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Irving Hetherington (1809–1875)

by F. Maxwell Bradshaw

This article was published:

Irving Hetherington (1809-1875), by Batchelder & O'Neill

Irving Hetherington (1809-1875), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H27677

Irving Hetherington (1809-1875), Presbyterian minister, was born on 23 June 1809 at Whaite, Dumfriesshire, Scotland, son of Richard Hetherton, farmer, and his wife Louise, née Carruthers. He adopted the name of Hetherington, entered the University of Edinburgh in 1825 and was licensed by the Church of Scotland Presbytery of Lochmaben on 3 August 1835. Eskdalemuir desired him as minister but the Duke of Buccleuch presented the living to another. After a time Hetherington accepted appointment as missionary at Portobello, Joppa and Easter-Duddingston. As a result of Dr Lang's visit to Scotland in 1836 Hetherington offered for service in New South Wales and was accepted. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Lochmaben on 25 February 1837, sailed in the John Barry from Dundee and arrived in Sydney on 13 July.

The Presbytery of New South Wales appointed Hetherington to the parish of Singleton, an area of 1500 square miles (3885 km²) where he began work in September. While there he was engaged in bitter controversy with an Anglican minister over apostolic succession, which resulted in Hetherington becoming a stronger contender for the Presbyterian system than hitherto. In the disruption of 1843 his sympathies lay with the Free Church of Scotland which was opposed to the patronage system. His evangelical views also made him more akin to the Free Church but, when its main supporters withdrew in 1846, he remained with the Synod of Australia which included in its official title 'in connection with the Church of Scotland', for he believed that Australian Presbyterianism should not be embroiled in Scottish controversies.

When the Scots Church, Melbourne, became vacant through the resignation of James Forbes, Hetherington accepted a call to the church and was inducted on 13 June 1847. His acceptance was a matter of surprise and criticism, for it was one thing to remain in the Synod of Australia in the interests of unity, but quite another for an alleged upholder of the Free Church to take over the church and manse that Forbes had vacated on that very principle. Further, at that stage of Melbourne's growth Forbes was able to provide ordinances of religion according to Presbyterian usage for all who desired them. The Scots Church congregation was greatly depleted by the withdrawal of Free Church supporters. The resignation of the three remaining elders in 1851 from differences with Hetherington led to acrimonious discussion in the Melbourne presbytery, the other ministers of which were strong supporters that remained in the Church of Scotland in 1843. Gradually the congregation built up again, assisted greatly by the influx of population after gold discovery. A new manse was built in 1852, the stipend increased at least twice and in 1859 a spire was added to the church.

Hetherington was active in the negotiations for union of the various branches of Presbyterianism in Victoria. On the whole his influence was conciliatory, but his annotations to a memorandum of Rev. Dr Macintosh Mackay of the Free Presbyterian Church led to controversy and disruption of that church. Both before and after union Hetherington discharged many administrative tasks on behalf of his denomination and in May 1860 was appointed clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

Hetherington possessed clarity of thought and expression. He was devoted to the work of the ministry and at his best in the pastoral office. In his public prayers, according to F. R. M. Wilson, he 'attained to a variety and fervency of truly devotional utterance which the writer has seldom seen equalled and never surpassed'. At the same time he lacked much as a preacher and, however suitable a choice for the Melbourne of 1847, he was really quite unsuited for a city charge of the type that Scots Church became. His sermons, while most assiduously prepared, were heavy in style, and increasing difficulty in reading his manuscript impaired their delivery. He was later embroiled in several controversies which he pursued relentlessly: for example, his intervention on behalf of Scotch College in its claim against Chalmers Church of portion of the manse garden. This quarrel led Melbourne Punch to publish its famous cartoon of Dr Adam Cairns and Hetherington passing each other in the street, each with chin in the air and umbrella under arm, over the caption 'How these Christians hate one another'.

In 1868-74 Hetherington had P. S. Menzies as colleague. He accepted graciously the fact of a crowded church for Menzies and an empty one for himself. They differed theologically but remained friendly until Menzies died early in 1874. Hetherington died on 5 July 1875 after a short illness. He was twice married: first on 24 February 1837 to Jessie Dalton Carr of Workington, Cumberland, who died without issue at sea on 12 May; and second in 1842 to Margaret McAllister Shannon of Mount Keira, New South Wales, who died on 20 December 1870, survived by seven of her nine children.

Select Bibliography

  • F. R. M. Wilson, Memoir of the Rev. Irving Hetherington (Melb, 1876)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Oct 1846
  • Punch (Melbourne), 17 Nov 1870
  • Church of Scotland presbytery minutes, 1847-54, and Victorian synod minutes, 1854-59 (Presbyterian Assembly Hall, Melbourne).

Citation details

F. Maxwell Bradshaw, 'Hetherington, Irving (1809–1875)', 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

Irving Hetherington (1809-1875), by Batchelder & O'Neill

Irving Hetherington (1809-1875), by Batchelder & O'Neill

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H27677

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hetherton, Irving

23 June, 1809
Whaite, Dumfriesshire, Scotland


5 July, 1875 (aged 66)

Cultural Heritage

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