Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bevan, Llewelyn David (1842–1918)

by Niel Gunson

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

Llewelyn David Bevan (1842-1918), by unknown engraver, 1886

Llewelyn David Bevan (1842-1918), by unknown engraver, 1886

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN24/07/86/120

Llewelyn David Bevan (1842-1918), Congregational minister, was born on 11 September 1842 at Llanelly, Carmarthen, Wales, son of Hopkin Bevan, actuary, and his wife Eliza, née Davies, a Congregational minister's daughter, and was related to prominent Dissenting preachers on both sides of his family. Raised in a cultured home atmosphere, Bevan attended University College School, London, boarding in a pious household where he matched his wits and physical strength with young ministers. He abandoned his plans for a legal career when he was converted by the preaching of Henry Grattan Guinness. A 'fine big boy, with dark flowing locks', he entered New College, then under Dr Robert Halley, father of his friend J. J. Halley, as a lay student in 1858. As an exhibitioner and prizeman he completed his B. A. in 1862 and LL.B. with honours in 1865 at the University of London, spending his last year at University College.

After ordination in 1865, Bevan assisted Dr. Thomas Binney at the King's Weigh House Chapel and in 1869-75 he was minister of Tottenham Court Chapel. He was early influenced by the Christian Socialist movement, and his popular London ministry was characterized by his concern for education and the welfare of the workers. He won the Marylebone seat on the London School Board on the minority 'free, compulsory and secular' platform in 1873, and in 1866-76 was active as a councillor of the Working Men's College founded in 1854 by F. D. Maurice, whose Bible class Bevan also took over. He preached at social crusades and revival meetings as well as lecturing in English at New College. By 1874, when he ministered for two months at the Central Church, Brooklyn, New York, Bevan had acquired an international reputation. He received calls from leading churches including Collins Street Independent Church, Melbourne, and finally accepted the ministry of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York in 1876, becoming moderator of the New York Presbytery in 1880. In 1882, honoured with a Princeton doctorate, he removed to London as minister of the newly formed Highbury Quadrant (Congregational) Church. Such was his interest in social questions and his popularity that he was urged to stand for parliament, with the choice of three Liberal seats in Wales and one in North London, but in 1886, partly for the health of his family and in response to a fourth call, he accepted the ministry of Collins Street Independent Church. With his wife Louisa Jane, née Willett, whom he had married at Southampton on 2 April 1870, and his family, he reached Melbourne in the Valetta on 6 November 1886.

For twenty-three years Bevan was a leader of Protestant intellectual life in Melbourne. Although he became less insistent on some of his Gladstonian Liberal beliefs such as Irish Home Rule and free trade, he remained an ardent advocate of educational and social reform. In 1888-89 (also in 1898-99 and 1909-10) he was chairman of the Congregational Union of Victoria and made numerous visits overseas in the interests of wider Congregationalism, serving as a vice-president of its international councils at London in 1891 and Boston in 1899. He was chairman of the jury of education at the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition of 1888, for which he was honoured by the French government, and in 1891 he served on a parliamentary committee to study the educational systems of France, Germany and the United States. In 1889, during the London dockers' strike, he addressed the public meeting organized in Melbourne by the Congregational Union and the Trades Hall Council to raise funds for strikers' families and, in 1892, with Rev. A. Gosman he was an advocate of labour colonies. An ardent believer in Australian Federation, based on an imperial federation ideal, he lectured tirelessly, one of his hymns on the subject being published in the Congregational hymnal. In the Federal election of 1901 he resisted pressure to stand against J. C. Manifold for Corangamite. He opposed the White Australia policy, but believed Australia had a right to its own Monroe doctrine in the Western Pacific.

In 1909 Bevan decided to lighten his ministerial load. From 1888 he had lectured in church history at the Congregational College of Victoria and in February 1910 he became principal of Parkin (Congregational) College, Adelaide, holding this position until he died there on 19 July 1918. For twenty-five years he had suffered from diabetes and ultimately from peripheral vascular disease. His successor, E. S. Kiek, thought him neither a profound nor exact scholar, but a man of wide culture. The Bevan lectures were given at Parkin in his memory in 1927-56.

