William Rutledge

William Rutledge (1849 – 1921) Methodist minister
Rev. William Woolls Rutledge – one of the noble sons of Australian Methodism. He made a generous and rich contribution of considerable value to the Church and the State. He had a genius for influencing and moulding public opinion, and stood very high in the counsels of his Church and the religious life of the State.

The life and work of the Rev. William Woolls Rutledge is worthy of an honoured place in Australian biography. The available data regarding his life, though not as full as desired, marks him out as one of the noble sons of Australian Methodism. He made a generous and rich contribution of considerable value to the Church and the State. He had a genius for influencing and moulding public opinion, and stood very high in the counsels of his Church and the religious life of the State. Few men laboured so continuously for good causes, or in effort to remove public evils, and right public wrongs. His influence as a Church leader and citizen was widely felt. O several occasions he was urged to enter politics. He was a great man, and would have made his mark in any calling. He was born in Parramatta, New South Wales, on the 31st of October, 1849, and died at his residence at Lindfield, Sydney, on the 19th of May, 1921, in his 72nd year.


Woolls Rutledge was descended from a good family. His ancestry told at many points in his life and character. His ancestors were of English and Puritan stock. They gave strong support to the Puritan cause during the latter part of the year 1500. The dauntless courage and purpose of Woolls Rutledge in his fight for religious and civil freedom clearly indicated how strongly in his veins flowed the iron blood of those fearless Puritan ancestors. Three brothers of the Rutledge family served as officers in Cromwell’s army, and went with him to Ireland in 1649. They fought the war against the Irish, and later shared in some of the confiscated estates in the west of Ireland. They received land in the counties of Mayo, Sligo, and in one the counties to the north. A descendant of these rendered distinguished service to the Crown. Honours were conferred upon him and he was received at the Court of Queen Anne during her reign in 1702-14. He is described as a man of handsome appearance, and was playfully spoken of by Queen Anne as her Irish beau. Another descendent went to America and was one of the signatories to the document of Independence. About the year 1770, the Sligo branch of the family in Ireland, from which Woolls Rutledge is descended, removed to the town of Drumkeerin in the county of Leitrim. Settling there, a son David Rutledge, in 1805 married the eldest daughter of a Sligo family named Shannon. His wife’s grandfather was William Shannon, a local preacher in connection with the first Methodist Society formed in that part of the country by the preachers sent by Wesley.

After fourteen years of married life, David Rutledge’s wife died, leaving a young family, the youngest not quite twelve years of age. James was reared by his grandmother Shannon until he was nine, when his father took him back to his own home. He was converted at the age of nineteen under the preaching of the Rev. John Nesbit. Some time later he became a class leader and local preacher. Deeply impressed by the revival services in connection with the Methodist Centenary in 1839, he thought of entering the Ministry. With the death of his father, and the loss the family of certain income, he was forced to change his plans, and decided to try his fortune in a new land. With a brother and sister, James left Ireland for Australia on June 8, 1840.


Shortly after his arrival in Sydney, he accepted the position of teacher of a school at Castlereagh, for which the government had granted a salary. The first Methodist chapel in the southern world was opened at Castlereagh on the 7th October, 1817. It was built be John Lees, a retired soldier, and was given by him to the Wesleyan Mission. James Rutledge took up his duties in December, 1840. There he remained for several years as teacher, class leader and local preacher. He married on June 29, 1842, Miss Lucy Ann, daughter of Mr. Edward Field, who was a member of the society class. The Rev. F. Lewis was the celebrant.

On the recommendation of the Rev. William B. Boyce, he was offered, and subsequently accepted, the position of teacher at the boys’ school at Parramatta, founded by the Rev. Wm. Woolls, D.Ph.

On the 31st October, 1849, Mr. James Rutledge’s fourth child, a son, was born. He was named William Woolls, at the request of Dr. Woolls, whose wife and child had both died at about that time.


The decade following his birth was eventful in world affairs. In Great Britain, the Chartist Riots, the Crimean War, the second Chinese war, and the Indian Mutiny, focussed public interest and effort. In other countries were revolutions, the rise of Louis Napoleon in France as Emperor, and the beginning of the war of Italian Unity. In New South Wales, after years of agitation, the first parliamentary election under responsible government was held in 1856. It was a period of progress in the young country. Woolls Rutledge was born thirty-four years after the historic arrival of Samuel Leigh as the first Methodist minister in the continent of Australia. Yet in that short period, Methodism had spread into all the principal centres of settlement in New South Wales, and also to the coastal settlements in the north, south, and west of Australia. The country was in the early stages of development. Tribes of blacks were numerous. Cattle and sheep stations grew from year to year, pushing further into the interior. The discovery of gold was a magnet that drew thousands of men from countries across the seas. Population doubled and settlement increased beyond all expectations.


