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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clark-Duff, Victor William Thomas (1883–1974)

by K. J. Cable

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

Victor William Thomas Clark-Duff (1883-1974), Presbyterian clergyman, was born on 24 May 1883 at Penrith, New South Wales, son of native-born parents William George Clark (d.1888), storekeeper, and his wife Mary Ann Larmbier, née Smith. Mary married Alexander Duff in 1890; Victor adopted his stepfather's surname. He was educated at Penrith Public School, Sydney Boys' High School (on a scholarship) and Scots College where he was strongly influenced by the headmaster A. A. Aspinall. In 1901 Duff entered St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (B.A., 1904); after subsequent divinity studies, he was sent to the Hunter Valley as a preaching agent at Abermain.

Ordained in 1907, Clark-Duff (as he now styled himself) was appointed minister of Cessnock. There, he pushed along with the belated policy of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales to expand in the mining districts. Translated to Singleton in 1913, he gradually pulled together an old parish which had run into difficulties. On 18 February 1914 he married Ida Margaret Parkins at the Presbyterian Church, Mosman. Following a report presented to the assembly on future strategy in the coalfields districts, in 1921 Clark-Duff returned to Cessnock as superintendent of the Maitland Coalfields Mission. At a time of industrial unrest and pessimism, the mission proved unsatisfactory.

In 1924 the assembly thanked Clark-Duff for his 'honest, hard and efficient work', dissolved the Coalfields Mission and returned him to Cessnock-Aberdare. Faced with an increasingly arduous situation, Clark-Duff performed well, becoming something of an expert on social and economic problems, but in 1931 sought fresh experience in Sydney at the new, North Shore parish of Artarmon. Despite Depression problems, Artarmon gave Clark-Duff the chance to serve the Church in a wider sphere. In addition to his parish work, he edited (1933-36) the New South Wales Presbyterian; he greatly reduced the paper's debts and widened its appeal. Appointed moderator in 1935, he summed up his coalfields and editorial reflections in his address, Christianity's Challenge to Civilization.

His election in 1936 as general secretary (a full-time post, for five years) was an indication of a Presbyterian demand for renewal. The Depression had led the Church to rethink many traditional attitudes. The Samuel Angus heresy case—which divided theological liberals and conservatives, and caused immense turmoil—had reached a stalemate in 1934. Clark-Duff had dealt with it even-handedly in the Presbyterian. As secretary, he was able to carry on a reconstruction policy which fitted the Church to cope with the stresses of war from 1939. Re-elected in 1941, he was given a third (this time three-year) term in 1946.

Two years later, Presbyterians were startled to learn from the census that they had fallen behind the Methodists in numbers and rate of increase. With postwar issues pressing, a change seemed necessary. Clark-Duff retired, yet showed his concern for the new order by serving as a chaplain in a migrant ship from Britain in 1950. A patriarchal figure in the Church, he continued to sit on the council of Scots College and the board of the Scottish Hospital. Predeceased by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 29 June 1974 at Ashfield and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years (Syd, 1951)
  • Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, Minutes of Proceedings of General Assembly, 1921-50
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24 Jan 1931, 12 Jan 1935.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Clark-Duff, Victor William Thomas (1883–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 13

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