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NATHANIEL KINSMAN, one last time

Mélanie Méthot and Elijah Schmuland

The notorious marrying parson of Melbourne already received two blog entries this summer. He was an unordained minister of the Free Church of England, who also worked as an auctioneer, said to have performed up to some 10,000 marriages, probably or ostensibly, merely for profit. The first post alluded to his controversial persona but mostly highlighted the limited knowledge we have about the man. The second one demonstrates what happens when one focuses on a small corpus of non-academic internet sources and handpicked newspaper headlines; it certainly piques curiosity but fails to explain why Kinsman deserves our attention. For our third and last post on the “Reverend”, let us turn to our research process. (Readers will have to wait for the article to find out our take on the man!) Since the publication of the last post, we have collected a substantial corpus of family notices, advertisements, newspaper articles and testimonies found in bigamy cases.


Bigamy posts' regulars will not be surprised to find out that we rely on the treasure-Trove Australian database. Using multiple key terms, (“Rev. Kinsman” for articles and family notices and “Nathaniel Kinsman” and/or “Rev. N. Kinsman” for advertisements) and choosing different Trove filters such as article categories and date ranges, we identified no less than 350 advertisements, 1051 family notices and 736 articles.


Primarily put out by Kinsman himself, the ads allow us to penetrate his daily universe. They deal with his triple-business: auctioneering, matrimony and the Victorian Free Church of England, although the latter two were often paired together. Kinsman would advertise furniture, plots of land or many other items for auction, while also promoting his “anywhere, anytime” marriage business and inviting the public to attend his Sunday sermons.


Ranging from obituaries, letters to the editor, summaries of court cases, community meetings, or opinion pieces criticizing the Reverend’s profiteering activities, newspaper articles not only reflect the public perception of Kinsman, but they also provide the moral backdrop in which he is juxtaposed. Opinion pieces, letters to the editor, and even judges’ comments within court cases speak on the sanctity of marriage, the expectations of clergymen, and the interrelation of legislation and matrimony. Though mediated, some articles include quotations from Kinsman himself, which shed light on his personality, theology and attitude towards the press coverage.

Family Notices

If Advertisements allow the researcher to gain some insight from Kinsman himself and the Articles expose how Australians perceived him, the Family Notices contextualize the man yet again differently. In colonial Australia, births, marriages and deaths notices served to reinforce respectability. If parents announced their offspring’s marriage in the pages of Melbourne papers to gain social acceptance, they would not have mentioned a questionable minister. In addition to proving that many saw in Kinsman a legitimate reverend, the notices include the lineage of couples which allow us to verify if Kinsman’s marriages were really doomed to break down.

Legal case files

We discovered Kinsman as a topic of interest via his numerous appearances in bigamy trials. Authorities also decided to charge him with the offence of officiating the marriage of a minor (1890). The last part of the corpus thus treats his own narrative. We delve into his court testimonies.

On our radar

Can we detect a tone in his testimonies? Did he change over time? Are we any closer to making conclusions about the morality and propriety of Kinsman’s apparent business of “marriage conductor”? Might it be that people were not victims but satisfied consumers of his product which very well legitimized their couple relationships? Our sources of evidence are multi-pronged and multi-faceted. This should enable us to argue convincingly a conclusion in our forthcoming article which might not have been evident to Kinsman’s contemporaries.


“Advertising”, The Argus, February 15, 1896. “Advertising”, The Argus, August 20, 1857.

"Advertising”, The Age, June 17, 1882.

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