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Harold Wheen (1867–1926)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Harold Wheen is a minor entry in this article

John Gladwell Wheen (1858-1929), Methodist minister, was born on 27 April 1858 at Ecclesall Bierlow, Yorkshire, England, son of Edwin Wheen, a master grocer of Sheffield, and his wife Agnes, née Gladwell. The Wheen children were raised as Methodists and attended Carver Street chapel and private schools with their friend Joseph Woodhouse (1860-1924). Trained for a commercial career, John joined the town clerk's staff and became secretary of Sheffield public hospital. He was also a superintendent at Red Hill School. His sister Margaret Agnes, who was to marry Woodhouse in 1888, arrived in Melbourne in August 1882, followed by her brothers John and Herbert later that year; Woodhouse reached Sydney in 1884.

In 1883 John Wheen became a Wesleyan Methodist home missionary. Next year he was ordained and served in various parts of Melbourne. In 1888 he moved to Charlton and on 25 April married Sheffield-born Eliza Ellen Lief at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Hawthorn. Stationed in Tasmania from 1890, he returned to Melbourne in 1899. As president (1907-08) of the Victorian and Tasmanian conference, he proved an able administrator and he was called to the foreign missions office in Sydney in 1908 to assist Benjamin Danks.

Although Wheen did not become general secretary of missions until 1910, he is remembered with George Brown and John Burton as a great missionary promoter. He presided over the reconciliation of the Tongan Church, largely engineered by Rodger Page, went to Samoa, New Britain, the Solomon Islands and India, and also visited Fiji three times (once with G. J. Waterhouse and Jacob Garrard). Wheen's promotion of education as the principal means of evangelizing was reflected in his enthusiasm for the Thomas Baker Memorial College, Davuilevu, Fiji, the co-racial Suva boys' school, and the Wesleyan high school at Azamgarh, India. His support of government grants and his legalistic approach to mission problems brought him into conflict with progressives like Burton.

Elected president of the New South Wales conference in 1919, Wheen next year attended the Wesleyan Methodist conference in London and the World Conference on Faith and Order in Geneva. In 1926-29 he was president general of the Methodist Church of Australasia. Shortly after retiring, he died at Ashfield on 13 November 1929 and was cremated. His wife, son and two daughters survived him; his daughter Agnes was foundation headmistress of Annesley Methodist Girls' School at Bowral. To J. E. Carruthers, Wheen was 'an able preacher, an effective platform speaker, a man of affairs, with a special aptitude for big things'.

His brother Harold (1867-1926) was born on 28 June 1867 at Oldland, Gloucestershire; he trained as a pharmacist, came to Sydney in 1889 and opened a business at Waverley. Entering the Wesleyan ministry in 1891, he served at Bourke, Wilcannia, Sunny Corner, Jamberoo, Bathurst and Paddington, Sydney. He was general secretary of the young people's department, and president of the State Council of Religious Education and in 1923-24 of the Christian Endeavour Union. He died at Roseville, Sydney, on 18 June 1926, survived by his wife Clara Isabel Morze, née Black, whom he had married at Mudgee on 26 March 1895, and by their eleven children, including Arthur.

The Wheen brothers and their brother-in-law Woodhouse had formed an influential triumvirate in Sydney in charge of Methodist outreach: foreign missions, young people and home missions respectively. All three promoted church union and total abstinence, reinforcing the conservative image of Methodism in the first quarter of the twentieth century.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Carruthers, Memories of an Australian Ministry 1868 to 1921 (Lond, 1922)
  • A. H. Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church (Melb, 1975-87)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Mar 1925, 19, 21 June 1926, 14 Nov 1929
  • Adelaide Chronicle, 21 Nov 1929.

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Wheen, Harold (1867–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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