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William Prismall, 1910.

Photo courtesy of Robert Hosken.

Prismall, William John (1853–1929)

By Robert (Bob) Hosken

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Robert (Bob) Hosken, Ph.D. (University of Newcastle) is a retired university lecturer, researcher, administrator, and consultant in molecular biology and food technology with over 100 publications. Hosken served the Church at Avondale College and Sanitarium Health Food Company. Hosken and his wife Jeanette were born and married in Western Australia and have three sons and six grandchildren.

First Published: January 29, 2020

William Prismall was a founding member of the Melbourne Seventh-day Adventist Church and was influential in the breakfast cereal industry.

Background

William John Prismall was born in Berkshire, England, in 1853, the first child of Daniel (1821–1905) and Priscilla (Smith) Prismall (1827–1869). The Prismall family had been living in the Kingsclere area since the 17th century, and the marriage of Guilielmus Prixmall to Elenora Gardyner at Kingsclere, Hampshire, on October 8, 1682, suggests a Walloon or Huguenot ancestry.1

In October 1860, Daniel and Priscilla Prismall and their four children—William, 7; Charles, 4; Emily, 2; and Elizabeth, 1—sailed from England to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, on the Lincolnshire.2 On arrival, Daniel established a bakery. After the birth of four more children, Priscilla, Richard, Sarah, and Joshua, Priscilla Prismall died in 1869.3 Sixteen-year-old William and 13-year-old Charles (1855–1946) learned the baking trade from their father. They were employed as commodity grain millers at Parsons Brothers and helped grow the company into one of the largest food companies in Australia, which after 1953, became Uncle Toby’s Oats Company.4

In 1875 William Prismall, milling engineer, married Helen “Ellen” Town (1857–1892) in the Primitive Methodist church.5 Ellen Town’s father, George Town (1812–1857), had died before she was born, and she had grown up in Hobart, Tasmania, with her Haywood cousins. The Haywood family owned Haywood’s bakery and biscuits, which eventually became Arnott’s biscuits of Tasmania.

Affiliating with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia

In the Golden Jubilee number of the Australasian Record published July 29, 1935, Charles Prismall, then 79 years old, described how William, Ellen, and Charles Prismall attended the first evangelistic campaign in Melbourne, received Bible studies, and became founding members of the Melbourne Seventh-day Adventist Church on November 14, 1885,6 just five months after the first Seventh-day Adventist missionaries had arrived in Australia. William was 32 years old at the time, and the father of two girls: Priscilla (Burchill, 1879–1934), who was baptized in 1891, and Lillian (Kingston, 1881–1956), who was baptized in 1895. All the family became lifetime members of the Church. William Prismall was a delegate when the first conference in Australia was organized.7

Association with Ellen G. White

William Prismall’s first recorded association with Ellen White was found in her diary of December 1892. She had arrived in Australia just over a year earlier, in November 1891. In the diary entry, she noted that she went on an outing to Ferntree Gulley, Victoria. She had lunch with Brother Prismall and others, and in the afternoon Brethren Prismall and Faulkhead carried Ellen White, seated in a chair, for about two miles from the place where they were camping to see Fern Tree Gully.8

At the time, William Prismall was a relatively well-educated English colonial, obsessively particular with detail. His good command of the English language, coupled with his debating skills, propelled him into leadership positions and sometimes into conflict with others who did not live up to his expectations. On January 15, 1893, Ellen White wrote a 20-page letter to him, which included many statements such as, “This habit of criticizing and fault-finding is working harm, not only in the church, but in your own home.”9 It is a puzzle as to why Ellen White did not couch the letter with some reference to the spiritual struggles that William was enduring following the illness and death of his wife just four months earlier. On August 14, 1892, William’s wife, Ellen, had died following surgery and a long and painful illness, leaving him to care for their two young children, Priscilla and Lillian. Her funeral service had been conducted by George C. Tenney and Arthur G. Daniells at the Melbourne Cemetery.10

Despite William Prismall’s shortcomings, he became the general manager of Parsons Brothers Foods, and in February 1893 he was reelected to the board of the Bible Echo Publishing Company. W. C. White was appointed as president of the company at the same time.11

William Prismall Visits Britain and the United States

In May 1893, William Prismall traveled to Colombo, Britain, and the United States with the aims of meeting with Parsons Brothers business partners and of investigating the latest advances in milling technology. Throughout the trip, he kept a diary of his business, church, and family meetings. The diary refers to his loneliness and spiritual struggles.

