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Macaulay, Robert Wilson (1882–1951)

by Ian Breward

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Robert Wilson Macaulay (1882-1951), Presbyterian clergyman, was born on 8 October 1882 at Byker, Newcastle upon Tyne, England, son of Samuel Macaulay, surgeon, and his wife Margaret Morrison, née Wilson. Robert was educated at Ashville College, Harrogate, Jesmond College, Newcastle, and—following the family's emigration to Western Australia in 1898—at the High School, Perth. After working in the Union Bank, he attended the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1903) and studied theology at Westminster College, Cambridge, England. He was licensed in the Presbyterian Church in June 1907 and briefly assisted John Watson at Liverpool.

Returning home on a holiday, Macaulay was persuaded to serve at the Presbyterian Church, East Fremantle, where he was ordained in 1908. Two years later he was called to Elsternwick, Melbourne. There, on 14 November 1911, he married Annie Margaretha Dircks (d.1942). Endowed with ability, energy and a sense of humour, Macaulay was a sensitive pastor and a fine preacher, with a rare command of the English language. In 1912 he enrolled in divinity at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, but gave up his course during World War I. Appointed a chaplain in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 August 1916, he served with the 3rd Brigade on the Western Front from February to October 1917 and suffered shell-shock.

Macaulay was a convinced internationalist: he was an executive-member (1920-48) of the Australian League of Nations Union (United Nations Association) and of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (1944-48). He also belonged to the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, and was an active Freemason.

In 1921 Macaulay was called to Trinity Church, Camberwell; there he was a colleague of Rev. P. J. Murdoch, whom he succeeded in 1928. Under Macaulay the congregation grew to more than five hundred, including business, political and professional leaders. He served on numerous committees, and was business convener for both the Victorian General Assembly and the General Assembly of Australia. Appointed clerk of the latter body in 1933, he helped to guide discussions in the Samuel Angus case. That year he was named moderator of the Victorian assembly; during his one-year term he travelled widely throughout the State and to Korea. In 1938-42 he was clerk of the Victorian assembly. His international vision for Australian Christianity was underlined by his ecumenism. A founding member of the Victorian committee of the Commission on Faith and Order, he was also involved in setting up what became the Australian Council of Churches. As first president (1932-38) of the Christian Social Order Movement, he helped to give it national standing and influence on postwar reconstruction.

Succeeding Rev. John Flynn, Macaulay was moderator-general (1942-45) of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. He and the Anglican bishop John Stoward Moyes were invited in 1943 to an international round table of Christian leaders at Princeton, New Jersey, United States of America, the recommendations of which went to allied leaders, once they had been presented to Cordell Hull and Wendell Wilkie. While in the U.S.A., Macaulay was awarded an honorary D.D. from the American University, Washington, D.C. Further recognition of his knowledge of international affairs came when Dr H. V. Evatt invited him in 1949 to be a religious adviser to the Australian delegation to the United Nations Assembly.

Despite his many commitments, Macaulay continued to read widely. Discerning critics considered that his leadership of worship and the quality of his preaching was better than ever. Some of his addresses were published in the Messenger or as pamphlets. His wisdom gave him national status and influence, but he never lost his innate modesty. He loved science fiction, bowls, bridge and cricket, and was respected for his kindliness and decisiveness. Survived by his two daughters and four sons, he died of coronary vascular disease on 1 August 1951 at his Camberwell home and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • Presbyterian Churches of Victoria and Tasmania, Messenger, 10, 17 Aug 1951
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 Apr 1942, 2 Aug 1951
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 18 Dec 1949, 2 Aug 1951
  • Age (Melbourne), 24 Jan 1950, 3 Aug 1951
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Ian Breward, 'Macaulay, Robert Wilson (1882–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macaulay-robert-wilson-10895/text19345, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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