Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert William Dale (1829–1895)

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Robert William Dale (1829-1895), Congregational minister, was born on 1 December 1829 at Newington Butts, London, son of Robert Dale, hat trimmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Young. At 15 he became an assistant schoolmaster, joined the Congregational Church in Andover and began to preach and contribute to religious magazines. He entered Spring College, Birmingham, to study theology in 1847 and went to the University of London (B.A., 1850; M.A., 1853), winning the gold medal in philosophy. He then became assistant to John Angell James at the Carr's Lane Chapel, Birmingham, was elected pastor there after James died in 1859, and retained the office for thirty-six years. With his powerful ministry and enthusiasm for missions and church extension, he was outstanding as a promoter of education in Birmingham and in 1886 shared in the creation of the Free Church Mansfield College at Oxford. He was a prolific and influential writer, always emphasizing the practical issues of his doctrines rather than expounding theology as a polemic. He disliked divinity titles and by 1869 had discarded the use of 'reverend' but, although he never used the D.D. awarded to him at Yale in 1877, he yielded when the University of Glasgow gave him an honorary doctorate of laws in 1883. A month after his last sermon at Carr's Lane, he died on 13 March 1895. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth, née Dowling, whom he had married on 21 February 1855, and by two daughters and a son, Alfred William Winterslow, sometime vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool.

Dale had rejected an invitation to a leading pastorate in Melbourne in 1862, but in 1887 he went with his wife and daughter to Hobart and for fifteen weeks toured Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales. Everywhere they met 'hospitality that surpassed all expectations', not only from the Congregational Unions which had invited him but also from all other denominations. He was also cheered by the passionate affection for Britain which, he believed, made Australians ultra-sensitive to criticisms in the English press. His Impressions of Australia (London, 1889), reprinted from the Contemporary Review, was one of the most acute surveys of that time. From observation, he recorded and tried to explain the differences of 'national character' in the three colonies. From wide-ranging interviews and study of parliamentary reports and the Victorian Year Book he expounded the resources, education, politics, religion and morals that justify Australia's 'buoyant faith in the future'. During his visit the frenzy over Broken Hill in the stock exchanges and the preparation of Sydney's centenary made him over-sanguine on some subjects, yet his wisdom and tolerant insight must have leavened the quality of British migrants who flocked to Australia after the depression of the 1890s.

Citation details

'Dale, Robert William (1829–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 December, 1829
Newington Butts, Surrey, England


13 March, 1895 (aged 65)
Birmingham, West Midlands, England

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