Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Hancock (1863–1955)

by Stan Moss

This article was published:

William Hancock (1863-1955), clergyman, was born on 14 April 1863 at West Geelong, Victoria, sixth child of Daniel Hancock, a brick manufacturer from London, and his wife Margaret, née Higgins, from Londonderry, Ireland. His mother died in tragic circumstances in October 1878; in November, helped by his father, William gained employment in Melbourne as a clerk in the Audit Office. He gave up a promising civil service career when in 1882 he responded to a call by Bishop James Moorhouse to join the ordained ministry. After eight months part-time study, he matriculated and was subsequently accepted by Trinity College at the University of Melbourne. He graduated B.A. in 1887 (M.A., 1900) and gained first-class honours in theology at Trinity.

Hancock was deaconed in 1887 and priested in 1888. After a stint as assistant chaplain of Melbourne hospitals in 1887, he was appointed to Nathalia, a large, sparsely settled parish in the north of Victoria. In 1889 he returned to Melbourne as curate of Christ Church, St Kilda. On 5 June 1890 at St Paul's Church, Camperdown, he married Elizabeth Katharine McCrae, daughter of a builder; they had been engaged since 1886. After being locum tenens of St Paul's, Bendigo, for a year, in 1892-96 Hancock was minister of Euroa. He was inducted to St Mark's, Fitzroy, in 1896 but in 1900, for the sake of his wife's health, moved back to a country parish as rector of St John's, Bairnsdale, where he was collated archdeacon of Gippsland. When that diocese was formed in 1902, he was asked to raise £10,000 to help secure its financial base, an objective he achieved in twelve months. His next appointment was St Thomas, Essendon, in 1908-18, and while there he acted as rural dean of Melbourne North.

St Andrew's, Brighton, of which he was incumbent in 1918-28, was the climax of his parochial ministry. He took the lead in acquiring Brighton Grammar School for the Church in 1924; under his chairmanship of the council in 1925-35 the first buildings of the present school were erected. Hancock was also a member (1918-37) and chairman (1927-36) of the council of Firbank Church of England Girls' Grammar School.

His commitment to diocesan affairs expanded: he was a canon of St Paul's Cathedral in 1912-28, chaplain to the archbishop in 1924-26 and warden of the Community of the Holy Name in 1927-40. After his retirement from parochial ministry at 65, he undertook more diocesan administrative responsibilities. In 1928 he was archdeacon of Geelong and also of Melbourne (1928-35). He also became organizing secretary of the Bishop of Melbourne's Fund and acting administrator of the diocese. He was appointed archdeacon of Dandenong in 1932 and in 1930-33 was warden of the Diocesan Mission to Streets and Lanes. Archbishop Joseph Booth wrote of him that probably no man ever rendered greater service to the Church in Victoria.

In his prime, Hancock was regarded as a distinguished preacher, a lucid writer, especially on the subject of his experiences in country parishes, and an effective administrator. In churchmanship, he was considered a liberal catholic. His son, the historian Sir Keith Hancock, wrote of his father as 'confident and serene', with a highly developed sense of private duty, and common sense, humour and a 'natural genius for finance'. Archdeacon Hancock died on 29 October 1955 at Brighton and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. Two daughters and two sons survived him: his eldest son was killed in World War I.

Select Bibliography

  • W. K. Hancock, Country and Calling (Lond, 1954)
  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 1928, 1929
  • Geelong Advertiser, 14, 15 Oct 1878
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 30 May 1903
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Oct 1955
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 May 1955.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stan Moss, 'Hancock, William (1863–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 May 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]


14 April, 1863
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


29 October, 1955 (aged 92)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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