Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William George Hilliard (1887–1960)

by Janet West

This article was published:

William George Hilliard (1887-1960), Anglican bishop and headmaster, was born on 29 May 1887 at Redfern, Sydney, son of native-born parents Alpha Ernest Hilliard (d.1904), a coach-painter of convict descent, and his wife Eleanor Priscilla, née West. Educated at Darlington and Stanmore public schools, and at Sydney Boys' High School (on a scholarship), George developed lifelong enthusiasms for cricket, literature and debating. He became a pupil-teacher in 1904 and two years later won a scholarship to Teachers' College (Blackfriars) which enabled him to attend the University of Sydney (B.A., 1910; M.A., 1914). In 1910 he joined the staff of Fort Street Model School under A. J. Kilgour.

Influenced by those he met while lecturing part time (1911-16) at Moore Theological College, Hilliard was made deacon in 1911 and ordained priest on 19 December 1912. He served as curate at Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill, and was appointed headmaster of its new parish school, Trinity Grammar; under his enthusiastic direction, enrolments more than trebled within four years. At St Philip's, Church Hill, on 19 December 1914 Hilliard married Lilian Constance Pearl Wooster. In June 1916 he was appointed rector of St John the Baptist's, Ashfield. A conservative parish council made his first years difficult, adding to the strain of his pastoral work during World War I and the distress he suffered when his wife died in 1918, leaving an infant son. With some relief, in 1926 Hilliard accepted the ministry of the large and evangelical parish of St Clement's, Marrickville. He married Dorothy Kezia Duval on 16 May 1927 at St John's, Ashfield.

In the following year Hilliard returned as headmaster to Trinity Grammar, by then a diocesan school; although he had to contend with a huge capital debt and the Depression, he inspired a sense of unity and purpose in students and staff. A Freemason, he served as grand chaplain (1931-33) of United Grand Lodge of New South Wales. He was a gifted writer and much in demand as a speaker. Appointed a canon of St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, in 1932, he accepted the see of Nelson, New Zealand, in October 1934.

Bishop Hilliard needed little urging from Archbishop Mowll to return to Sydney in 1940. As rector of St John's, Parramatta, and co-adjutor bishop, he became a familiar figure in public life. Tall, with a mane of flowing, silver hair and a rich, resonant voice, he had his own radio programme on 2UW and appeared on such television shows as 'Meet the Press'. He frequently waited on the State government to deplore gambling and Sunday sport. His membership (1953-57) of (Sir) Harold Wyndham's committee on secondary education gave him satisfaction.

As Hilliard aged, his inability to refuse office led to declining health. He tried, often in vain, to combine his parish duties with the heavy demands of public engagements, committee-work and the complex role of diocesan registrar. Survived by his wife and one of their three daughters, he died on 1 March 1960 at Parramatta and was cremated. His portrait by William Pidgeon is held by Trinity Grammar School.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, Innings of Grace (Syd, 1987), and for bibliography
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Sept 1928, 21 July 1932, 15 Dec 1933, 8 Jan 1934, 31 May 1940, 8 July 1947, 7 Mar 1949, 3 Jan 1958, 22 Sept 1959, 2, 4 Mar 1960.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Janet West, 'Hilliard, William George (1887–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 July 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]


29 May, 1887
Redfern, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


1 March, 1960 (aged 72)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, 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.