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Internet sources and the marrying vicar

Mélanie Méthot in collaboration with Elijah Schumland, research assistant

Stumbling upon a gem

While exploring the numerous bigamy cases within the densely populated state of Victoria, the Reverend Nathaniel Kinsman repeatedly found himself called to testify. Performing a quick search in the trusted TROVE, our beloved database for the ‘Much Married’ research project, we find that the recurrent witness’ testimonies as well as other of his activities produce a significant corpus of primary sources to analyse (458 posted advertisements, 1,423 family notices and some 837 newspaper articles!) Knowing that we would have enough material for an original contribution, we decided to check if others had published anything on the marrying vicar.

Nothing Much!

It was with excitement we discovered that, although notorious in his time, Kinsman has not yet captured the interest of academic researchers. Indeed, searches in the typical university databases and the Australia Dictionary of Biography yielded zero results. Our google search was more fruitful, the top of the result pages providing the above picture of our man!

Even Wikipedia is blank...

The second relevant hit came from the Collingwood Historical Society. An unidentified author provides useful biographical information on our man, in both text and point form. Visitors to the site are treated with extracts from historical newspapers. The author goes beyond simply showcasing the sensational (7000 marriages performed)

and explains that : “Marriages by ministers in their home were not unusual at the time, in fact regular advertisements to this effect can be found in contemporary newspapers. The cost might be 10/6, or £1.1.0 if the officiating clergyman supplied a gold ring and witnesses. Such weddings were cheap, and also quickly arranged, because, unlike a wedding in a church, there was no requirement for notice to be given. Kinsman was suspected of not being very careful in his inquiries as to the legitimacy of the bride and groom’s statements. Given the massive volume of services (even if the actual number was exaggerated) it is hardly surprising that Kinsman was occasionally in court in relation to illegal marriages, such as bigamy, or marrying a minor without a parent’s consent. He often came in for criticism, but vigorously defended himself. Even after his death the denigration continued.” We plan to study case files involving the reverend as well as the voluminous newspaper coverage on his court appearances.

We also discovered that the Fitzroy Historical Society published a little box

in its June 2004 newsletter with interesting information on the Free [Victorian] Church of England. Our Reverend founded the new church when he and other members from his Anglican parish objected to the Church of England’s newly appointed vicar, the one the Church chose to replace Kinsman, a lay preacher. Ada Ackerly, a kindergarten, primary and English as a second language teacher who looked after the local Williamstown Historical Museum for many years, contributed an entry on the Free Church of England for another site. Using some historical newspapers as sources, she describes Kinsman’s matrimonial business strategy : He advertised that he could supply witnesses and a ring. He appeared to ask few questions. In the 1850s and 1860s, many Roman Catholic and Protestant nuptials were performed there. Widows and widowers with children declared themselves bachelors and spinsters with no offspring. Nathaniel Kinsman made his living as an auctioneer and commission agent. He would take off his apron, pass through into his parlour, perform the ceremony, farewell the couple, return to his shop and resume his work.” Ackerly’s mention of Catholic nuptials surprises greatly since according to Canonic Law, only Catholic priests can sanctify marriages. Moreover, only marriages celebrated in Catholic churches are valid.

Next in the results list came a wiki reference, but strangely, as of June 2022 it has nothing!

Perhaps our recurrent searches on Kinsman have produced a template page which begs to be filled. We discovered, however, another Wiki resource we had no idea existed: Wikitree. Self-defined as a community of genealogists connecting the human family on one free and accurate tree using traditional genealogy and DNA testing, Wikitree contributors list a number of marriages the Reverend performed, (a list we hope to augment with our own newspaper research)

The future

Rest assured, believing that Kinsman’s life will shed new light on marriage practices in nineteenth century Australia, we have decided that the marrying vicar will receive proper treatment. Stay tuned for the next post on Headlines!


Australia Dictionary of Biography.

“Nathaniel Kinsman.” January 8, 2018. Collingwood Historical Society Incorporated. . Accessed May 18, 2022.

“Free Church of England.” Roosen. . Accessed May 19, 2022.

"Nathaniel Kinsman." Wikipedia. . Accessed June 10, 2022.

“Help:About WikiTree.” WikiTree. .Accessed May 17, 2022.

“Marriages Performed by Rev. Nathaniel Kinsman.” Wikitree. Accessed May 17, 2022.

100 views2 comments


Looks like he did a bit of a photo shoot .... And why is it that the word bachelor is so embraced and spinster makes my skin crawl! :)

Mélanie Méthot
Mélanie Méthot
Jun 11, 2022
Replying to

Thank you Nancy for the wonderful story of the Barrett and the reference to our man! I had seen the other picture of the "Reverend". There is so much more to write about the guy. I am apologizing in advance, but I too will use the words bachelor and spinster! I'll send you my articles on matrimonial agencies and the one on personal advertisements when they are ready... your skin will crawl non stop! :). You make me so happy! You comment proves that we were able to pique your curiosity for you to do some research on your own!

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