W. C. White had provided him with a letter of introduction to church leaders. Prismall referred to the letter, quoting White: “Whatever you may be able to do to make the visit of Bro Prismall pleasing and profitable will be esteemed as a personal kindness to me.”12 Prismall reflected: “I must say that it is very seldom that one gets such a kind letter as his to me, so rare as well that I doubt that I deserve it.”13

In England, William Prismall visited Brethren Gibson, Waggoner, and Robinson and compared the church printing operation with that of the Bible Echo Publishing Company in Melbourne. In the United States, he traveled to Battle Creek, visiting Brethren Duffy, Amadon, and Uriah Smith at the Review and Herald Publishing Company. At Battle Creek Sanitarium he discussed grain processing with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. Dr. Kellogg probably gained insights into the milling of breakfast cereals from William Prismall, as Parsons Brothers were already marketing flaked oatmeal. Kellogg patented flaked breakfast cereals in 1895, leading to Battle Creek becoming the cereal capital of the world. William also attended the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago with Maui Pomare, where he purchased a maize mill for the Sydney factory of Parsons Brothers, which employed more than 250 people.14

Marriage of William Prismall to Elizabeth James

After returning to Australia, William Prismall married Elizabeth “Lizzy” Fisher James (1869–1958) on February 1, 1894. Lizzy was the fourth child and eldest daughter of Joseph James and Elizabeth “Bessy” Turner.15

The first child of William and Lizzy Prismall was named Ellie (Anderson-Ruxton, 1884–1971), followed by Herbert (1900–1957), Hermie (Vietz, 1902–1988), Lindsay (1904–?) and Bertha (Ahern, 1907–1992). Meanwhile, William’s children, Priscilla and Lillian, enrolled at the Avondale School in New South Wales when it opened in 1897. After Avondale, Priscilla worked for a short time as a Bible worker and missionary laborer, and when the first Seventh-day Adventist school was opened in the back rooms of the North Fitzroy church on April 23, 1900, she was appointed as an assistant teacher.16 Later she taught at Warburton School17 and the Osborne Park church school in Western Australia.18 In 1918 Priscilla married George Burchill.19

After studying at Avondale, Lillian Prismall worked at the Bible Echo Publishing company, and in 1905 was appointed Secretary of the West Australian Tract Society.20 Lillian was an organist at the North Fitzroy church and later at Perth Church.21 In 1909 Lillian married Ferdinand Kingston, son of Quintus and Mary Kingston,22 and their children were Vena (Mead), Olive (Hosken), Hector, Betty (Gardiner) and Allenby.

The 1914–1918 War Years

During the war years, William Prismall held a number of community leadership positions, including Secretary-Treasurer of the Fairfield Progress Society. Insights into his high moral stance with respect to conscription, noncombatant status, and the voluntary Red Cross were obvious in his publications in the Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle.23 He was deeply saddened by the death of his son-in-law, Albert Anderson (son of Pastor A. W. Anderson), when in 1918 his Sopwith Camel aircraft crashed in France during the war.

By 1924, William Prismall was bedridden with severe arthritis, and he died at 76 years on September 2, 1929, in Kew, Victoria.24 Lizzy Prismall testified that he was a devoted husband and kind father. She lived for almost 30 years after the death of William, passing away on July 7, 1958.25

Legacy

William Prismall was an English Christian gentleman, and he, with his wife Ellen and his brother Charles, were founding lay members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia. William and Charles were especially interested in outreach through the publishing work. The modern breakfast cereal industry owes a great deal to their pioneering grain milling work. William’s many descendants include several church pastors, missionaries, doctors, nurses, teachers, and administrators who have contributed to the spread of the gospel and growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific region.

