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William Woolls Rutledge (1849–1921)

by Richard Broome

This article was published:

William Woolls Rutledge (1849-1921), Methodist minister, was born on 31 October 1849 at Parramatta, New South Wales, fourth of six children of James Rutledge, schoolmaster from Ulster, and his wife Lucy Ann, née Field. Named after William Woolls, he was educated at Parramatta with his brothers (Sir) Arthur, a Queensland politician and judge, and David, an Anglican clergyman and physician. William became a journalist on the radical, Protestant Empire and later edited the Newcastle Chronicle. In 1875 he entered the Wesleyan Methodist ministry and served in important country (1880-93) and city circuits over the next thirty-five years. At Ipswich, Queensland, on 18 February 1879, he married Elizabeth Allen, who bore him two sons and died in 1883. He married Clara Annie Moore at Marrickville, Sydney, on 2 May 1888; they had four sons and a daughter.

Active beyond his own circuit, Rutledge was Methodist chaplain for gaols (1890-92), hospitals (1904-06) and the forces (1902-14) and treasurer of the Church's building fund (1907-09). As superintendent (1896-97) of the Central Methodist Mission, York Street, Sydney, he promoted the social gospel as well as evangelism. In 1897 he became treasurer of the new Metropolitan Charities Association. His greatest work was his leadership of the New South Wales wing of the Methodist Union movement from 1892 to fruition in 1902. He was first president of the State Conference of the United Methodist Church of Australasia and vindicated union in his Official Address and Ordination Charge, 1902-3 (1903). He argued at length that social unrest was not a mark of decadence but social vitality and that injustices should be of vital concern to the Church. Between 1910 and 1915 Rutledge was organizing secretary of the Methodist Centenary Fund which raised £40,000, sufficient to establish Wesley College within the University of Sydney (he became its first principal in 1915) and Leigh College for theological training.

Guided by a strong but not blind evangelical Protestantism, while president of the Evangelical Council of New South Wales and the Christian Endeavour Union Rutledge advocated the social gospel and held liberal views on birth control, arguing before the tendentious royal commission on the decline of the birth-rate (1904) that sex in marriage was for 'the promotion of mutual enjoyment and companionship' as well as the propagation of the race. The commission ignored his views.

However, Rutledge was in the clerical mainstream regarding moral reform and anti-Catholicism. He was a vice-president and publicist of the New South Wales Temperance Alliance, opposing in his Public Control of the Public House (1902) any state ownership of the liquor licences which were passed in with The Rocks redevelopment. In 1905 he and Rev. W. H. Beale advised the Carruthers ministry on the Liquor (Amendment) Act which tightened licensing and instituted local option. A vice-president of the Australian Protestant Defence Association (1901), he was one of Rev. W. M. Dill Macky's most able lieutenants in the sectarian battles of 1900-04. Rutledge was outspoken on alleged Catholic influence in the public service. In 1905 his specific allegation about an appointment was investigated by a Legislative Assembly select committee chaired by Arthur Griffith and found to be groundless. Militant Protestants refused to accept the findings.

Tall, with ruddy complexion, wavy brown hair and blue eyes imprisoned behind glasses in later life, Rutledge had a beautiful voice. He was a forceful speaker and conference debater, being elected a representative to the general conference for twenty years. In his early ministry he was a successful evangelist and even in 1910 his preaching was described as fresh, effective, quiet and unpretentious. He was a Methodist statesman and Protestant champion of unflagging energy until his health was broken in 1914 by his work for the centenary fund. Thereafter ill health kept him from the pulpit. Rutledge died of cerebro-vascular disease at his Lindfield home on 19 May 1921 and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. His wife and all his children survived him. His lifelong friend Rev. J. E. Carruthers described him as a man of honour, 'devout in his spirit, beautifully submissive in affliction and suffering … being dead he yet speaketh'.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Carruthers, Memories of an Australian Ministry 1868 to 1921 (Lond, 1922)
  • J. D. Bollen, Protestantism and Social Reform in New South Wales 1890-1910 (Melb, 1972)
  • R. L. Broome, Treasure in Earthen Vessels (Brisb, 1980)
  • Australasian Methodist Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, no 6 (1938), p 287
  • Methodist (Sydney), 4 Nov 1905
  • Australian Christian World (Sydney), 1 Apr 1910, 27 May 1921
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 26 Feb 1902, 31 May 1904, 20 May 1921
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20, 21 May 1921.

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Rutledge, William Woolls (1849–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 October, 1849
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


19 May, 1921 (aged 71)
Lindfield, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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