Irving Benson

Irving Benson (1897 – 1980) Methodist clergyman and journalist
Irving Benson was appointed Methodist superintendent minister in 1933, a position he held until his retirement in 1967. During these years he became Melbourne’s best-known and most controversial minister through the forthright comments he made on public issues in radio broadcasts and newspaper articles.

Sir (Clarence) Irving Benson (1897-1980), Methodist clergyman and journalist, was born on 1 December 1897 at Hull, Yorkshire, England, son of Walter Benson, ship foreman, and his second wife Mary, née Mear, a staunch Methodist and Sunday School teacher.

The Victorian Methodist Home Missionary Society appointed him to Cavendish, near Hamilton, where the young man’s preaching soon attracted attention. He kept notebooks which documented the careful preparation of his sermons. His conversational style of preaching and well-modulated voice complemented his tall and commanding—if rather austere—presence.

In 1918 Benson was accepted as a probationer for the Methodist ministry and appointed to Toorak, Melbourne. There he became a protégé of Rev. W. H. Fitchett whom Benson described as being ‘like a father to him’ and who encouraged him to write. In 1923 Benson began to contribute a weekly column, ‘Church and People’, to the Herald. Appearing every Saturday until 1979, it made him widely known beyond the Methodist denomination.

On 14 April 1919 at the Methodist Church, Toorak, Benson had married Agnes Lyell. Ordained in April 1922, he ministered at the Albion Street Church, Brunswick, until recruited in 1926 to Central Methodist Mission at Wesley Church. Occupying the pulpit of Melbourne’s most important Methodist church enabled Benson to build a large congregation, especially for his Sunday-evening book sermons and winter lecture series.

He was appointed superintendent minister in 1933, a position he held until his retirement in 1967. During these years he became Melbourne’s best-known and most controversial minister through the forthright comments he made on public issues in radio broadcasts, such as his ‘Questions and Answers’ programme (1938-44) on 3LO, in his Herald articles and at the mission’s Pleasant Sunday Afternoon gatherings.

Under Benson’s direction the P.S.A. became a national institution. He chose a range of speakers and issues, but the overall thrust reflected his belief in spiritual renewal rather than in an interventionist state as the way forward in the postwar period. Its platform was used to promote moral rearmament in the 1940s and anti-communism in the Cold War years.

The most frequent speakers were (Sir) Robert Menzies and R. G. (Baron) Casey, whom Benson counted among his friends. Broadcasts of the P.S.A., at first on 3LO and then on 3DB, had by the 1950s an Australia-wide audience, attracted by well-known orators, musical soloists and Benson’s opening comments on current issues. He also used the programme to plead for donations to the mission’s work.

Possessing a large personal library, Benson was an avid collector who bought and sold books, manuscripts and autographs. In the public sphere, he was trustee (1942-46) of the Public Library, museums and National Gallery of Victoria (vice-chairman 1945), chairman (1946-66) of trustees of the Public Library of Victoria and deputy-chairman (from 1966) of its successor, the Library Council of Victoria.

He was also president (1938-49) of the Library Association of Victoria and chairman (1947-56) of the Free Library Service Board. Having himself substituted the reading of books for his lack of formal education, he regarded libraries as ‘a practical demonstration of democracy’s faith in universal education as a life-long process’.

The main exhibition area of the State Library of Victoria, opened in 1967, was named Irving Benson Hall, though by this time Benson and the council had been criticized for the management of the library, and for its failure to expand and attract resources.

Complete article :

Rev. Sir C. (Clarence) Irving Benson (1897-1980)
Methodist Clergyman & Journalist
Migrating to Melbourne in 1916, Benson began his long association with the Methodist Church (1916-67), culminating with his appointment to the Lonsdale Street Wesley Church (1926-67). He initially served in the Hamilton district and later in Toorak (1918-22) where he came under the influence of Rev. William Fitchett (Boroondara Cemetery); years later Benson was to comment on Fitchett’s “fatherly influence”.

As a preacher, no man could match his spiritually challenging, well researched and eloquent sermons, yet his influence came through his column ‘Church and People’ with The Herald (1923-79), the controversial Pleasant Sunday Afternoon gatherings (1933-67) and through his ‘Questions and Answers’ program on A.B.C radio (1938-44) that allowed him to speak fearlessly on social issues. One overseas guest when asked what to do while in Melbourne, was told to see the Melbourne Cup and talk on the P.S.A; Benson’s grievance was with the priorities.

Described by one critic as “the doyen of Melbourne’s wowsers” (On the introduction of Tattersall’s: “Do they believe that this bad thing will promote the morality of Victoria? They must know that it will swell the tide of paganism”), Benson was an astute fund raiser who used his memberships of the Savage and Melbourne Clubs to increase donations to the Wesley Central Mission; the “Irving Benson Court” for the elderly in Coburg is named in his honour.

A noted book collector, Benson served as chairman of the Public (State) Library (1940-66) and also the combined Public Library, Museums and National Gallery of Victoria (1942-46). He wrote a number of books including “A Century of Victorian Methodism” (1935) and “The Man With the Donkey” (1965). Knighted in 1963 – the first Methodist minister of any country – Benson died at Bodalla Nursing Home, Kew on 6 December 1980 survived by his second wife.

Source :

A Century of Victorian Methodism
Author: Benson, C. Irving Rev

The Man with the Donkey: John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the Good Samaritan of Gallipoli
Author: Benson, C. Irving Rev
John Simpson Kirkpatrick –

Refer also
Religion on Australian commercial radio from the 1920s to the 1960s
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