Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Worrall (1862–1940)

by John Lack

This article was published:

Henry Worrall (1862-1940), Methodist minister and social reformer, was born on 26 February 1862 at Hartshead, Lancashire, England, son of James Worrall, cotton-mill manager, and his wife Charity, née Wood. Migrating to Australia, the family settled in Sydney where Henry attended a public school and in 1884 entered Newington College, the theological college of the Wesleyan Church. In 1886 he became a candidate for the ministry and, after marrying Elizabeth Ann Hodges (d.1918) at the Wesleyan Church, Goulburn, on 23 February, sailed for Fiji.

Stationed at Ovalau and superintendent (from 1889) of the large circuit at Rewa, Worrall initiated missionary work among Indian immigrants and became renowned for his stamina, preaching, evangelism and opposition to Catholicism. After returning for deputation work in 1898, he remained in Australia because of his family's health. With characteristic modesty, he described his posting to the small Tasmanian circuit of Latrobe in 1899 as akin to 'putting a Dreadnought battleship in a duck-pond'. Ordained in 1890, he served in Hobart (1901) and in Victoria at Sale (1905), Bendigo (1906), Brunswick (1910), Prahran (1914), Kew (1920) and Ballarat (1925). The heathen-vanquishing missionary abroad was transformed into the social reformer confronting paganism at home. In Tasmania he had denounced Tattersall's lottery; at Bendigo his exposure of gold-thieving by mine employees created a furore. His campaigns against the evils of gambling and drink goaded the Bulletin and John Norton's Truth to dub him 'wowser Worrall' and 'Worry-all', the meddling minister.

Impatient with the Bent government's dilatory progress with its gambling and licensing reforms, Worrall attacked prominent politicians, including Sir Philip Fysh, a former partner in Tattersall's. When a young bookmaker fled from a mob of irate punters at Flemington and fell and broke his neck, Worrall depicted him as a simple country boy contaminated by city influences: on 22 July 1906 he preached a sermon, 'Who slaughtered the body and murdered the soul of Donald McLeod', which impeached 'in God's name' Victorian politicians, especially Sir Samuel Gillott, the chief secretary. Sir Thomas Bent moved that Worrall be called before the Bar of the Legislative Assembly. Upright and intransigent, Worrall composed himself for martyrdom, but found himself acting the only straight part in a farce which exposed the premier, his government and parliament to ridicule. The Speaker (Sir) Frank Madden lightly reprimanded Worrall who had become a hero.

At the outbreak of World War I, Worrall declared that he would preach every eligible man from his congregation into enlisting; among the 190 names on the honour roll at his Prahran church in 1919 were those of his three sons, one of whom was killed in action, another twice-wounded at Gallipoli, while the third won the French Croix de Guerre and the Distinguished Service Cross and Bar. Their service and sacrifice imparted a passion to the war which Worrall waged on the home front against shirkers, disloyalists, timid politicians and, above all, Dr Daniel Mannix. Worrall's pursuit of the Victorian parliamentarian Alfred Farthing, spokesman for the Licensed Victuallers' Association, whose election Worrall attributed to 'rascality, rum and Rome', brought an unsuccessful action for libel in 1916. In his retiring address as president (1918-19) of the Methodist Conference of Victoria and Tasmania, Worrall made a rousing call for Protestant unity to protect the dawning heroic age from the menace of Catholicism. After the war he dedicated himself to the creation of 'a cleaner and brighter Australia' for the returning warriors. He found a public platform as president (thrice) of the Victorian Council of Churches and campaigned for prohibition in Britain (1922) and Australia (1924).

Worrall soldiered on as a supernumerary from 1928. He was grand master of the Loyal Orange Lodge of Victoria in 1931-33. His censorious attitude to the 'modern' evils of dancing, cards and the raffle progressively isolated him from his sons and their children. A widower, he married May Isabel Howell on 25 May 1927 in Wesley's Chapel, Holborn, London. Survived by his wife, and by two sons and three daughters of his first marriage, Worrall died at Canterbury, Melbourne, on 26 May 1940 and was buried in Burwood cemetery. Detested by his enemies as sanctimonious, overbearing and judgemental, disowned by some colleagues for his theatricality and vitriolic language, and rejected by members of his family for his bigotry and narrow-mindedness, he was lauded by militant Protestants, and Orangemen, as a courageous upholder of truth and liberty.

Select Bibliography

  • A. H. Wood, Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church, vol 2: Fiji (Melb, 1978)
  • E. H. Buggy, The Real John Wren (Melb, 1977)
  • Journal of Religious History, June 1978
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 July–3 Aug 1906, 1 Mar 1918, 27 May 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 23 July–3 Aug 1906, 16, 17 June, 4 Sept 1916, 12 Mar, 30 Apr 1917, 1, 18 Mar 1918, 20 Mar 1919, 27 May 1940
  • Bulletin, 26 July, 2 Aug 1906
  • Punch (Melbourne), 27 July 1906, 27 Feb 1919
  • Truth (Melbourne), 28 July 1906
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 3, 10 Aug 1906, 5 Mar, 17 Sept 1915, 6 Mar 1918, 26 Mar 1919, 5 June 1940
  • Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria, Archives, Melbourne
  • private information.

Citation details

John Lack, 'Worrall, Henry (1862–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 20 June 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


26 February, 1862
Hartshead, Lancashire, England


26 May, 1940 (aged 78)
Canterbury, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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