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Pratt, Frederick Vicary (1870–1932)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Frederick Vicary Pratt (1870-1932), Congregational minister, was born on 9 April 1870 at Petersham, Sydney, seventh child of English parents William Pratt, pharmacist, and his wife Eleanor, née Alexander. Educated at Newington College, he won the Schofield scholarship and shared the general proficiency medal with (Sir) John Peden. He graduated from the University of Sydney (B.A., 1892; M.A., 1897) with first-class honours in Latin and the University gold medal for logic and mental philosophy as well as other prizes and distinctions.

As travelling secretary for the Student Christian Movement he visited the other colonies including New Zealand before being called to the Congregational ministry, after which he studied at Camden College under Dr J. G. Fraser. On 21 September 1897 he married Agnes Elizabeth Waddell, a Presbyterian farmer's daughter from Singleton. Following ordination in 1897 Pratt spent thirteen years as a country minister; at Katoomba (1897-1907) he carried out an extensive itinerating ministry, and at Angaston, South Australia (1907-10), he added Keyneton to his charge in 1908. In this early ministry his reputation as a scholarly and energetic preacher led to his election as chairman of both State Congregational unions, New South Wales in 1906-07 and South Australia in 1909-10. Moving to Wyclif Congregational Church, Surrey Hills, Melbourne, in 1910 he was also chairman of the Congregational Union of Victoria in 1914-15. At the height of his preaching powers the top State churches vied for his services: Brighton Road, Brisbane (1916-17); Vaucluse (1917-18) and Hunters Hill (1918-25), Sydney; and Davey Street, Hobart (1925-28). His final ministry was at Roseby Memorial Church, Marrickville, Sydney (1928-32).

Conspicuous in public life as scholar, church unionist and nationalist, Pratt had a wide literary and artistic acquaintance both in university and church circles including G. W. Thatcher and J. Le Gay Brereton. He contributed to various publications including the first edition of the Australian Encyclopaedia (1926). One of his hymns, 'For Australia', was published in the supplement for overseas dominions in the Congregational Hymnary, and in 1907 he had published in London a novel, Sweet Mountain Maid. As an ecumenist he preached throughout his ministry on church union on which he presented reports to various Congregational assemblies in the 1920s. As a nationalist he studied the Australian people 'from a physical anthropological view'. His early views, entitled 'The Anglo-Saxon race in Australia', were expressed in the 1901 annual lecture on religion and science at Camden College.

Pratt maintained that Australians could 'hold [their] own against the world in many departments of activity': those he admired in 1914 included Melba in song, Bertram Mackennal in art, Gilbert Murray in scholarship, Sir George Reid and Alfred Deakin in public speech, and (Sir) Norman Brookes and 'many another valiant champion' in sport. He believed Australia would even produce a national religious reformer of the stature of Luther or Wesley and attuned to local conditions.

Pratt died of leukaemia at Marrickville on 25 April 1932 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His wife, daughter and four sons survived him; his sons included the artist Douglas Pratt and Bruce who married the artist Pixie O'Harris.

Select Bibliography

  • Congregational Union of New South Wales and of South Australia, and of Victoria, and of Queensland, Year Book
  • Congregationalist (Sydney), May, June 1932
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26, 27 Apr 1932.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Pratt, Frederick Vicary (1870–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pratt-frederick-vicary-8097/text14133, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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