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Wheller, Harold Manuel (1882–1979)

by Jennifer Noble

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Harold Manuel Wheller (1882-1979), Methodist minister, was born on 26 January 1882 at Tarlee, South Australia, third of five children of James Manuel Wheller, a South Australian-born machinist, and his wife Mary Jane, née Gullidge. Educated at Stanley Grammar School, Watervale, Harold worked as a clerk at Norwood, Adelaide, before entering Queen's College, University of Melbourne, in 1905. He moved to Queensland and in March 1906 was ordained in Brisbane. His first appointment was at Paddington. On 10 May 1910 at Kennedy Terrace Methodist Church, Red Hill, he married Edith May Stack (d.1963), a schoolteacher. They were to have two sons and a daughter.

For twenty-one years Wheller ministered in several Brisbane parishes, and at Cairns, Ipswich, Stanthorpe and Warwick. He was secretary (1923-25) and president (1926) of the Queensland Methodist Conference. In 1927 he was appointed superintendent of the Brisbane Central Mission. His twenty-five year ministry there was characterized by forthright preaching and practical social service. During the Depression he provided the unemployed and destitute with physical and spiritual assistance, while encouraging the recipients to maintain self-respect. He established two hostels for the homeless, and arranged for the mission (under the leadership of Mrs Wheller) to supply daily meals to over four hundred men. Clothing was distributed to those in need. For a decade from 1931 he conducted a weekly worship service for unemployed men. He helped to administer the Queensland Book Depot, the William Powell home for discharged prisoners and St Helen's Hospital. In 1936 he founded the Garden Settlement for Aged People at Chermside, Brisbane, on land donated by George Marchant.

A constant advocate of ecumenism, Wheller presided over the Queensland Council of Churches and the State committee of the World Council of Churches. In 1937 he had advocated union between Methodists and Congregationalists, arguing that it would bring greater 'impact and effectiveness' in the community. He was a dynamic speaker who claimed to 'always put the pulpit first'. Rev. George Nash observed that, when preaching, Wheller blended theological insight with 'evangelical ardour and Christlike compassion'. In 1933 he had published a collection of his sermons, Our Quest for God. A man of deep spirituality, he viewed the Methodist hymn book as an excellent devotional resource. He was president-general of the Methodist Church of Australasia in 1941-45.

Wheller was appointed O.B.E. in 1952. That year he retired from active ministry but he continued to administer the Garden Settlement until 1976, when there were over six hundred residents living in self-contained cottages, hostel accommodation or nursing homes. He was a member of the University of Queensland senate in 1936-56, and a founding member (1918), chairman (1965-70) and life member (1970) of the Queensland Temperance League. Of slight build and dour expression, he had great energy, compassion and capacity for enduring friendship. 'H.M.', as he was affectionately known, enjoyed watching cricket, but his work was his hobby. Survived by his daughter, he died on 17 November 1979 at Auchenflower and was cremated. The Garden Settlement was named after him in 1980.

Select Bibliography

  • R. S. C. Dingle, The Garden Settlement (Brisb, 1967?)
  • D. L. Tucker, 50 Years of Caring (Brisb, 1986)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (Queensland), Conference Minutes (1926, 1927, 1952)
  • Central Methodist Mission (Brisbane), Annual Report, 1930-31, 1932-33
  • Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod, Minutes and Supplementary Reports, 1980
  • Methodist Times, 28 Feb, 10 Apr, 1 May 1952, 3 Feb 1972, 25 Nov 1976
  • Life and Times, 23 Jan 1980
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Noble, 'Wheller, Harold Manuel (1882–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wheller-harold-manuel-12007/text21531, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 12 December 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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