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Robert Brodribb Hammond (1870–1946)

by Joan Mansfield

This article was published:

Robert Brodribb Stewart Hammond (1870-1946), Anglican clergyman, evangelist and social reformer, was born on 12 June 1870 at Brighton, Melbourne, third son and seventh of ten children of Robert Kennedy Hammond, a New South Wales-born stock and station agent, and his Scottish wife Jessie Duncan, née Grant. He was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School where he was school captain in 1888, and exhibited the sporting prowess which later took him into the Essendon football team that won the premiership in 1897.

Hammond was made a deacon by the bishop of Melbourne on 20 May 1894 and ordained priest in 1896. His early ministries included Omeo (1894-97), St Mary's, Caulfield (1897-98), and Walhalla (1898). He moved to Sydney in 1899 and was curate of St Philip's, Church Hill (1901-04); he married Jean Marion Anderson there on 9 June 1904. He was organizing missioner for the Mission Zone Fund of the Church Society in 1904-11 working within the congested areas of Waterloo, Woolloomooloo, Surry Hills, Redfern and Darlington. His vigorous programme of pastoral care and evangelism made him familiar with the social problems of Sydney's slums. In 1909-18 he was rector of St Simon's and St Jude's Church, Surry Hills (from 1913 also of St David's, Arthur Street), in 1918 becoming the rector of St Barnabas, Broadway, where he remained until 1943. He was a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral in 1931-44, and archdeacon of Redfern in 1939-42. Hammond restored St Barnabas from decline to vigorous life. The Wednesday night men's meetings proved popular, while the notice-board fronting Broadway became famous for the weekly 'sermon-in-a-sentence': 'Drink promises you heaven, but gives you hell!'.

One of the best-known Australian churchmen of his day, Hammond regarded himself primarily as an evangelist, and his zeal, commanding presence, compelling oratory and gift of repartee led many to Christian commitment. His concern for the 'whole man' and his knowledge of life in the slums convinced him that spiritual welfare was intimately related to general well-being. Appalled by problems associated with alcohol, he became an advocate of total prohibition and a leader of the temperance movement, revelling in the nickname of 'the Wowser'. He served as president of the Australasian Temperance Society in 1916-41 and of the New South Wales Alliance in 1916-25 and again from 1929 after some differences had been composed. In 1907 he founded Grit, a weekly devoted primarily to the temperance cause, editing it until 1942.

Another striking personal initiative took Hammond daily for years to the 'drunks' yard' at Central Police Court, where, from 1912, he was permitted to talk to those awaiting appearance in court. Before handing over to a special missioner he had personally interviewed over 100,000 people, of whom 20,000 had signed the pledge. As a temperance leader, Hammond was well known beyond Australia. In 1911 he helped in New Zealand campaigns, and in 1917, 1919 and 1922-23 travelled extensively and attended international conferences on alcoholism in North America. His experiences led to the publication of With One Voice: a Study in Prohibition in the U.S.A. (Sydney, n.d.).

Also known as 'Mender of Broken Men', Hammond in 1908 established, in an old warehouse at Newtown, his first Hammond Hotel to rehabilitate some of Sydney's destitute. By 1933 there were eight (and a family 'hotel' at Glebe). Deploring cold charity, he aimed at restoring hope and self-esteem to his 'guests' as well as providing temporary assistance. The diverse forms of relief organized at St Barnabas in the Depression were placed under its registered charity, Hammond's Social Services, which by the time of his retirement administered relief, Police Court work, and a Children's Court and Family Welfare Bureau.

His greatest single achievement in social reform was Hammondville. Suspicious of radical ideology, Hammond saw in the 'back to the land' movement a partial solution to the steep rise in homelessness, a means of encouraging independence and self-esteem through home ownership, and a bulwark against communism. In 1933 a company, Hammond's Pioneer Homes Ltd, was set up and by 1937, on land purchased near Liverpool, 100 homes had been built to house families with at least three children and a father unemployed at time of settlement. Settlers were helped to find employment, could buy their homes by easy instalments, and supplement wages by home-grown food. Hammondville won recognition as an important model for small-scale land settlement. In 1937 he was appointed O.B.E.

Hammond was actively concerned with Aboriginal welfare, the Father and Son Welfare Movement of Australia and both State and Church housing committees. He was first president of the Pedestrians' Road Safety League of Australia and one of the founders of 'Boys on Farms', a rural employment scheme.

Hammond's wife died on 3 June 1943, when his own health was deteriorating, with evidence of Parkinson's disease. He resigned from St Barnabas on 10 November and three days later married 39-year-old Audrey Spence, who resigned her position as nursing sister to devote herself to his care. He died of cardiac failure on 12 May 1946, at his Beecroft home, bought for him by public fund. After cremation, his ashes were buried at St Andrew's Cathedral. A memorial tablet was erected in St Barnabas in 1947.

A 'loner' following his own lights, Hammond was impatient of committees: 'If Noah had had a committee he would never have built the Ark'. He was tolerant of other persuasions and critical of 'party' manipulation of synod elections. He was a man of enormous energy, intensity and complexity of character. Deeply compassionate and capable of great patience, he could also erupt in bursts of anger, but he had pre-eminently the gift of appealing to a diversity of people, from the destitute and struggling to civic and business leaders who supported his projects with money and expertise.

Select Bibliography

  • B. G. Judd, He that Doeth — the Life Story of Archdeacon R. B. S. Hammond, O.B.E. (Lond, 1951)
  • G. M. Dash, Hammondville 1932-1937 (Syd, 1938)
  • G. M. Dash, The Radiations of a Church (Syd, no date)
  • Church of England, Diocese of Sydney, Yearbook, 1938, 1947
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Mar 1924, 7 May, 2 Aug 1929, 13 May 1946
  • Grit, 20 Oct 1942
  • Church Standard, 17, 24 May 1946.

Citation details

Joan Mansfield, 'Hammond, Robert Brodribb (1870–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 June, 1870
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


12 May, 1946 (aged 75)
Beecroft, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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