Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Albert Thomas Holden (1866–1935)

by Ian F. McLaren

This article was published:

Albert Thomas Holden (1866-1935), Methodist minister, was born on 21 August 1866 at Geelong, Victoria, eldest child of Thomas Holden, produce merchant at Wallace, and his wife Mary née Hague. His younger brother was George Frederick Holden.

Holden matriculated from Geelong College in 1882, taught in 1883-84 at Prospect House Academy, Kyneton, where he came under the influence of Rev. Charles Lancaster, and became a Methodist lay preacher. In 1885 he entered Ormond College, University of Melbourne, to study law, graduating B.A. in 1888. He played football and was a member of the first Ormond eight-oar crew.

After entering the Methodist ministry in 1887 Holden served as probationer at Camberwell in 1888, working at Burwood with railway construction workers and then with miners while at the Omeo Home Mission (1890-91). He toured Europe and the Middle East with Rev. E. S. Bickford during 1892. On 29 March 1893 at Omeo he married Martha Mesley, daughter of a mining manager; both Holden and his wife were expert in equestrian skills. After his marriage Holden was appointed to Port Cygnet, Tasmania (1893-95), Dunkeld and Penshurst (1896-98), Hawthorn (1899-1901) and Elsternwick (1902-03).

From 1898 Holden was an army chaplain and in 1900 he accompanied the Victorian Fourth Contingent (Imperial Bushmen) to the South African War. He became Methodist chaplain general in 1913, serving with the Australian Imperial Force between 1916 and 1919, when he was appointed C.B.E. He was generally known as Major, later Colonel Holden. His second son was killed in France in 1917.

On Bickford's death in 1904 Holden had become secretary of Methodist Home Missions, and in 1925 established the Home Missionaries' Training College. In 1915-16 he was elected president of the Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania. As founder in 1926, and director until his death, of the Federal Methodist Inland Mission, he travelled throughout Australia. He was general superintendent of the Methodist Church of Australasia from 1929 to 1932, then president-general. A strong advocate of Australian church union, Holden attended, as opening speaker, the meeting in the Albert Hall, London, in 1932 which brought about Methodist Union. He received the Freedom of the City of London in that year, and the University of Toronto conferred on him an honorary doctorate of divinity in 1934.

Holden had become a Freemason at Hamilton in 1898 and held many offices both in Australia and England, including grand master of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons of Victoria in 1912-14, grand chaplain in 1908-19, and past grand master in 1935. The Holden Lodge was named after him. In 1911 he was awarded the certificate of the Royal Humane Society of Australasia for saving a person from drowning at Sorrento. He was a member of the Naval and Military and the Masonic clubs, Melbourne.

Holden was an outstanding Church leader. Reserved rather than rhetorical in speech, he had a mind 'swift and accurate in analysis and a delicately balanced judgment'. (Sir) Irving Benson said that he was 'one of the greatest personalities that God has given to Methodism, and indeed to Australia'. He died of cancer on 20 August 1935, two months after the death of his wife, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery after a service at Wesley Church, Melbourne. His two daughters and one of his three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. A. Grant, 500 Victorians (Melb, 1934)
  • C. I. Benson (ed), A Century of Victorian Methodism (Melb, 1935)
  • W. E. Jennings, M. W. Bro. Dr. A. T. Holden P. G. M. Churchman and Freemason (Melb, 1948)
  • Craftsman (Sydney), Aug 1935
  • Herald (Melbourne), 9, 22 Mar 1929, 6 Nov 1931, 22, 23 Sept, 24, 26 Nov, 31 Dec 1932, 7 Jan, 26 May 1933, 1 Mar, 10, 27 Apr 1934, 16 Apr, 6 May, 21 Aug 1935
  • Sun-News Pictorial, 25 May 1929, 5 Oct 1932, 3 Jan 1933
  • Argus (Melbourne), 22 June 1932, 21 Aug 1935
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 Sept 1932, 17 Aug 1933, 21 Aug 1935
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 28 Aug 1935.

Citation details

Ian F. McLaren, 'Holden, Albert Thomas (1866–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 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]


21 August, 1866
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


20 August, 1935 (aged 68)
Victoria, 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.