Sources

“A Military Wedding: Anderson-Prismall.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle, May 6, 1916.

“Action Taken by the Union Conference Council: Distribution of Labour.” Union Conference Record, September 30, 1907.

“Among the earliest believers in Melbourne. . . .” Australasian Record, July 29, 1935, 18.

Anderson, A. W. “Diamond Jubilee of the North Fitzroy Church.” Australasian Record, March 11, 1946, 5.

“Annual Meeting of Seventh-day Adventists.” The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), January 25, 1890.

“Australian Coffee, Spice, Rice, and Oatmeal Mills: 90 Bourke Street West.” Accessed June 1, 2016. National Library of Australia. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52813229

Behrens, Rae. “The Lairds Violin.” Youth’s Instructor. February 9, 1954.

Bryant, H. G. “Elizabeth Prismall obituary.” The Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, August 11, 1958.

“Church School Work.” Bible Echo, May 6, 1901.

“Church Schools.” Bible Echo, October 14, 1901.

“Concert.” Independent (Footscray, Victoria), June 6, 1891.

Craddock, Thomas H. “William John Prismall obituary.” Australasian Record, October 7, 1929.

“Delegates to Union Conference.” Union Conference Record, October 1, 1906.

“Entertaining Soldiers.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough, Eltham and Diamond Creek Chronicle, May 20, 1916.

“Fatal Accident at Footscray—An Old Gentleman Killed.” Independent (Footscray, Victoria), April 29, 1905.

Finster, L. V. “Report of the West Australian Conference.” Special Number, Union Conference Record, October 1, 1906.

“First Woman Sabbath Keeper in Australia.” Australasian Record, July 29, 1935.

Hare, R. “Victorian Camp Meeting.” Bible Echo, December 22, 1902.

“Historic Picture Gallery: Early Warburton School.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 20, 1969.

Imrie, L. J. “Charles Prismall obituary.” Australasian Record, November 25, 1946.

Israel, M. C. “Early Reminiscences by Pastor Israel.” Missionary Leader, June 1915.

Israel, M. C., and Jane E. Fraser. “Quarterly Meeting, Melbourne Branch of the International Tract and Missionary Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 1886.

Jean-Louis, S. O. “Parting with an Old Friend.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 5, 1953.

Jones, Laurence. Beginnings: A History of the Beginning of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Melbourne, Australia. Wantirna, Victoria: Ring Press, 1985.

Kingston-Prismall.” West Australian, April 21, 1909.

“Letters to the Editor: Compulsory Training.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle, July 4, 1914.

“Liberal League.” The Argus, July 8, 1911.

McCullagh, Stephen. “Australian Conference Organization.” ARH, November 13, 1888.

Miller, W. H. B. “Echo Publishing Co. Ltd.” Bible Echo, February 15, 1890.

———. “The Echo Publishing Co. Ltd.” ARH, April 1, 1890.

“Miss Lily Prismall. . . .” Union Conference Record, August 1, 1905.

“Parson’s Flaked Oatmeal: The New Breakfast Delicacy.” Australian Star (Sydney), August 16, 1890.

“Parson’s Brothers Product Range.” Women’s Weekly, September 11, 1948.

“Prismall, Charles.” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), October 31, 1946.

“Prismall, Ellen.” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), August 13, 1892.

Prismall, Lillian A. “The Uttermost Parts of West Australia.” Union Conference Record, February 25, 1907.

Prismall, P. “Church School in Western Australia.” Union Conference Record, April 15, 1905.

Prismall, P., and L. White. “North Fitzroy Church School.” Union Conference Record, August 1, 1904.

“Prismall, William John.” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), September 4, 1929.

Prismall, William John. “Compulsory Training.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), June 11, 1914.

———. “Fairfield Progress Society: The Social Aspect of the Present War.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), February 6, 1915.

———. “Fairfield Railway Facilities: A Chapter of Complaints, Retention of Rathmines Street Crossing Favoured.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), February 7, 1914.

———. “Letters Patent: Improvement of Rope Driving Gear.” Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), October 15, 1887.

———. “Municipal Land Rating.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), March 7, 1914.

