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Fletcher, William Roby (1833–1894)

by R. B. Walker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

William Roby Fletcher (1833-1894), by T. C. Dalwood, 1894

William Roby Fletcher (1833-1894), by T. C. Dalwood, 1894

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 504

William Roby Fletcher (1833-1894), Congregational minister, was the third son of Rev. Richard Fletcher of Grosvenor Street Chapel, Manchester, England. He was educated at the school in Silcoates, Yorkshire, Lancashire Independent College and the University of London (B.A., 1853; M.A., 1856), winning the University gold medal. He had become a member of the Congregational Church in 1847 and in 1856 sailed to join his father in Melbourne. After pastorates in Victoria at Bendigo in 1858-66 and Richmond in 1866-76 he was called to Stow Congregational Church, Adelaide.

Fletcher was a member of the University of Adelaide Council in 1878-87 and vice-chancellor from July 1883 to December 1887. His B.A. degree had been taken in mathematics, classics, and moral and natural philosophy, and his M.A. in philosophy and political economy, but when Professor John Davidson was ill in 1879 Fletcher served for a term as acting professor of English language and literature and mental and moral philosophy, and again from August 1881 to July 1883 after Davidson died. He retired from Stow Church in 1890 and went to Egypt and the United Kingdom to collect archaeological antiquities and acquaint himself with the latest developments in theological education. He returned to Adelaide to serve as the principal of the Congregational Training College. In 1892 he was elected chairman of the Australasian Congregational Union then meeting at Wellington, New Zealand. He died aged 61 at Adelaide on 5 June 1894, survived by his wife Eliza, née Duncan, two sons and a daughter.

Fletcher was less an original thinker than a skilful expositor of other men's ideas. He was a popular lecturer and wrote many articles for journals and newspapers including sixty-eight essays on political economy, the 'Dry-as-Dust Club Papers', published in the South Australian Register in 1880, and forty-seven lay sermons published in the Advertiser in 1884. His other works, published in Adelaide, included his addresses to the Congregational Union, God in Science and God in Christ: Or, the Religious Teachings of Physics and History Concerning Theism and Christianity, 1879, and lectures on archaeology, Egyptian Sketches, 1892. A Short Biographical Sketch of the Rev. Wm. Roby Fletcher: Together with Selections From his Lectures, Sermons, Papers, etc., was edited by Rev. Jacob Halley in 1895.

As a preacher Fletcher was persuasive and intellectual rather than emotional. Although he had attended the University of Bonn in 1849 and heard Ritschl lecture, he was by no means an advanced liberal in theology; his acceptance of the 'results' of Higher Criticism was slow and cautious. His intellectual interests were very broad and his library correspondingly large. He was a member of the Australasian Society for the Advancement of Science, president of the Adelaide University Shakespeare Society and of the Young Men's Christian Association. He had a great influence on the intellectual culture of Adelaide and his death was deeply mourned by many outside his own denomination. A public subscription in 1895 raised £160 to found a university scholarship in his memory.

Select Bibliography

  • Stow Church Circular, June 1894
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 June 1894
  • University of Adelaide Archives.

Citation details

R. B. Walker, 'Fletcher, William Roby (1833–1894)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fletcher-william-roby-3540/text5461, published in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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