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William Henry Judkins (1869–1912)

by Graeme Davison and Keith Dunstan

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with George Alfred Judkins

William Henry Judkins (1869-1912) and George Alfred Judkins (1871-1958), Methodist reformers, were the sixth and seventh children of Henry Judkins and his wife Eliza, née Ward, both devout Methodists from Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England.

William was born on 26 February 1869 at Franklinford, Victoria, where his father was a schoolteacher. William taught briefly at Creswick Grammar School, but his ambition was to join the Methodist ministry. The conference transferred him to New Zealand where he studied as a probationer, fought for temperance causes and threw himself into local option battles with such devotion that he became ill and abandoned the idea of being ordained. However, he remained a lay preacher.

At Palmerston North on 2 September 1896 he married Myra Elizabeth Carty; they came to Melbourne in 1902. Judkins was mild and friendly to meet but had a florid style in the pulpit and was vigorous with the pen. He became editor of the journal, Review of Reviews, and set about attacking the 'social evils' of the day — prizefighting, gambling, racing, drinking, dancing, and even barmaids. As secretary of the Criminology Society he convened a conference on 20 October 1905 as part of the successful campaign for legislation to establish a children's court.

His campaigns came to a climax in 1905 and 1906 when he sought permission from the Methodist Committee on the Amendment of the Betting Laws to stage a campaign against John Wren and gambling. Wren and Judkins were of a similar age and build, small with sharp features, and to their mutual embarrassment were frequently mistaken for each other. Judkins saw Wren, drink, gambling and Catholicism all combined into one terrible evil. He accused Wren of using known criminals to staff his Collingwood tote, he openly charged the police with corruption, and attacked Chief Secretary Sir Samuel Gillott for weak and ineffective administration.

'Juddy', although often ill, was indefatigable. He preached all over Melbourne, and particularly for Pleasant Sunday Afternoon audiences at Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street. Some meetings turned into near riots and once he was pelted with eggs. He told reporters: 'A very small thing to suffer in the cause of righteousness. Ten thousand blows like that will not stop me'. Although he helped to push through the Licensing Act of 1906 which began the reduction in the number of hotels, his main object was stricter gambling laws which might wipe out Wren's pony tracks. On 13 June 1906 John Wren and six others were fined £100 for having used the City Tattersall's Club for betting on horse-racing. When Judge Neighbour upheld Wren's appeal and wiped out the conviction, Judkins was aghast. At the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon of 16 September he told the large audience: 'If I were to tell you all I could you would hold your breaths … matters are so serious in some departments of our public life you would shiver'.

Wren, who was about to leave for America, cancelled his trip. Judge Neighbour protested at the innuendoes and Premier (Sir) Thomas Bent offered Judkins a royal commission. Next Sunday at the Wesley Church the congregation was so huge a thousand people could not get inside. However, Judkins backed away from a royal commission and would not specify those grave matters that would make the public shiver. Yet on 2 December he did have something to say. He revealed at the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon that Sir Samuel Gillott was registered as the mortgagee of 36 Lonsdale Street, which housed the most notorious brothel in Melbourne. Gillott immediately resigned, protesting that he had no personal knowledge of what went on at 36 Lonsdale Street. Even so, Judkins had scored an impressive victory. The Gillott affair gave a push to the languishing gambling suppression bill, which became law early in 1907. Wren quietly closed his Collingwood tote.

Judkins was a force at a time of extreme moral uprightness. He continued his fiery preaching but he never again gained the publicity of 1906. His health became so bad he had to support himself in the pulpit on sticks. In 1910 he was seriously ill with cancer and he had one kidney removed. When it was obvious he would not recover, his friends opened a testimonial fund for his family. Many of his old enemies were among the subscribers. He died on 3 September 1912, survived by his wife and a 13-year-old daughter, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

George Alfred Judkins was born on 13 March 1871 at Glendaruel, near Clunes. He probably attended Sheepwash (Tourello) School where his father was headteacher and his mother and eldest sister also taught. George 'made the choice of Christ' on his thirteenth birthday, not long before he entered the telegraph office of the Railways Department in Melbourne. He temporarily lost his spiritual bearings but at 17 he returned to the goldfields to lead Saturday night evangelistic meetings at Ballarat, an experience which confirmed his call to the ministry.

After short trials as a local preacher at Coleraine and Katamatite he enrolled for theological studies at Queen's College in 1892. His first appointment, in 1897, was to the raw Tasmanian mining town of Queenstown, where he practised an earnest open-air evangelism and supervised erection of the first church. His Victorian ministry followed, with short stays at Richmond (1899-1900), Yarram (1901-03), Bendigo (1904-07), Echuca (1908-10) and Horsham (1911-13).

From 1914 minister of the Ballarat Neil Street Methodist Church, Judkins came to the forefront of the moral reform movement as successor to his more famous brother and throughout World War I was conspicuous in defence of God and country. During the 1917 conscription campaign he aligned himself with the Orange cause, claiming that 'Romanism and nationalism were irreconcilable'. He supported the campaign for local option and six o'clock closing and in the early 1920s pressed the Methodist Conference to establish a specialized department to voice its 'unswerving hostility to the liquor traffic'. In 1925, the year he became secretary of the Federal Council of Churches, he was appointed director of the newly formed Methodist social services department.

During the next fourteen years Judkins toured the State in a crusade against social evil. By a combination of fiery oratory and adroit lobbying of Spring-street politicians, he largely succeeded in preserving Victoria from the iniquities of the totalizator, the lottery, the immoral book and the 'Continental Sunday'. At his election as president of the Victorian and Tasmanian Conference in 1937 he even dared to prophesy a spiritual revival to match the incipient economic recovery.

Judkins had little sympathy with co-religionists who questioned the prohibitionist approach to social questions; in 1937 he opposed state ownership of the liquor industry and the totalizator, and the introduction of sex education in state schools. In his Red Raiders—the Ruthless Attack of Communism on Civilisation (1933) he acknowledged the seductive power of communism to those destitute 'in a land of plenty', but scorned its atheistic premises and its 'impractical and lying' promise of secular salvation.

In 1939 'Juddy', in poor health, resigned from the social services department, acting in retirement as chaplain to Epworth Hospital and as a pastor to congregations at Malvern and Canterbury. He was short and balding, with a square jaw and bristling moustache, his pulpit manner was fervent and pugnacious; yet he was loved as a kindly and understanding pastor. His marriage, to Aline May Giraoud at Richmond on 8 April 1901, was happy and Judkins was proud that their four children all 'walked in the way of the truth'. Survived by his family he died at Box Hill on 8 October 1958 and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Dunstan, Wowsers (Melb, 1968)
  • N. Brennan, John Wren (Melb, 1971)
  • E. H. Buggy, The Real John Wren (Melb, 1977)
  • Methodist Church (Victoria), Minutes of the Annual Conference, Melb, 1939, 1959
  • Journal of Religious History, June 1978
  • Argus (Melbourne), 14, 21, 23 June, 24 Sept, 17 Dec 1906, 4 Sept 1912, 10 Sept 1917, 1 Mar 1932
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 1 Apr 1925, 3 Mar 1937, 2 Mar 1938, 15 Oct 1958
  • Age (Melbourne), 9 Oct 1958
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Sept 1912
  • E. M. Wilson, The Campaign for National Righteousness. The Methodist Church and Moral Reform in Victoria 1900-1916 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Melbourne, 1957).

Citation details

Graeme Davison and Keith Dunstan, 'Judkins, William Henry (1869–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 15 July 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]


26 February, 1869
Franklinford, Victoria, Australia


3 September, 1912 (aged 43)

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.