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The media persona of Reverend Nathaniel Kinsman: Our collective duty to read beyond headlines

Mélanie Méthot and Elijah Schmuland




Introduced in a previous blog post, the Reverend Nathaniel Kinsman is remembered as 'the marrying vicar'. Initial research reveals obsolete academic coverage and very little popular interest, though all agree on basic information such as his birth and death (1823-1898), his wife Lydia and his formidable career as a man specialising in celebrating marriages. The question is, was he merely an entrepreneur with questionable ethics who had found a rich opportunity, or, is it the newspapers who found a topic which they could spin into eye-catching newspaper selling headlines?









THE CORPUS


Concentrating on headlines emerging in the 1880s, intensifying in 1890 with a few high profile court cases, and continuing for the rest of the decade, we observe newspapers developed three main themes around Kinsman: 1-The ‘business’ of marrying people 2- The high volume of marriages he celebrated, 3-Alleged questionable marriage practices. The colourful epithets describing him as the marrying parson stuck for years to come. Those who limit themselves to reading only the articles with salacious headlines are left holding a view of a somewhat fraudulent man committing outrage. Is that a correct view?


MAKING A BUSINESS OF MARRYING PEOPLE





The above headlines epitomise how journalists depicted Kinsman’s marriage services. It was merely a business, although some ‘clients’ could receive certain ‘services’ for free. One reporter stated Kinsman ‘combines the business of auctioneer with that of celebrator of marriages. A few years later, the Leader described him as a ‘marriage vendor’. Even when papers reported Kinsman’s death, they emphasised his entrepreneurial spirit: ‘With Mr Kinsman, the celebration of a marriage was purely a matter of business; the charges were regulated to suit the times, and the pockets of the parties, and all possible facilities were offered.’ The author audaciously and without evidence assumed a very large proportion of couples turned out to be unhappy.


DISPLAYING AGENCY


The Victoria Free Church of England ‘Reverend’ contributed to his media presence by advertising not only auctions, but also by publicising his church activities and his side-business of marrying couples. Competing with others who also saw great opportunities in the Australian marriage market, Kinsman invested in newspaper notices. He bought space to advertise under ‘matrimonial notices’ in the three main Melbourne’s papers: The Age, The Argus, and The Herald. He announced he was available 'any time, anywhere'.





Family notices confirm Kinsman typically performed marriages at his home on Moor-Street or at the Victorian Free Church of England in Collingwood, and that he kept with his commitment to 'anywhere', travelling to clients’ homes across Melbourne and sometimes beyond! His flexibility and low fees likely attracted a variety of individuals, not only in terms of class and religion, but also of age.


Before it went out of his control, Kinsman played a central role in the diffusion of his public image. For instance, he proudly shared in October 1883 that he performed for the 2000th time’ a marriage ceremony and to mark the feat, he gave the newlyweds 'a handsomely bound family bible.' He repeated the exercise when he reached 4000 marriages. In the space of fourteen months, the busy reverend celebrated another 1000 marriages. He picked up the pace, and less than a year later, performing a triple marriage service, he hit the 6000 mark! Each couple received a special gift and 'his best wishes for their temporal, spiritual and eternal happiness.' Kinsman may have continued the practice of gifting bibles to ‘lucky’ couples and of announcing in papers the number of marriages he celebrated, he, however, suddenly found himself with the attention of legal authorities because of a bigamous marriage, and a few days later, the marriage of a minor which he performed. This fed a flurry of newspaper headlines.


7000. 10 000. 20 000 WEDDED COUPLES!


For his next milestone number, the Reverend did not have to self-advertise, the newspaper coverage serving that purpose for him. Called to testify in Andrew Cunningham’s bigamy trial, and shortly after in William Henry Strickland Furness’ charge of marrying a minor without the consent of the bride’s parents, Kinsman proudly stated he had performed 7000 marriages in the past 27 years.


In the bigamy case, the prosecutor established ‘Mr Kinsman’ was authorised to celebrate marriages, had been registered to do so, and 'was gazetted on the 18th October 1864.' The judge said 'he felt no doubt as to the reverend gentleman's qualifications' . In the Furness case, the court decided to charge Kinsman for questionable practices.