Woolls Rutledge was one of a family of four sons and four daughters. The eldest brother, Arthur, was admitted to the Queensland bar as a barrister. He was elected for several years a member of Parliament, and held the position of Attorney-General. Later, he was appointed judge, and subsequently was honoured by the King in receiving knighthood. Sir Arthur Rutledge maintained a life-long devotion to the Church and was one of the most influential laymen in Queensland Methodism. The second eldest brother, David, studied at Sydney University, taking his degrees and graduating in pharmacy and medicine. For some years Dr, David Rutledge practiced his profession in Sydney, but feeling the call of the Church he entered the ministry of the Church of England, in which he rendered distinguished service. The third brother, James, entered commercial life, and finally made his home in America.

William Woolls Rutledge was a man of impressive appearance. He was six feet in height, with blue eyes, brown wavy hair, and ruddy complexion. His dignified bearing and distinguished manner marked him out amongst men.

As a boy he was strong-limbed, healthy, fond of life and play. His high daring, initiative, and enterprise, gave him recognised leadership amongst his school fellows. Clear of mind, active in disposition, he was everywhere popular. He had a sense of humour and natural art of telling a story. His sense of right and justice was never in doubt. He formed strong views on essentials and held to them with great courage and tenacity of purpose. His readiness to champion the cause of the weak was an early trait that characterised him in the wider and more serious spheres of activity. His chivalrous spirit, sympathetic nature, genial and courteous manner were marked characteristics of his life.


The liberal education he received was due to his father, a teacher of more than ordinary scholastic attainments. His natural gifts and mental alertness enabled him to acquire knowledge quickly and without much apparent effort. At an early age he was far advanced in English, Latin, mathematics, logic and history. Always a reader, and encouraged by his father to read the best books, he developed a taste for good literature, especially that of the classics, that laid the foundation of sound general knowledge. While still in his teens he was widely read in ancient and modern history, poetry, philosophy, with some slight knowledge of theology. Gifted with a baritone voice, he was placed the tuition of a Mr. Hadfield, a teacher of singing. For a short time he took special lectures at Sydney University. Born and reared in such a home it followed almost a matter of course, that he became a class leader and local preacher.


His love of reading and writing led him into the field of journalism as a sphere offering scope for his special gifts. For some years he was engaged in newspaper work in Sydney. He assisted in the editorship of the “Harbinger”. He was also on the staff of the “Empire”, a paper which, in 1852, was edited by Sir Henry Parkes. It failed in 1858, revived in 1859, and ran until 1874, when it was incorporated into the “Evening News”. Later, Woolls Rutledge became editor of the “Newcastle Chronicle”, from which he retired to enter the Ministry. His training and experience in journalistic work had much to do with that clearness and vigour of style that later enabled him to wield the pen with such power for the Church and the causes he led.

He devoted most of his leisure time to Church work. Fulfilling preaching appointments as a local preacher, he attracted favourable notice. Naturally a fluent speaker, with a full rich voice of rare quality, a fervid delivery, with the passion of the evangelist, it was not surprising that people crowded the churches to hear him, and that numbers professed conversion. He was urged to enter the Ministry, which seemed to be his proper vocation. For some time he was undecided. He was happy in his profession. Journalism gave him a wide and independent sphere of influence and service. Should he forsake the editor’s chair for the pulpit? After serious thought and prayer he yielded to the inward call and to the earnest solicitation of friends, and studied for the Ministry. He was accepted as a candidate in 1875.


His first appointment in 1875, as a probationary minister, was to the Orange Circuit, where over a widespread area he made full proof of his ministry. Then followed his appointment to Newtown with pastoral oversight of Stanmore. He immediately reached popularity as a preacher. It was a day of great preachers. The Revs. George Martin, Charles Stead, J. A. Nolan, George Lane, William Clarke, Dr. Kelynack and others were then at the zenith of their fame. During his second year at Stanmore, he married Miss Elizabeth Allen, sister of the Revs. Robert and Harry Allen.

At Lithgow, in the Oberon Circuit, he laid deep and broad foundations on which subsequent Methodism there was built. During his term he was suddenly bereaved of his wife, who died after a short illness. His next appointment was to Tamworth, a rising town in the prosperous northern district. His preaching centres extended to Manilla in the north-east and to Nundle in the south. His term at Tamworth was one of spiritual power and revival. During the whole of his pastorate the church was crowded at the Sunday services, and enlargements to the building were made to accommodate the increased congregation. His ministry marked the rise of Tamworth as one of the most important circuits in country Methodism.

