What's in a name | Silas Gill

FROM bridges and parks to mountains and lakes their names live on, but have you ever wanted to know more about the people behind these place names….

Gill Street, not far from the Kempsey East Public School, and an easy stroll to the banks of the Macleay River, was named after a passionate preacher.

There is also a creek that bears the Gill name.

His death notice described him as the ‘apostle of Methodism in the Macleay’ and he was engaged in his religious work right up until his death.

Silas Gill died in Kempsey on September 10, 1875 and his death notice in the Sydney Morning Herald went on to say:

“He had been engaged in arduous work up until Sunday night. His labours in the course of Christianity in the Camden, Hunter, Hastings and Macleay districts during the past thirty years, were unremitting.”

He was the seventh of eight children born to John and Sarah Gill, in East Sussex, the family being part of the Beckley Wesleyan Society.

His date of birth is a little uncertain, but is believed to be December 24, 1806.

His father was a farm labourer, who together with his wife were referred to as "poor but pious" Wesleyans. When Silas finished his short period of schooling he became a farm labourer.

Gill Street in East Kempsey.

Gill Street in East Kempsey.

Silas married Mercy Catt in June 1826 and four children were born before they set out for Australia.

Agricultural labourers, Iike Silas, desperately needed an opportunity to escape their dismal existence into what was seen as a land of freedom and opportunity.

In the mid 1830s the Governor of NSW, Sir Richazd Bourke, was pleading for larger number of immigrants, especially mechanics and agricultural labourers, to be sent to the colony.

Gill, and many others like him, could not possibly pay their passage to Australia without the assistance schemes operating at the time.

When he arrived in NSW in 1837 Wesleyan Methodism was in its infancy and many new immigrants began to move out into rural NSW to spread their faith.

Silas and his family first settled at Cowpastures (the area around Camden) where he was employed as a farm labourer and went about evangelising fellow settlers.

His labours in the course of Christianity in the Camden, Hunter, Hastings and Macleay districts during the past thirty years, were unremitting.

Silas Gill's death notice

As was the case when he later moved to Maitland and then the Hastings region he was no hired servant of the church. His religious work was without pay, and he did it in addition to his normal occupation as a farmer.

According to the document entitled Acorns of Methodism in Port Macquarie  he carried out this unpaid work because of his “burning love for God and men”.

He was absent from his farm for several days at a time conducting services throughout the district and visiting from home to home.

Gill moved to Kempsey in 1859 and for the next 16 years he preached in many places on the Macleay River, and helped establish a number of Methodist churches.

He was instrumental in building a church in Kempsey and maintained a Christian witness there for four years prior to the arrival of the first Methodist minister in 1864.

Eric G Clancy described him as a ‘Giant for Jesus’ when writing about him in 1972.  This was in reference to his stature and the passion with which he ‘spread the word’.

“He lost his possessions in the 1864 flood but triumphantly declared that he had not lost his faith. Poor in this world's goods, he was rich in faith and strong in character.” 

He was well known for expressing his faith in song, encouraging others to do the same.

Five hundred people attended Silas’s funeral.  His tombstone reads: 'For 38 years he followed Christ, Doing Good and Turning many to Righteousness. His preaching and his life proved him full of faith and of the Holy Ghost.'

Silas, and his wife Mercy, are buried in the West Kempsey General Cemetery.  Some of the descendants of Silas and Mercy continue to live in the Kempsey and Hastings areas today.

This story He came to town with a ‘burning love for God’ first appeared on The Macleay Argus.