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Howard, Henry (1859–1933)

by Arnold D. Hunt

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

Henry Howard (1859-1933), Methodist minister, was born on 21 January 1859 in Melbourne, son of Henry Howard, accountant, and his wife Mary Ann, née Graham. Little is known of his childhood but in later sermons Howard sometimes referred to the penurious circumstances of his early years. At 17 he underwent a religious conversion through the preaching of a leading Wesleyan minister, Dr Joseph Dare. He became a local preacher and four years later was accepted as a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry. After a year at Wesley College, Melbourne, under the Irish Methodist scholar, Dr James Swanton Waugh, he was appointed in 1881 to Warragul. This was followed by terms in the Wesleyan circuits of Hotham, Merino, Prahran, Warragul (a second time), Hawthorn and Ballarat. In this twenty-year period Howard became 'a preacher of great acceptance and power'. On 4 April 1885 at Carlton Howard married Sarah Jane Reynolds (d.1918).

In 1902 he was transferred to the South Australia Conference of the Methodist Church and was appointed to the Pirie Street Church in Adelaide, the 'cathedral' church of South Australian Methodism. Under Howard's ministry it drew each Sunday evening a congregation of over one thousand, including many of the State's leading citizens. Tall and bearded with an organ-like voice he often spoke at civic and community gatherings. In 1913 he was president of the Methodist Conference in South Australia.

During World War I Howard campaigned strongly for the allied cause, speaking at recruiting and conscription rallies in South Australia and Victoria. His eloquent identification of the battles in France with the battle of God proved disturbing to later interpreters of the church's role in society.

After nineteen years at Pirie Street Howard was granted 'permission to rest' by the South Australia conference in 1921. Visiting England where his son Stanford was a Rhodes Scholar, he was soon invited to preach in London's largest Methodist churches. Eventually he became minister of the Hampstead Wesleyan Church while still retaining membership in the South Australia conference.

In 1926 Howard was invited to become co-pastor of the famous Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. He was to be the preacher while his colleague would attend to matters of administration. Howard resigned from the Methodist ministry and joined the Presbyterian Church. His pulpit work became as highly acclaimed in the United States of America as it had been in Australia and Britain. He was awarded two honorary degrees, a D.Litt. by South-western University (Memphis) in 1928 and a D.D. by New York University in 1930.

Howard visited Australia in 1931 to celebrate his ministerial jubilee. He preached in leading churches in Melbourne and Adelaide and in his first circuit, Warragul.

In 1933, a few months before his projected retirement from Fifth Avenue, Howard became ill with cancer of the throat. He sailed for England, where three of his children were living, and died on 29 June 1933, two days after his arrival. He was buried at Hendon Park cemetery in London. Three of his four sons and a daughter survived him.

Howard published thirteen books, mainly collections of sermons, between 1907 and 1933, some in England and some in America. The best-known volumes, widely read by ministers, were The Raiment of the Soul, The Conning-Tower of the Soul, The Shepherd Psalm and The Church Which is His body.

Howard was unquestionably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Australian Protestantism. Without any elaborate promotional organization he was able over more than thirty years to attract and maintain capacity congregations. As an orator he excelled in the use of poetry, vivid metaphors and illustrations drawn from a wide range of contemporary literature. He was an expository preacher, standing in the dominant liberal Protestant tradition of his time and accepting readily the literary-historical analysis of the Bible.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Hunt (ed), Methodist Ministerial Index for Australasia (Melb, 1914)
  • H. Copeland, The Path of Progress (Warragul, Vic, 1934)
  • Methodist Church (Victoria and Tasmania), Minutes of the Annual Conference, 1902
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 8 Oct, 1915
  • New York Times, 11 June 1930, 30 June, 1, 2, 4 July 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Oct 1924, 6, 9 July 1931
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1, 3, 10 July 1933
  • church and newspaper references supplied by Miss E. A. Kraeger, official historian, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York City.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Arnold D. Hunt, 'Howard, Henry (1859–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/howard-henry-6743/text11649, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 13 December 2018.

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

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