Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hector Maclean (1885–1968)

by Davis McCaughey

This article was published:

Hector Maclean (1885-1968), Presbyterian minister and theologian, was born on 2 February 1885 at Lismore, New South Wales, fourth child of Charles Maclean, a carpenter from Scotland, and his London-born wife Mary Ann, née Teideman. In 1888 the family moved to Port Chalmers, near Dunedin, New Zealand. Hector received his secondary education at Otago Boys' High School, Dunedin (dux, 1903), and won a scholarship to the University of Otago (B.A., N.Z., 1907; M.A., 1908; M.Sc., 1909); a leader in student affairs, he played Rugby for the university and graduated in 1908 with first-class honours in philosophy.

Awarded a travelling scholarship in 1910, Maclean enrolled at the United Free Church College, Glasgow, Scotland, where he was introduced to the historical, linguistic and critical scholarship then transforming biblical studies. He became a tutor in Hebrew at the college and assistant (1914-15) to Professor W. B. Stevenson, under whom he also learned Semitic languages. In 1914 he obtained a B.D. from the University of London.

The outbreak of World War I prevented Maclean from studying in Germany. Returning to New Zealand in 1915, he was ordained and inducted as minister of Knox Church, Invercargill. He enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in October 1916, served on the Western Front with the 4th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade, and rose to sergeant. In July 1918 he was sent to England and appointed a chaplain to the forces. While on leave in Scotland, he married Agnes Hunter Stewart on 31 October that year at Crossmichael, Kirkcudbrightshire, with the forms of the Church of Scotland. He was demobilized in New Zealand in May 1919 and went back to Invercargill. Called to St Andrew's Church, Dunedin, in 1920, he developed an enduring interest in students and in the theological education of future ministers.

In 1927 Maclean was appointed to the chair of Old Testament studies at the Theological Hall of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Ormond College. He held that chair and, from 1942, the principalship of the hall, until his retirement in 1957. Moderator (1943-44) of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, he was concerned with the reconstruction of life in church and community when World War II had ended. He was best known as a teacher—of Hebrew and of the Old Testament prophets—who used language meticulously. He led theological studies through a period of severely restricted resources, and, with Professor M. D. Goldman of the University of Melbourne, founded the Fellowship for Biblical Studies. In 1951 the University of Edinburgh awarded him an honorary D.D.

Maclean's excursions into public life included speaking out against the attempt in 1951 to ban the Communist Party of Australia. His belief in freedom of expression of opinion and his passion for social justice gained him some critics and antagonists inside and outside the Church, but his arguments were cogent and influential. To the end of his life he retained an interest in sport, and enjoyed gardening. He died on 27 May 1968 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his wife, three sons and two daughters survived him. A portrait by Archibald Colquhoun is held by Ormond College.

Select Bibliography

  • Presbyterian Messenger, 30 Sept, 14 Oct, 18, 25 Nov 1927, 28 May 1943, 26 Feb, 17 Nov 1944
  • Australian Presbyterian Life, 8 June 1968
  • Age (Melbourne), 28 May 1968
  • Presbyterian Church of Victoria Archives (Collins St, Melbourne)
  • records of Claremont United Free Church, Glasgow, Scotland, and Knox Church, Invercargill, New Zealand.

Citation details

Davis McCaughey, 'Maclean, Hector (1885–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1885
Lismore, New South Wales, Australia


27 May, 1968 (aged 83)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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