Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Harold King (1889–1959)

by John Garrett

This article was published:

James Harold King (1889-1959), Congregational minister, was born on 21 May 1889 at Warren, New South Wales, son of William Henry King, English-born draper, and his Australian wife Mary, née Jones. After schooling at Woollahra, Sydney, Harold became a candidate for the ministry at Camden College, Sydney. His studies were interrupted when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1916. He rose through the ranks of the 30th Battalion and was commissioned on 2 February 1918; he was wounded in France in August and returned to Australia in November 1919. His post-war studies were influenced by the distinguished Hebraist G. W. Thatcher and by Rev. Samuel Angus. The historical-critical method shaped King's liberal views on the creeds, but his message stressed God's love in Christ and avoided public dispute.

At Woollahra on 22 October 1921 King married Elsie Marie Fancourt, who was five years his senior. That year he was ordained and inducted to the charge of Kurri Kurri on the coalfields. Many of his people there were of Welsh mining stock and strengthened his regard for organized labour and socialist reform. His second pastorate (1925-36) in the more affluent and fashionable Woollahra Church, Sydney, showed he was nevertheless attuned to all social classes and a counsellor for seekers and those in trouble. His preaching, meticulously prepared and phrased, appealed from the text to the will, without emotional frills. He ministered personally to youth through the Congregational Young Men's Companionship; many young men were drawn by him to the ministry or gained a lifelong sense of lay vocation. In 1931-32 he was chairman of the Congregational Union of New South Wales. In two subsequent charges — Strathfield-Homebush (1936-38) and the city church at Brown Street, Newcastle (1938-44) — King pursued his honorary work as secretary of the Camden College council, upholding standards of pastoral and academic excellence set by his mentor Thatcher.

Moving to Queensland in 1944, King served the important Ipswich Church until 1958 and gave leadership in many capacities to the small Congregational Union of Queensland. He became a co-founder and chairman of the board of governors of Cromwell College in the University of Queensland. Though he did much personal research to justify the choice of the controversial name, his ecumenical sense of humour savoured the situation when Reginald Halse, Anglican archbishop of Brisbane, remarked at the laying of the foundation stone that he had recently dedicated a church to King Charles the Martyr. In 1948-49 King was chairman of the Queensland Congregational Union and in 1952-54 was president of the Congregational Union of Australia and New Zealand.

Deeply marked by his war experiences, King became a pacifist. Convinced that war was incompatible with the mind of Christ, he resigned his commission in 1936 and worked for the Peace Pledge Union and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He helped many conscientious objectors during World War II. He never wore a clerical collar, but his grave and wise manner, relieved by a memorably compassionate smile and by his penetrating eyes, conveyed immediate authority. He was honoured and admired in many parts of Australia and New Zealand for his personal influence among non-believers and Christians of all parties. King died at Fairfield, Queensland, on 1 October 1959 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Garrett and L. W. Farr, Camden College, a Centenary History (Syd, 1964)
  • G. L. Lockley, Grads and Undergrads and Fellows, Cromwell College, the University of Queensland, 1950-1964 (Brisb, 1964).

Citation details

John Garrett, 'King, James Harold (1889–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 April 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 May, 1889
Warren, New South Wales, Australia


1 October, 1959 (aged 70)
Fairfield, 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.