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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Syme, George Alexander

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Syme, George Alexander, M. A., brother of above, was born at the town of Montrose, but his early days were passed at North Berwick, a small seaport on the south shore of the Firth of Forth, to which his parents had removed while he was yet an infant. He was born in 1821, and when 14 years of age entered the University of Aberdeen, then King's College, where, on passing through the usual curriculum, he took his degree of M.A. In 1840 be entered St. Mary's Hall, St. Andrews, for the study of theology, preparatory to admission as a minister in the National Church. Meanwhile, the Disruption having taken place, he joined the Free Church, and while still attending privately to his preparatory studies,was much occupied in preaching in different parts of the country. This was exceptional work for a student, but was undertaken by special appointment, owing to the circumstance that during the first two years of its existence the Free Church had more congregations than could be provided for ministerially, and the emergency had to be met by appointing the more advanced students to supply vacant pulpits. After two years' experience of this quasi-ministerial appointment he resigned, as he had got, meanwhile, to entertain strong, unconquerable repugnance to the Calvinism of the Confession of Faith, and deemed it inconsistent with honour to remain in the Church on finding that he could not pledge himself to conformity with its creed. On leaving the Free Church Mr. Syme went to Kilmarnock to attend the theological classes recently instituted by the Evangelical Union, and then superintended by the Rev. James Morrison, foremost amongst Scotch divines in promoting the liberation of Scotch theology from the incubus of Calvinism. Eventually finding his way to England, Mr. Syme settled at Nottingham in 1848, and continued to reside there for the next fifteen or twenty years as pastor of one of the numerous Baptist churches of the town. The church prospered under his care, and the more readily as most of its adherents were disposed to advance along with the expanding movement of modern religious thought. He laboured with an energetic, and at the same time with a cosmopolitan spirit, for social and political progress both at home and abroad. He was a member of the Society of the Friends of Italy; he carried on correspondence with Kossuth in the interests of the struggling nationalities; and when the Refugees of 1848 fled for safety to England, he formed a society at Nottingham for the purpose of finding employment for them during their exile. In regard to social and political matters at home, he supported the cause of temperance, the early-closing movement, shorter hours of labour, co-operation, extension of the suffrage, and the extension both of primary and of University education, and whatever movement of a reformatory character he advocated on the platform he had the courage to support in the pulpit. As many of the working men in Nottingham were of the so-called secularist persuasion, and he was desirous of getting a hearing amongst them, he was ever ready to encounter their leaders in debate. In this way he more than once met Mr. G. J. Holyoake, and the result of these debates was such that in some autobiographic sketches recently contributed to an English weekly journal Mr. Holyoake refers to his quondam opponent as "a Congregational minister, with whom," he says, "I had debated with instruction to myself, and for whom I conceived regard." Health failing him, Mr. Syme sought change of scene and occupation in Australia. He arrived in Melbourne in 1862, and shortly afterwards joined the Age staff. Gaining Colonial and journalistic experience he undertook the editorship of the Leader, from which he retired in 1885.