he went to New Zealand where he continued his involvement with newspapers. He married on 25 May 1863 at the Knox Presbyterian Church, Dunedin, to Emily Lambert. He died on 24 August 1876 at Otago leaving a widow and three children.

The third son was Theophilus Job Ham. He was born on 9 July 1828 at Bilston, Staffordshire. In Melbourne he worked with his brother Thomas in producing the "Illustrated Australian Magazine." He was later a commission agent and timber merchant. On 6 October 1868 he married Elizabeth Perry, daughter of William Perry of Paddington, Sydney. He died on 29 August 1892 at Richmond, Victoria.

The youngest son, Cornelius Job Ham, was born on 13 January 1837 at Birmingham, Warwickshire. He was a clerk in the employ of Henry and John Cooke, merchants of Melbourne and later became an estate agent. In 1868 he married Hattie White Latham, the daughter of John Latham, sometime United States Consul-General in Melbourne. Cornelius was elected to the Melbourne City Council in 1870 and was the Mayor of Melbourne from 1881 to 1882. In 1882 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council where he served until 1904. He died on 11 December 1909 at Armadale, Victoria.

Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes (PPPG Member No. 52)

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* Note: Although Thomas Ham's death certificate states that he died on 10 May 1870, research by Kenneth F. Scudder of Newcomb, Victoria shows that he must have died on 8 May 1870. The date on which the death was registered appears to have been incorrectly recorded as also the date of death.


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