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Samuel Lister (c1833-1913)

Southern Dunedin's most outspoken atheist

Samuel ListerSamuel Lister was born in Edinburgh and brought up as a Presbyterian. Trained as a printer and lithographer, he emigrated to Auckland in 1865 with his wife and two small children. By the later 1860s he was in Otago and settled in Bathgate Road, South Dunedin. Still an active Presbyterian into the 1870s, Lister turned violently against the church after being reproved for heavy drinking. This was probably a reaction to the death of his eldest son. Henceforth he became an outspoken opponent of religion. In the late 1880s Lister established the Otago Workman newspaper, publishing it from his workshop in Kensington. The Workman became infamous, an organ dedicated to radical causes: atheism; anti-clericalism; republicanism and the brotherhood of the working man. Lister wrote forcefully in support of the workers throughout the industrial disputes of 1890. There were various unsuccessful attempts to shut down his newspaper as a result. But he was opposed to women's suffrage, in large part because of the movement's links with temperance, which he abhorred. His wife and daughter, however, were both Presbyterians and signed the suffrage petition of 1893. Lister was a well-known figure on the Flat, although his atheism and republicanism made him somewhat disreputable. His outspoken views added to the character of the working class communities who supported his newspaper.

(Photograph, Otago Settlers Museum Collection)

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