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Albiston, Arthur Edward (1866–1961)

by E. F. Osborn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Arthur Edward Albiston (1866-1961), clergyman, was born on 19 August 1866 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, son of Joseph Albiston (1829-1919), a Wesleyan Methodist minister, and his wife Elizabeth Barbara, née Rowbotham. His father had arrived from England in 1854; his mother came to Melbourne to be married in 1857 and died in 1875 leaving a family of ten children. Albiston was educated at Wesley College, under the classicist A. S. Way; in 1883 he was senior prefect and dux of the school, with special prizes in Greek and Latin, mathematics and science. His modest distinction as a long-distance runner and oarsman is consistent with his longevity; he was to play golf when 92 and preach at 94. At the University of Melbourne in 1888 he was awarded the final honours exhibition in natural sciences (B.A.); he became senior resident-master at Wesley.

In 1889 Albiston was received as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry and was first appointed to Denham Street, Hawthorn. He visited England in 1891, returned to South Melbourne, and was ordained and sent to Mildura in 1893. On 6 April at Essendon he had married Harriette Skinner (1874-1952). His subsequent appointments were to Launceston, Tasmania (1896), Prahran (1899, 1910), Hawthorn (1902, 1917), the Central Mission, Melbourne (1907), and Brunswick and Coburg (1914). Secretary of the Victorian and Tasmanian Annual Conference in 1918 and president in 1919, he was secretary-general of the Australasian Methodist Conference in 1935-37 and president-general in 1938-41.

Albiston was best known for his work as professor of theology at Queen's College, University of Melbourne, in 1920-37. His success was due to a solid background in other disciplines, wide reading and an original, independent mind. Despite the efforts of W. H. Fitchett, who urged him to write a book because he had 'the finest mind of us all', he wrote little; only a few special addresses have survived in print. He had extraordinary powers as an orator, using dramatic intensity and vivid gestures. The clarity of his thought was conveyed through a highly sensitive choice of words; he prepared sermon notes carefully but never took them into the pulpit.

Several handwritten volumes of sermon notes indicate the quality and direction of Albiston's thought. He was a liberal Protestant, a humanist and an evangelical. He drew heavily on the Fourth Gospel and Paul with their rejection of the letter and commendation of the spirit. To him, institutions were suspect, as was any belief which was not essential. Called a 'Methodist Quaker' by his friends, he once addressed the Society of Friends on 'The advantage of an unseen Christ'. He considered that Christians were too ready to honour external aspects of faith, and their continuing peril was a reversion to legalism. Yet he valued the Church as the salt of the earth and light of the world, as men raised to their full potential in Christ. By originality and analytic skill he reached further into the New Testament than did many Protestant liberals; like the German founders of this tendency he understood Paul and the evangelical centre of Paul's thought.

Albiston was convinced that the Methodist Church had an essential role. Even his liberal tolerance was openly Wesleyan, as was his careful, simple, scholarly analysis of scripture. To the end, he wrote out the scriptural text of his sermon in Greek or Hebrew. His retiring address as president-general in 1941 was a commendation of Methodist spirituality and classical humanism.

Albiston lived at Auburn in active retirement until his death in hospital at Richmond on 20 June 1961; he was cremated. His three sons and only daughter survived him. Walter Albiston was a nephew.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. O. Nye, ‘A prince of preachers’, Heritage (Victoria), 1963, no 14
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 24 Mar 1920, 28 May 1941, 7, 28 June 1961
  • Methodist Church (Victoria), Minutes of the Annual Conference, Melbourne, Oct 1961
  • manuscripts (privately held).

Citation details

E. F. Osborn, 'Albiston, Arthur Edward (1866–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/albiston-arthur-edward-4988/text8287, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 17 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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