———. “Our Art Supplements, Sights, and Scenes of Sydney, the Roll Call, Parsons Bros. and Co., Oatmeal Industry, Darling Harbor.” Australian Star (Sydney), May 13, 1895.

———. “Overhead Bridge at Fairfield Station.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), January 17, 1914.

———. “St James Lodge Literary Institute.” The Age (Melbourne, Victoria), February 17, 1876.

“The Fairfield Voluntary Red Cross Association.” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), April 29, 1916.

“Prismall-Chapple.” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), January 9, 1896.

“Prismall-James.” Leader (Melbourne, Victoria), March 10, 1894.

“Prismall-Town.” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Victoria), January 8, 1876.

Robinson, A. T., and N. D. Faulkhead. “Christian Help Work.” Bible Echo, July 1898.

Scott, H., and M. Hellier. “Melbourne Tract and Missionary Society.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, May 1888, 76.

Scott, Henry. “Echo Publishing Company Proceedings.” ARH, March 8, 1892.

Stewart, A. G. “I Remember a Remarkable Providence.” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 16, 1970.

Streeter, H. “Florence Prismall.” Australasian Record, February 25, 1946, 3–4.

Tenney, G. C. “Annual Meeting of Bible Echo Publishing.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 15, 1890.

Tenney G. C., and Henry Scott. “Echo Publishing Company Limited.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, November 1, 1890.

Tenney, G. C., and S. McCullagh. “Australian Conference Proceedings.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888.

———. “Ellen E. Prismall obituary.” Bible Echo, September 1, 1892.

“The 1893 Diary of William Prismall.” South Pacific Division Heritage Centre, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, New South Wales. Box 937.

“The Melbourne Camp Meeting.” Australian Union Gleaner, December 1897.

“The Students Aid Fund.” Gleaner, May 1897.

Thrift, Mrs. R. A. R. “Sister White at Camp Meeting.” Adventist Record and Advent World Survey, March 16, 1970.

“Two marriage ceremonies. . . .” Australasian Record, October 7, 1918.

Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, https://my.rio.bdm.vic.gov.au/efamily-history/5ceaf31fe5c96f22e5f8fb28?q=efamily.

Ward, Henry. “Church School in Western Australia.” Union Conference Record, October 1, 1905.

“We received this past week. . . .” ARH, September 12, 1893.

“Welcome to Our Brand Story.” Uncle Toby’s Oats. Accessed June 1, 2016. http://www.uncletobys.com.au/our-story.

White, Ellen G. “Diary: December 29, 1892.” Manuscript 39, 1892. Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, South Pacific Division, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

———. Ellen G. White to William John Prismall. January 15, 1893. Letter P-48, 1893. Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, South Pacific Division, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

———. Ellen G. White to William John Prismall. May 27, 1895. Letter P-68. 1895. Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, South Pacific Division, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

Woods, J. H. “Early History of the Work in Australia—Part 3.” Australasian Record, February 25, 1924.

Notes

  1. Births, deaths, and marriages index, 1538–1973 for England; Ancestry online census of England 1841, 1851, and 1861, Lake Macquarie Library, Speers Point, New South Wales, Australia, Genealogy department.

  2. Unassisted Passenger Lists: (1852–1892), Record Series Number (VPRS): 947, Public Record Office Victoria, https://www.prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/passenger-records-and-immigration/unassisted-passenger-lists. Daniel Prismall family listed as “Presnall” on board the Lincolnshire.

  3. Victoria death record 8809 (1869), Priscilla Prismall, Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, https://my.rio.bdm.vic.gov.au/efamily-history/5ceaf31fe5c96f22e5f8fb28/results?q=efamily.

  4. William John Prismall, “Letters Patent: Improvement of Rope Driving Gear,” Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney), October 15, 1887, 45; “Welcome to Our Brand Story,” Uncle Toby’s Oats, accessed June 1, 2016, http://www.uncletobys.com.au/our-story; “Australian Coffee, Spice, Rice, and Oatmeal Mills: 90 Bourke Street West,” August 1, 1877, accessed June 1, 2016, National Library of Australia, http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-52813229; “Parson’s Flaked Oatmeal: The New Breakfast Delicacy,” Australian Star (Sydney), August 16, 1890, 6; “Parson’s Brothers Product Range,” Women’s Weekly, September 11, 1948, 35.

