Tribute to Mr Edward Eagar

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SubjectsLawyers; Homeless People
SpeakersMoyes Reverend the Hon Dr Gordon

Page: 15263

    Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES [6.37 p.m.]: Edward Eagar was born in Killarney, Ireland, in 1787. His parents were landed gentry so he was well educated. He trained as a solicitor and became an attorney to His Majesty's Courts in Ireland. In 1809 he was charged with forging a bill of exchange, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. He pleaded for clemency and was gaoled for 18 months until he was transported to Sydney. The chaplain sought Edward Eagar's repentance. Edward committed his life to Christ, repented, and the chaplain sent with him to Australia a letter to Reverend Samuel Marsden that said, "Edward Eagar has really become a new creature."

    Edward Eagar arrived as a convict in chains in 1811 and was assigned to teach children. He soon commenced Bible classes in the Windsor district. He was then given charge of the local school. In 1812 he met with two newcomers, Thomas Bowden and John Hoskin, and they formed the first membership of the first Methodist church in Australia, known as Wesley Mission, on 12 March 1812. Edward wrote to the Methodist Conference in England to "send us a Minister lest we die in our sins". The Minister, Reverend Samuel Leigh, arrived in 1815, and Edward Eagar introduced him to Governor Macquarie. Reverend Leigh was the first Methodist minister in Australia, and he is remembered by the Leigh Memorial Church in Parramatta.

    Edward Eagar assisted in founding the Sydney Benevolent Society, and subsequently the Royal Women's Hospital at Paddington, the British and Foreign Bible Society, and the Australian Religious Tract Society. He established the Society for the Protection and Civilisation of Distressed Islanders of the South Seas. He also planned the first mission to Aborigines. Honourable members would be interested to know that he put up 10 per cent of the funding capital to establish the Bank of New South Wales, now known as Westpac, but he was angry that he was not allowed to become a director of the bank because he had been a convict.

    In 1818 Edward Eagar was granted a full pardon. However, Judge Jeffrey Bent did not let him forget he had been a convict and had been discarded from practice as a lawyer. He lost a court case because pardoned convicts did not have a right to own property, to sue, to give evidence in court or to have other civil rights. Other emancipated convicts also saw their rights denied. So Edward Eagar took up their case with the British Government. He fought for trial by jury and for freedom to trade commercially. This was the first Australian attempt to change government policy. Dr William Redfern, after whom Redfern is named, and Edward Eagar sailed to London in 1821 to argue the case in the Court of St James on behalf of other emancipated convicts. Edward Eagar fought the case for 20 years, and eventually won.

    Edward Eagar was Australia's first liberal political agitator. He left his wife and three sons behind, taking his daughter with him to London. He was never to return. But in London his personal life once more slipped below his Christian standards. He married a 16-year-old girl and they had 10 children. His Sydney wife, Jemima, moved into a new house in Macquarie Street—just down the road from Parliament House—with William Charles Wentworth, with whom she had a son. At the time Wentworth was our most famous citizen. He was the first European to cross the Blue Mountains and the most powerful member of the Legislative Council. Edward Eagar's son Geoffrey became the first accountant of the Bank of New South Wales, a leading public servant, a member of the Legislative Council and eventually Treasurer of New South Wales—described as the best Treasurer of the nineteenth century—and a long-serving Cabinet Minister. He never forgave his father for leaving his mother.

    When Edward Eagar died in 1866 he was described as a "gentleman", but a study of his life reveals that he wrestled constantly with God. He grappled with his internal conflict between good and evil—between doing the best and being overcome by the worst. Many men in Sydney today, particularly those who have been convicted of crimes, know about that inner wrestling with God in their hard times. That is why I named Wesley Mission's eight-storey building for homeless people after Edward Eagar. In the remade old chapel in Darlinghurst, with its ancient sandstone façade dating back to 1847, and its concrete tower apartment block rising to the skyline, there is a place for people who have been in gaol. It says to them: the old can become new and the worst can start again. Edward Eagar's sin was obvious but his confession was genuine. His early devotion to Christ and the church was real. He did much to establish this community but, in wrestling with his issues, he gave up too soon.