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Stephen Edwin Yarnold (1903–1978)

by Davis McCaughey

This article was published:

Stephen Edwin Yarnold (1903-1978), Presbyterian and Uniting Church minister, was born on 9 August 1903 at Ramsgate, Kent, England, son of Stephen George Hogbin, butcher, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Clapp. His father died when Stephen was young. After his mother remarried, he took his stepfather's name of Yarnold. The family moved to Rosyth, Scotland, where Yarnold senior was employed at the dockyard as chief rigger. Steve, as he was known then and in later life, worked as a dockyard boy until 1922 when he and his brother were declared redundant. From an early age he knew the insecurity of uncertain employment, and observed its effects on his peers. He later found a job as a stoker in a coastal steamship.

At Rosyth Yarnold joined the Church of Scotland and became a leader of the local Red Triangle club of the Young Men's Christian Association. In his mid-twenties he was recruited by the Presbyterian Church of Victoria as a candidate for the ministry and brought to Melbourne. Lacking the formal education necessary to enable him to enter the Theological Hall at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, he attended (1928-30) St Andrew's Theological Training College, Carlton, to prepare himself intellectually for the exacting course awaiting him.

Concurrently, at the Napier Street Mission, Fitzroy, Yarnold became acquainted with some of the worst poverty in the city, an awareness that never left him. In 1931-33 he was a student at the Theological Hall where he undertook the full course in the major disciplines of theology. He was deeply affected by his study of Old Testament prophecy, and by the teaching of Professor Hector Maclean. The implications of Israel's faith and the Church's message left him constantly uneasy in contemporary Australian society.

Ordained on 14 March 1934, Yarnold became chaplain of Scotch College in June 1935. The principal, Colin Gilray, appointed him on the recommendation of Maclean and later protected him against criticism by some members of the school's council. The influence of his independent mind on a number of the ablest boys was considerable. He developed an interest in religious films. Placed in charge of the Dramatic Society, he produced a variety of one-act and Shakespearian plays. His term at the school ended in 1945. By this time he was widely known, although not universally popular, as a commentator (to November 1943) on radio-station 3AW. In the early 1940s he had been a founder of the Common Wealth Christian Movement which advocated socialism and for which in 1944 he prepared a radio talk that a commercial station refused to broadcast.

On 5 June 1945 Yarnold was commissioned chaplain, fourth class, Australian Imperial Force. During his service, in Darwin and Rabaul, he contracted malaria. He was particularly concerned with preparing soldiers for their return to civilian life. His A.I.F. appointment terminated in Melbourne on 24 July 1946. At the Presbyterian manse, North Essendon, two days later, he married Winifred Atwood Jacobs, a kindergarten teacher.

In 1950-70 the Yarnolds exercised a far-reaching ministry from North Melbourne which, with Steve's chaplaincy (1963-70) at Pentridge gaol and his membership of the presbytery of Melbourne West, gave them a base from which to expand their interests in social and political questions and enjoy a rich cultural life. A prominent figure in the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, Yarnold was moderator of the assembly in 1963-64. His influence was strong among students for the ministry and in the direction of theological education.

Yarnold's diverse experiences left him enriched in personality for the benefit of others. He made many friends from Rosyth to North Melbourne and his companionable nature complemented his interest in co-operative societies. His membership of the Australian Labor Party led to a warm and close relationship with Arthur Calwell. Six feet (183 cm) tall, slim and with intense eyes, a deep voice and 'long-fingered expressive hands', Yarnold had presence. Without knowing that he was doing so, he exercised authority, whether chairing a meeting, leading worship or contributing to discussion. By nature a dignified man, he recognized dignity as a quality to be respected in others but knew that 'the worst thing you can do with your dignity is to stand on it'. He died on 25 September 1978 at his home at Silvan and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Mar 1963
  • B. Johnston, 'I Remember Yarnold', ABC Radio broadcast, 1984 (ABC Archives, Sydney)
  • records of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria and the Victorian Synod of the Uniting Church in Australian (Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria Archives, Elsternwick, Melbourne)
  • Common Wealth Christian Movement papers (Uniting Church Archives, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Davis McCaughey, 'Yarnold, Stephen Edwin (1903–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Hogbin, Stephen Edwin

9 August, 1903
Ramsgate, Kent, England


25 September, 1978 (aged 75)
Silvan, Victoria, Australia

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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.