The ‘Reverend’ avidly followed how newspapers reported on the case. Not happy with the way the press treated his appearance in court, he took in vain to the quill to rectify the discourse: ‘Firstly, the assertion of Judge Williams that I married a dead drunken man is perfectly untrue and false. Secondly, that “the mother may be next door; he did not know or care” was not my answer, but the insinuation only of the barrister. Thirdly, that as not knowing where Launceston was, I may state that I got confused in replying to the lawyer’s questions.’ Kinsman could have stopped his letter there, but he opted to remind readers 'that out of the 7000 couples that I have married, only about eight have been the cause of a lawsuit'.


A few days later, Melbourne’s Weekly Time reported it obtained an interview with Kinsman who shared ‘that the publicity that had been given to his name lately had had the effect of increasing the numbers who came to him to be married … he thought the government ought to send him a vote of thanks than a summons, because it was a boon to the poorer classes to be able to get married for a small sum in a private manner before a clergyman.’ If at the time of his death newspapers reported that he had celebrated nearly 10 000 marriages, a year later, the number of marriages attributed to him inflated to 20 000!


QUESTIONABLE MARRIAGE PRACTICES


Questions such as 'ARE THEY LEGAL OR ILLEGAL?' and 'IS HE AUTHORISED TO MARRY?' give the tone of most of the headlines surfacing in 1890 and afterwards. In a letter to the editor, a reader used the sobriquet 'so-called' to describe Kinsman’s place of worship.



The Herald introduced the Reverend as 'AN UNORDAINED HEAD OF A CHURCH'. Headlines positioned the marrying vicar alongside bigamists and murderers, as if he was partially responsible for their crimes.

















Despite their attempts to discredit Kinsman, the head of the Victorian Free Church of England continued to perform marriages, by the time of his death he had united 10 000 individuals.



SHOULD WE TRUST HEADLINES?


Never condemned, though he was fined ₤100 once, it might be time to go beyond newspaper headlines, do some research and consider the man differently. Are all these headlines merely ‘click bait’ designed to sell newspapers? Are they factually presenting an individual of questionable character and motives? How could an unordained reverend perform 10 000 marriages in his lifetime? Check back for what we find in our next blog on the marrying vicar!



REFERENCES

“People Who are Talked About.” The Herald, March 19, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241356214

“A Wholesale Marriage-Maker.” The Herald, February 6, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241371145

“Free and Easy Matrimony.” Table Talk, March 21, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147281562

‘Murdoch’s Sensation’, Cootamundra Herald, Dec 13, 1884. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article143766123

“Death of Mr. N. Kinsman.” Leader, March 5, 1898. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197301569

The Argus, February 15, 1896. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8891255

“Melbourne’s Marrying Man.” The Australian Star, April 3, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article230620717

“Those 7000 Marriages.” The Herald, March 19, 1890.

“Celebrated Nearly 10 000 Marriages”, Weekly Times, March 5, 1898. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221138558


“A Marriage Romance.” Truth, August 20, 1899. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article168085449

“A Bigamy Case.” The Age, March 20, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197018693

“Mr. N. Kinsman in Self-Defense.” The Age, March 19, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article147281562

“The Kinsman Marriages. A Question of Legality.” The Herald, December 18, 1891. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241558103

“The Rev. Nathaniel Kinsan.” The Herald, March 19, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article241356195

“Correspondence.” The Church of England Messenger and Ecclesiastical Gazette for the Diocese of Melbourne and Ballarat, June 10, 1886. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197134127

“Marrying a Minor.” The Age, March 18, 1890. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article197019410

“That Ghastly South Yarra Tragedy.” The Herald, January 16, 1891. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242102447

“Alleged Bigamy.” The Herald, January 15, 1891. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242127715





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2 Comments


So kind of like a travelling Vegas, perhaps? :) Another interesting piece -- thanks!

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Mélanie Méthot
Mélanie Méthot
Jul 05, 2022
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What a nice concept... travelling Vegas! I wonder if someone is thinking about the business opportunity :)

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