  5. “Prismall-Town,” Weekly Times (Melbourne, Victoria), January 8, 1876, 17.

  6. “Among the earliest believers in Melbourne . . . ,” Australasian Record, July 29, 1935, 18.

  7. G. C. Tenney and S. McCullagh, “Australian Conference Proceedings,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, October 1888, 156; A. G. Stewart, “I Remember a Remarkable Providence,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, February 16, 1970, 6–7.

  8. Ellen G. White, “Diary: December 29, 1892,” manuscript 39, 1892, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, South Pacific Division, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia.

  9. Ellen G. White to William John Prismall, January 15, 1893, Letter P-48, 1893, Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre, South Pacific Division, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, NSW, Australia, 3.

  10. G. C. Tenney, “Ellen E. Prismall obituary,” Bible Echo, September 1, 1892, 272; “Ellen Prismall obituary,” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), August 13, 1892, 1.

  11. Henry Scott, “Echo Publishing Company Proceedings,” ARH, March 8, 1892, 156–157.

  12. “The 1893 Diary of William Prismall,” Sabbath, June 24, South Pacific Division Heritage Centre, Avondale College of Higher Education, Cooranbong, New South Wales, Box 937.

  13. Ibid.

  14. “Welcome to Our Brand Story”; “Australian Coffee, Spice, Rice, and Oatmeal Mills”; “Parson’s Flaked Oatmeal”; “Parson’s Brothers Product Range.”

  15. “Prismall-James,” Leader (Melbourne, Victoria), March 10, 1894, 42.

  16. “Church School Work,” Bible Echo, May 6, 1901, 10; “Church Schools,” Bible Echo, October 14, 1901, 9; P. Prismall and L. White, “North Fitzroy Church School,” Union Conference Record, August 1, 1904, 5.

  17. “Historic Picture Gallery: Early Warburton School,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 20, 1969, 3.

  18. P. Prismall, “Church School in Western Australia,” Union Conference Record, April 15, 1905, 7; S. O. Jean-Louis, “Parting with an Old Friend,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, October 5, 1953, 7; L. V. Finster, “Report of the West Australian Conference,” Special Number, Union Conference Record, October 1, 1906, 46–50.

  19. “Two marriage ceremonies . . . ,” Australasian Record, October 7, 1918, 8.

  20. “Miss Lily Prismall . . . ,” Union Conference Record, August 1, 1905, 7.

  21. Lillian A. Prismall, “The Uttermost Parts of West Australia,” Union Conference Record, February 25, 1907, 6.

  22. “Kingston-Prismall,” West Australian, April 21, 1909, 1.

  23. “Entertaining Soldiers,” Heidelberg News and Greensborough, Eltham, and Diamond Creek Chronicle, May 20, 1916, 2; “Letters to the Editor: Compulsory Training,” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle, July 4, 1914, 3; W. J. Prismall, “Compulsory Training,” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), June 11, 1914, 3; W. J. Prismall, “Fairfield Progress Society: The Social Aspect of the Present War,” Heidelberg News and Greensborough and Diamond Creek Chronicle (Victoria), February 6, 1915, 3.

  24. “Prismall, William John,” The Argus (Melbourne, Victoria), September 4, 1929, 1; Thomas H. Craddock, “William John Prismall obituary,” Australasian Record, October 7, 1929, 7.

  25. H. G. Bryant, “Elizabeth Prismall obituary,” Australasian Record and Advent World Survey, August 11, 1958, 7.

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Hosken, Robert (Bob). "Prismall, William John (1853–1929)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Accessed February 08, 2023. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9B6T.

Hosken, Robert (Bob). "Prismall, William John (1853–1929)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 29, 2020. Date of access February 08, 2023, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9B6T.

Hosken, Robert (Bob) (2020, January 29). Prismall, William John (1853–1929). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 08, 2023, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9B6T.