Thomas Hassall | State Library of New South Wales

Thomas Hassall

Thomas Hassall (1794-1868) established the first Sunday school in NSW when he was nineteen. He was the eldest son of Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who had been missionaries to Tahiti. The family left their ministry work in Tahiti and settled in Sydney in 1798. Rowland received a land grant of 100 acres in the Dundas district and the family lived in Parramatta.

Thomas opened up his family’s house (on the corner of George and Charles Streets, Parramatta) to Sunday school classes in May 1813. 

A small class of six or seven children, some of whom were children of convicts, soon increased to more than 200 children, including 19 Aboriginal children. Thomas asked permission from the Rev. Marsden to accommodate the school at St John’s church, Parramatta.

Teachers at the Sunday school included Rowland and Thomas Hassall, along with Marsden children, Ann and her younger sister, Elizabeth and Charles Simeon Marsden.

Once the first Sunday school had been established, many more followed, including schools at Concord, Prospect and Liverpool.


Link to documents establishing the first Sunday School


In a speech to Sunday school teachers in England in 1821, Thomas recalled how his interest in teaching children began. As a teenager, he had befriended an Irish boy called Jemmy Mullins in Sydney. Thomas spent every Sunday evening teaching Jemmy to read and write, using the Bible as his tool. Jemmy began attending church with Thomas, however he died shortly after. Thomas’ only consolation was his belief that he had been instrumental in bringing the boy to “a better world at his death”, and it was this friendship which had inspired him in his ministry to children.

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View the catalogue records of Hassall family papers

> Hassall family - Papers of Rowland Hassall Link to catalogue

> Hassall family - Correspondence Link to catalogue

'Account by Thomas Hassall detailing the establishment of sunday schools', pp. 1514-1519, Hassall family – correspondence, Volume II, 1794 – ca. 1885, Manuscript A1677/4

[Page 1]

Sir My Dr friends & etc,
When a Child begins to walk he generally meets whith some severe falls however encouraged by his friends & parents- Now Sir you see me in the exact situation of a  this poor little little child for I have neverer attempted to speak in so large an assembly to my recollection before and even at this time I would much rather be silent but I wish to obey and I also recollect that I am among Sunday School Teachers who are generally so fond of children and who would that they always raise them when they see them fall and this it is that makes me launch more boldly into the work because I think if I should fail they will bear with me & lift me up especially as I am from B- B-
The simple remarks I think of offering on the present occasion will be the encouragement we derive from our work & the

[Page 2]

necessity of going forward in it.
The encouragement I intend simply to exhibit as by arise my own experience observation and trust they will not be tedious or unprofitable-
About five years ago I was much taken up in employed in the the merchant service & my time very much occupied   at the place where I lived was a little sailor boy an Irish lad of quick parts tho extremely ignorant I asked him whether he would like to learn to read he replied yes- and the Sunday night from nine to ten was allotted to instruct him-  This being the only convenient time for him & myself  Short as it may appear his progress was rapid & tho he scarcely knew his letters in the course of two or three or four months he read his testament tolerable well- His prejudices (for he was a Catholic & well versed in their doctrines) soon gave way-  He attended Church & chapel as often as he possibly could & I have no doubts as far as we could judge from his life & conversation- entered a better world at his death which happened shortly afterwards.

[Page 3]

from this single circumstance I date my own poor exertions in the schools of the colony & their ultimate success to have arrisen-
A very few months after my his death I removed to Parramatta the residue of my family where I began upon an humble scale another S S consisting of 6 or 7 Children two of whom were convicts-  We rapidly encreased & in the course of a twelvemonth we numbered upwards of two hundred Children in our Para- school- which considering the class of people amongst whom we resided was a considerable number-  Since my departure I have had the   fact  most pleasing intelligence from time to time  & the last letter I received was from one of the little boys who first entered the school joined us at the first [indecipherable] in his letter after speaking of the attendance etc. he says “we have all a blessed opportunity of being brought to the knowledge of [indecipherable]”  
During a long passage of about ten months I was still endeavouring to employ myself in the same good work though there my opportunity circumstances were confined my school was small

[Page 4]

consisting of 6 schollars 2 children a Convict lad a Sailor boy & 2 Na[indecipherable] and my encouragement still less tho not altogether in vain. letters from [indecipherable]
On my arrival in England in the course of Providence I was situated at Lampeter So Wales here was no Sund School-  We sun soon began one which  has gone on very well considering the circumstances we laboured under-  My departure from all these places has been truly affecting for and I begin to think there is something there in that addage- Love begets love-  The children  We love the children & the children love us- so that it is not to be wondered at that we drop the affectionate tear of parting & perhaps for ever – I shall read a letter from this last place-  These simple facts added to the rapid progress this institution has made and the consideration of the fulfilment of Scriptural Prophesies are quite sufficient for our encouragement-
I proceed to the necessity – Philosophies say that there are thousands of stars whose light has never left reached us how far this is correct I will not take upon me to say this however is clear that there are thousands of Children with all your exertions that the light of the Gospel has never reached who I trust shall shine as stars

[Page 5]

 here & suns of glory hereafter & is there not a necessity to go forward & never to draw back-  Has not the glimerings of Sun Schools exertions reached the most distant parts of the world even to the Antipodes itself & shall we not fan it into a flame that shall not only enlighten the christian but the heathen world-
Then Sir in the name of all present (pardon my presumption if I go too far)
 I will vouch that we will pledge ourselves to the union that we will stride onward got give ourselves our talants and all that we possibly can to this glorious cause-  Imitating our divine master we will stretch out our arms and gather in all the children of the earth to the bosom of that union which teaches them to cry out in holy raptures Hoshan Hosannah to the Prince of peace- Glory to God in the highest on earth peace good will to men- Hosannah to the of peace-  To Close   I shortly expect to cross your mighty ocean again & most probably

[Page 6]

 will never have the pleasure of seeing you again-  Let me then beg an interest  in the prayer of every S S Teacher and of every friend to instruction that I may be abundantly blessed in this labour of love and though I now say to all my Dear Brothers & sisters farewel a long farewel  in the beautiful language  of Montgy to Mr Bennet I would say though I go ; thy spirit goes with me- Tho I go; My spirit stays with thee-