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William Frank Hambly (1908–1972)

by Arnold D. Hunt

This article was published:

William Frank Hambly (1908-1972), Methodist minister, biblical scholar and college principal, was born on 11 April 1908 at New Norfolk, Tasmania, eldest of four surviving children of Abraham Hambly, a Methodist minister from Victoria, and his Tasmanian-born wife Harriet Bertha, née Webber. Abraham was a harsh disciplinarian and Frank rebelled by running away from home several times. His early education was in Victorian state schools in the various Methodist circuits to which his father was appointed. He then attended Geelong High School and from 1922 was a Corrigan scholar at Wesley College, Melbourne; following three incidents of truancy, he expelled himself in 1924. Having spent several years in sundry occupations, including working in a chemist's shop, he taught at St Kilda Park State School. He underwent a religious conversion, became a Methodist lay preacher and was received as a candidate for the ministry in 1929.

Hambly entered Queen's College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1931; M.A., 1933), and graduated with second-class honours in philosophy and sociology. Continuing his theological studies at the Melbourne College of Divinity (B.D., 1942), he was ordained on 8 March 1934 at Wesley Church, Melbourne. In Queen's College chapel on 10 April that year he married Dulcie May Sutherland (d.1993), a schoolteacher. For the next ten years he served in churches at Yarram, East Malvern and Warrnambool, and in the Methodist Home Mission department. At the age of 36 he was appointed minister of Pirie Street, Methodism's 'cathedral' church in Adelaide.

As a lecturer, Hambly made an enormous impact on the Methodist Church in South Australia. Tall of build, with a protruding chin, he was a fluent and powerful debater at Church conferences. At Pirie Street he showed himself to be one of the most scholarly and eloquent preachers in Australian Methodism. He exerted a great influence on younger men of the ministry in the ordering of church worship, in ecumenical matters and in the exposition of the New Testament, especially St John's Gospel. In 1955 he became president of the Methodist Conference in South Australia. He was elected secretary-general (1960) and president-general (1963) of the Methodist Church of Australasia.

Despite his commitment to Methodism, Hambly fostered closer relations with other denominations. As a student at Queen's College, he had been confirmed in the Anglican Church so that with good conscience he could take communion. In 1958-71 he was chairman of the Joint Commission on Church Union which embraced representatives from the national councils of the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches. He prepared several documents which provided a basis for the discussions between the three bodies that led to the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977.

Widely recognized in theological circles as a biblical scholar, Hambly was particularly interested in the doctrine of the church in the Gospel according to St John which had been the subject of his Bevin lectures (1954) in Adelaide. His Johanine study eventually produced a dissertation, 'The Church in the Fourth Gospel', for which he was awarded a D.D. in 1963 by the Melbourne College of Divinity. He was much in demand as a preacher and lecturer, but he spoke with few notes and it was a source of regret to many that he published so little. Apparently because he found it difficult to finalize his thoughts for publication, he placed few articles in learned journals, thus limiting his contribution to international scholarly debate. All that was ever printed was three collections of popular radio talks.

In 1951 Hambly had left Pirie Street Church. Next year he was appointed the first master of Lincoln College, a male residential college at the University of Adelaide. He had to cope with difficulties relating to buildings and to the raising of finance within the Church. Under his leadership the college was securely established and able to expand in the 1960s when government money was made available.

Hambly took part in other activities. In 1964 he led a Church delegation to Fiji for the inauguration of the Fijian Methodist Conference. He was deputy chancellor (1968-71) of the University of Adelaide, president of Adelaide Rotary Club and a member of the Libraries Board of South Australia. A keen Freemason, he attained the rank of senior grand warden. Golf and philately were his major recreations. Survived by his wife and twin sons, he died suddenly of heart disease on 15 April 1972 at Lincoln College and was cremated. One of his sons, Peter, taught French at the University of Adelaide; the other, Frank, became executive-director of the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee. Lincoln College holds a portrait of Hambly by Alf Hannaford.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Hunt, This Side of Heaven (Adel, 1985)
  • Methodist Church of Australasia (South Australia), Minutes of Conference, 1972, and Central Times, 26 Apr 1972
  • student records, Wesley College Archives, Melbourne
  • private information.

Citation details

Arnold D. Hunt, 'Hambly, William Frank (1908–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 April, 1908
New Norfolk, Tasmania, Australia


15 April, 1972 (aged 64)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.