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Alcorn, Ivan Wells (1912–1972)

by John E. Mavor

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

This is a shared entry with Cyril David Alcorn

Cyril David Alcorn (1911-1972) and Ivan Wells Alcorn (1912-1972), Methodist ministers, were born on 16 July 1911 and 28 November 1912 at Mutdapilly, near Ipswich, Queensland, eldest of nine children of David Ebenezer Alcorn, farmer, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Wells, both Queenslanders. The family later moved to Tingalpa where David took up poultry farming. Cyril was educated at Normanby and Tingalpa State schools, Brisbane State High School and the Teachers' Training College. Sent as a teacher to Greenup, in south-west Queensland, he lived in a tent in the school grounds to save money for a theological training, but was known to swagmen during the Depression as one who would provide them with food. In 1935 he was accepted as a candidate for the Methodist ministry; he entered King's College, University of Queensland (B.A., 1940; M.A., 1964), and was ordained on 3 March 1941.

At the Albert Street Methodist Church, Brisbane, Cyril married Joyce Carmichael, a domestic science teacher, on 29 March 1941. The couple had intended to go to India as missionaries, but their plan was frustrated by Japan's entry into World War II. From December 1942 until 1946 Cyril served as a chaplain in the Royal Australian Navy: he was initially stationed in Darwin and later sailed in H.M.A.S. Shropshire in 1944-45. While in Darwin he had made friends with Rev. Arch Grant, a former padre with the Australian Inland Mission; after the war he and Alcorn worked together in Darwin to help set up a United Church in Northern Australia. As principal (1947-55) of Blackheath and Thornburgh Colleges at Charters Towers, North Queensland, Cyril improved the property and introduced a new course in agriculture, as well as another in home science (run by his wife Joyce). In 1956 he became superintendent minister of the Ashgrove circuit and was senior naval chaplain at the Port of Brisbane. He received a bachelor degree from the Melbourne College of Divinity in 1958.

With his brother Ivan, in 1960 he established the Methodist Training College and Bible School at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane, where students were prepared for the ministry. Cyril was its foundation principal and the institution was subsequently named Alcorn College (1976) in recognition of the brothers' work. When he was appointed M.B.E. in 1966, Cyril's citation acknowledged the pastoral care he had given after the sinking of H.M.A.S. Voyager in 1964. He was respected as 'a great preacher and a compassionate man', and in 1969 was elected president of the Queensland Methodist Conference. Survived by his wife, daughter and three of his four sons, Cyril Alcorn died of ruptured abdominal aneurysm on 15 May 1972 at Parkville, Melbourne and was cremated in Brisbane.

Ivan was educated at Tingalpa State School, but left to help his father before following Cyril into the ministry. Quick and energetic, in 1934 Ivan became a home missionary at Malanda, North Queensland, where he needed a string of horses to maintain his far-flung preaching commitments. As a student at King's College where he received his licentiate of theology in 1940, he developed a commitment to education that was to be manifested in his efforts to establish what became Alcorn College. On 5 May 1941 at the Methodist Church, Kingaroy, he married a schoolteacher Iris Sarah Simpson. In September Ivan was appointed chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force and embarked for the Middle East in November; he returned to Australia in February 1943. Having served on Horn Island in Torres Strait, he was in Papua and New Guinea, mostly with the 2nd/2nd Battalion, in 1944-45.

As director (1949-70) of the Queensland Methodist Young People's Department, Ivan extended its camping movement and developed Christian tourism and stewardship. Sensitive, but humorous and optimistic, he preceded Cyril as president (1967) of the Queensland Methodist Conference, and in 1970 became director of the social welfare and pastoral care department. Having organized the Brisbane centre for Lifeline in 1966, he became its director-general (1972); he was Queensland's 'Father of the Year' (1969) and was appointed M.B.E. in 1972. That year he unsuccessfully contested the Legislative Assembly seat of Ashgrove as an Independent, opposing the Liberal minister for health S. D. Tooth over social welfare and the government's handling of the drug problem.

Survived by his wife, son and two of his three daughters, Ivan Alcorn died of hypertensive coronary vascular disease on 28 September 1972 at St Johns Wood, Brisbane, and was cremated. As embodiments of robust Christianity the brothers had strikingly similar careers, but, whereas Cyril was a teacher, scholarly, thoughtful and without guile, Ivan was a lively visionary and an inspirer of action.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Grant, Palmerston to Darwin (Syd, 1990)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (Queensland), Minutes of 1972 Conference, Brisb, 1972
  • Methodist Times, 16 Oct 1969, 18 May, 1 June, 5, 12, 19 Oct 1972
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 16 May, 29 Sept 1972
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 29 Sept 1972
  • I. Alcorn, God's Work First, My Life with Ivan Alcorn (manuscript, 1991, privately held).

Citation details

John E. Mavor, 'Alcorn, Ivan Wells (1912–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/alcorn-ivan-wells-9967/text16363, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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