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William Marcus Dill Macky (1849–1913)

by Richard Broome

This article was published:

William Marcus Dill Macky (1849-1913), Presbyterian minister, was born on 8 June 1849 at Lisfannan, County Donegal, Ireland, one of five children of William Macky, farmer, and his wife Susannah, née Dill, both descendants of seventeenth-century colonists and clerics. In the early 1850s his father disappeared on the Victorian goldfields. Dill Macky was educated in the classics at S. McQuilkin's school, Londonderry, and studied arts and theology at Magee Presbyterian College, Londonderry, in 1866-67 and 1868-73. Licensed by the Derry Presbytery in May 1876, he was ordained by the Presbytery of Magherafelt in November, after being called to Draperstown church. On 24 May 1881 he married Ellen Elizabeth Morwood, daughter of a medical practitioner.

Dill Macky's Protestant leanings were reinforced by membership of one of the clubs of Apprentice Boys of Derry. He alone of his Magherafelt Presbytery opposed Home Rule as 'Rome Rule', and his conservative political activities in Derry caused such reactions that he armed himself with a six-shooter. In 1886 he migrated to New South Wales with his family, reaching Sydney on 26 December in the Austral. On 17 May he was inducted to the Scots Church where he remained until 1913. He was a prominent Freemason and within a year of his arrival had joined the Loyal Orange Institution of New South Wales, and was grand chaplain.

Dill Macky lectured in systematic and biblical theology at St Andrew's College, University of Sydney; he was senior Presbyterian chaplain to the military forces in 1892-1904; a founder with A. A. Aspinall and a council-member of Scots College, Sydney, in the early 1890s; moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales; president of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavour in 1898 and editor of its journal, the Roll Call; president of the Evangelical Council of New South Wales in 1900; and an executive member of the New South Wales Alliance for the Suppression of Intemperance, five mission boards and several refuges.

The prominence Dill Macky attained as a cleric could have rested on his energetic pastoral work alone (although in his latter years the Scots Church was in decline). His preaching was of a high calibre—both impassioned and quietly sensitive, powerful yet humble—and left a marked impression on his listeners. However, he was also a controversial and militant Protestant, with an impeccable Irish Protestant lineage. Within five years of his arrival in Sydney he had become a publicist and by 1900 was the acknowledged Protestant champion. That year he gained notoriety for supporting Arthur Coningham in his attempt to divorce his wife for alleged adultery with Dean Denis O'Haran, administrator of St Mary's Cathedral.

In response to this and other sectarian explosions, in June 1901 Dill Macky formed and was first president of the Australian Protestant Defence Association, which reached a membership of 22,000 with 135 branches by 1904. In 1902-04 he edited the Watchman, which, filled with anti-Catholic fanaticism, sold 20,000 copies a week. In 1902-03 Dill Macky attacked the prime minister Sir Edmund Barton for visiting the Pope and organized a petition to the Federal parliament with over 30,000 signatures. While stumping the country that year he was shot at and stoned at Wyalong and Temora where the Riot Act was read. The sectarian animosity culminated in the 1904 State elections, narrowly won by (Sir) Joseph Hector Carruthers with the help of the Protestant vote; thereafter it subsided much to the chagrin of Dill Macky and militants on both sides.

Strongly conservative and evangelical in his theology, he fervently believed in the imminence of the millennium. Dill Macky's refusal to consider the higher criticism of the Bible led the students at St Andrew's College in 1907 to decline to be taught by him; they claimed his lectures did not enable them to cope with modern biblical scholarship. Dill Macky resigned, typically declaring there was 'a flood of rationalism that is sweeping into our church'. His Irish heritage encouraged him to see conspiracies everywhere.

In 1901 Dill Macky had been awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland. During his life he received at least six testimonials, including one in 1909 when he was presented with a purse of over £1000 on the eve of a visit to Europe. He evoked strong feelings: to Catholics and some Protestants he was a fiery bigot, but most Protestants, at a time when sectarianism was fashionable, respected his anti-Catholicism. To his friends he was warm, gentle and sincere. He always claimed to have Catholic friends, yet carried a revolver most of his life.

Dill Macky died of cancer at his daughter's home at Neutral Bay on 15 November 1913 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery with Orange and Masonic rites. He was survived by his wife, three sons and five daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Ford, Cardinal Moran and the A.L.P. (Melb, 1966)
  • Messenger (Presbyterian, New South Wales), 16 Aug 1907, 5 June 1908, 24 Oct 1913
  • Australian Baptist, 21 Oct 1913
  • Australian Christian World, 19 Apr, 6 Sept 1901, 15 Jan 1909, 9 Sept 1910, 24 Oct, 7 Nov 1913
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 1901, 28, 30 Mar 1903, 9-30 May, 12 June 1907, 16, 18 Oct 1913
  • Methodist (Sydney), 18 Oct 1913
  • R. L. Broome, Protestantism in New South Wales Society 1900-1914 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1974)
  • Susannah D. Stevenson family papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Dill Macky, William Marcus (1849–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 June, 1849
Lisfannon, Donegal, Ireland


15 November, 1913 (aged 64)
Neutral Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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