Bevan was regarded as a great preacher with a mellifluous voice and 'the fiery eloquence of John Bright' whom he physically resembled. Randolph Bedford described him as 'a pink, portly bishoplike man, his plump and innocent face framed in hair, white and fine as cotton wool'. Conscious of his middle-class station, he retained enough Maurice-type social conscience to insist on equal opportunities in education, especially for women, and to deplore exploitation of the workers such as sweating and organized gambling. His forte, however, was cultural. He delighted in musical evenings and eisteddfods and in creating a salon atmosphere at home and church gatherings, bringing together, for instance, Archbishop Carr, Rabbi Joseph Abrahams, and 'the third wise man', a notorious ragged scholar of the Melbourne streets. Bevan was a bibliophile, collector of antique ceramics, and recognized student of Ibsen. He was also a gifted raconteur, able to draw on personal recollections of the distinguished people he had known in Europe and America, including Gladstone, Mill, Emerson, Holmes and Longfellow. Holding a 'liberal Evangelical' theology and blessed with a sense of humour, he eschewed fundamentalism but joined in evangelistic crusades such as the American-inspired Simultaneous Mission of 1902. Many of his sermons and addresses were published.

His wife Louisa Jane Bevan (1844-1933), was born on 11 April 1844 at Norwich, England, elder daughter of John Willett, physician, and his wife Mary Ann, née Oxley. She learned French, German and Italian while sewing for the village poor at Market Lavington, Wiltshire. On her father's death the family moved to Southampton where Louisa became a member of the Above Bar Chapel and taught a young women's Bible class until her marriage. In New York in 1879 she suffered a spinal injury in a fall from a hammock and could never afterwards sit in an ordinary chair.

Louisa Bevan shared her husband's intellectual and musical interests, wrote and illustrated poems and hymns which were occasionally published, and at 60 learned Greek and Sanskrit in order to assist him. She was active in the National Council of Women and in October 1890 organized a women's philanthropic and cultural circle known as Daughters of the Court (afterwards Friends in Council). In 1920 she compiled and edited The Life and Reminiscences of Llewelyn David Bevan (Melbourne). She died at the family home, Pen Bryn, at Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria, on 12 September 1933. There were seven children and an adopted daughter. The four sons earned the reputation of 'the brainy, brawny Bevans' at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, and at Melbourne and British universities: Hopkin Llewelyn Willett (1871-1933) was a mission teacher in Shanghai, then a Congregational minister in South Australia, and married Beatrice, poet and critic, a member of Louisa Bevan's circle and daughter of W. M. K. Vale; David John Davies (1873-1954) became first judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory; Louis Rhys Oxley (1874-1946) was a professor of law in China; Penry Vaughan (1875-1913) was a professor of physical sciences at Royal Holloway College, University of London. Of the daughters, Sibyl became a medical officer in the New South Wales Public Service.

Portraits in oils by George Webb of Llewelyn and Louisa Bevan are held by the family. A caricature likeness by 'B.A.L.' in the series 'Representative men' was published in the Leader in 1901. The Bevan collection of Australian books was purchased by Newman College, University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Currie jnr, Notes on Travel (Edinb, 1890)
  • J. E. Ritchie, An Australian Ramble (Lond, 1890)
  • R. Bedford, Naught to Thirty-Three (Syd, 1944)
  • E. S. Kiek, Our First Hundred Years (Adel, 1950)
  • Victorian Congregational Year Book, 1886-1919
  • Congregationalist (Melbourne), 1 Aug 1918
  • Leader (Melbourne), 4 Sept 1886, 24 Aug 1901
  • Bulletin, 6 Sept 1890
  • Weekly Times (Melbourne), 6 Apr 1895
  • Punch (Melbourne), 22 Aug 1907
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 July 1918
  • Register (Adelaide), 20 July 1918
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 July 1918, 13 Sept 1933
  • family records (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Bevan, Llewelyn David (1842–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bevan-llewelyn-david-5228/text8799, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 31 August 2014.

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

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