Symes, Joseph
1841-1906; e.m. 1864

Born in Portland, Dorset on 29 January 1841 he entered the WM ministry in 1864. After training at Richmond College, he was stationed in Ayr (1867-1869) and Arbroath (1869-1870). He resigned from the ministry in 1870, but was allowed to withdraw his resignation and for two years was stationed in Alnwick. He then became a speaker for the National Agricultural Workers Union. In 1876 he joined the National Secular Society and became a contributer to Bradlaugh's National Reformer and the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle. In the 1880s he turned up in Australia, where he is described as 'a renegade WM minister from England, who travelled through Melbourne and Victoria in the mid-1880s giving impressive public lectures laced with virulent attacks on the alleged fallacies and immoralities of Christianity and praising the glories of free thought. His programme included Sunday morning secular "services".'

Evangelicals placed intense pressure on the Victorian Government to silence Symes. The government did not hesitate to try to defend Christianity from such virulent attacks. Knowing that a charge of blasphemy was unlikely to succeed, Symes was charged under an English Act preventing admission fees for public entertainments on Sundays. His defence was that his was another denomination. Two juries failed to come to a decision. So the government abandoned its case, and Symes was free to continue his campaign. However, his appeal weakened after 1886, due to the stridency of his anti-Christian propaganda, the significant community opposition which he faced, such as banning him from lecture halls, and the divisions in secular ranks.'

  • Roger C. Thompson, Religion in Australia: a history (Melbourne, 1994) pp.21-22
  • Australian Dictionary of Biohgraphy