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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Heyer, Johannes (1872–1945)

by Chris Mostert

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Johannes Heyer (1872-1945), clergyman, was born on 29 April 1872 at Germantown (Grovedale) near Geelong, Victoria, son of Georg Heyer, pastor of St Paul's Lutheran Church, Germantown, for fifty-two years, and his wife Clara Elisabeth, née Kummer, who had both migrated from Alsace-Lorraine, France, in 1868. An outstanding scholar, Heyer was awarded an Education Department exhibition while at Flinders School, and was dux of Geelong College in 1887. In 1889 he won a scholarship to Ormond College, University of Melbourne, where he specialized in modern languages (B.A., 1892; M.A., 1894). He studied theology at Ormond in 1893-96 and then in Edinburgh and Leipzig. At St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, he found his ideals for worship given clearest expression.

In 1897 Heyer was an Australian representative at the first international conference of the Student Christian Movement at Northfield, United States of America. Returning to Australia, he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Geelong in December, and worked in association with the minister of Scots Church, Melbourne, for the next three years. He was ordained as a minister of the Presbyterian Church and inducted into the parish of Yarra Glen and Healesville in 1900; he was subsequently closely involved in the establishment of Healesville College.

In 1904 Heyer was called to be minister of St John's Presbyterian Church, Hobart, was inducted on 5 August and remained associated with this church for the rest of his life. Besides parish work, he became increasingly busy with the administration of the presbytery and the assembly, and in particular with the Foreign Missions Committee. (His sister Clara had married the Presbyterian missionary, F. H. L. Paton in 1896.) Heyer retired in May 1923, although after this date he was several times interim minister at St John's.

An outstanding personality of the Presbyterian Church in Tasmania, Heyer was scholar, theologian, historian, poet, organist and composer. Besides writing poems and hymns, he composed hymn-tunes and music for the Te Deum. He published a booklet, The Lord's Prayer, its Implications and Confessional Value (undated), and also wrote local church histories. Of greatest and lasting importance is his comprehensive book on the history of Presbyterianism in Tasmania, The Presbyterian Pioneers of Van Diemen's Land, published in 1935 to commemorate the centenary of the establishment of the Presbytery of Van Diemen's Land. He was a strong supporter of the Children's Aid Society and was secretary of the Hobart branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. During World War I he withstood unjustified accusations of pro-German sympathies.

Heyer collapsed and died at the wheel of his car in Hobart on 18 October 1945 and was buried in Cornelian Bay cemetery. His wife, Amy Florence Isabel, née McGregor, whom he had married at Karelah, Sandy Bay, on 6 June 1905, had died the previous year; they had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • St John's Presbyterian Church, Hob, Centenarian, 1940
  • Tasmanian Presbyterian, Dec 1945
  • Investigator, Sept 1917, Dec 1977, Sept 1979
  • Mercury (Hobart), 19 Oct 1945
  • Rev J. Heyer papers, and historical material of Presbyterian Church, Tasmania (State Library of Tasmania)
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Mostert, 'Heyer, Johannes (1872–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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