Mudgee was the next circuit. He married Clara, the second eldest daughter of the Rev. William Moore, a returned missionary from Fiji, and an ex-president of the Conference. The Mudgee pastorate brought him into further prominence. In the pulpit, the press, and on the public platform, he exercised a far-reaching ministry.

In 1891 he was appointed to Goulburn, then the largest and wealthiest city outside Sydney and Newcastle, in New South Wales. In a city of beautiful churches and cathedrals the Methodist Church was then one of the best in the country. A substantial congregation regularly met for worship. In this wide sphere he found full scope for his gifts of preaching and administration. His influence extended beyond the bounds of his own church. He was on friendly terms with the heads of various churches. His unique musical gifts and voice gave him an enlarged sphere of service. His eloquence and sound evangelical thought attracted large numbers to his ministry. His congregations ran into several hundreds and, with the few exceptions of the principal churches in Sydney, were easily one of the largest in the State. His ministry there is generally regarded as on of the most powerful in the history of Goulburn Methodism.

His appointment to Ashfield was the first of a number of metropolitan circuits to which he was successively appointed during the remainder of his active ministry. His outstanding gifts and the connexional value of his services were generally recognised. At the close of his term at Ashfield he was appointed to the Superintendency of the Central Methodist Mission. The founder Rev. W. G. Taylor, was in ill-health through the heavy strain of the work and was appointed to Bathurst. The effect of the economic depression in 1893 was still severely felt. The Centenary Hall was in financial difficulties. Schemes, that it was said would be a financial success, had turned out badly through the depression. The C.M.M. was burdened with a crushing debt of over £25 000. The whole institution needed the most sagacious administration. The thought of the Conference soon turned to Mr. Rutledge as the most suitable superintendent for the difficult position. He was appointed, and while maintaining the high standard of the pulpit, wisely directed the organisations of the mission, and dealt with the extremely difficult financial position. He extended the scope of the work. An institute for inebriates was opened. A medical superintendent and staff successfully carried on the work of the institute, and large numbers from city and country were subsequently treated and cured. Another movement instituted by him was the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon. After a most strenuous term at the mission he was appointed to Waverley, noted as possessing the most beautiful Methodist Church in the State. It then had a large membership and congregation. Mr. Rutledge’s term at Waverley was exceptionally happy and prosperous.


To foster and advance the spirit of church union which he was successfully directing, he was appointed in 1901 to Newcastle. For one notable year in addition to the work of his own circuit he did yeoman service amongst the strong Primitive Methodist Churches and United Methodists of Newcastle. His brotherly approach, friendliness, and wise counsel smoothed over some difficult places and undoubtedly hastened the harmonious consummation of union. During the eventful year in “The Coalopolis” he initiated the Central Methodist Mission in Newcastle. He found that the Church was located in a strategically bad position; he outlined a new and progressive policy; planned for a more central position, and the establishment of central mission premises. But he was not left to carry out his plans. The consummation of union in 1902 and his elevation to the chair as the first President of the United Church necessitated his residence in Sydney, and he was appointed to Glebe. The Rev. Rainsford Baven who succeeded him in Newcastle, carried the project through to successful completion. The presidential year and several succeeding years were full of important work in connection with the union and necessary adjustments. His church at Glebe was very well attended during his term. For three years he was minister at Newtown, and influential church, and at that time with ta flourishing and growing membership. His last circuit was historic North Sydney, where he followed a Godly succession of eminent ministers. The church had fallen on lean days through the departure of some of the prominent families to new suburbs opening up along the North Shore line. Mr. Rutledge’s appointment witnessed a revival of the old days. The church services were well attended by regular worshippers during the whole of his pastorate.


Mr. Rutledge had a constructive mind. With a natural aptitude for law he saw clearly the equities of things. Such was the confidence in his judgment that he was frequently called upon to act as arbitrator in matters of dispute. In 1894 he formed the Ministerial Choir to help the struggling Home Mission demonstration at the annual Conferences. This meeting, which was the smallest of the public meetings, became the largest, and its popularity has continued through the years to the present time. He was conductor of the choir for fourteen years.

He secured the passing of new legislation be the Conference of progressive laws and regulations. Notable amongst these was the inauguration of the Removal Expenses Fund, which considerable lightened the burden of circuits in the costs of removal.

During his presidential year in 1902, the Australian Protestant Defence Association was formed. It was largely the work of Rev. W. Woolls Rutledge, Dr Dill-Mackay, and W. A. Charlston. The constitution framed by him was accepted practically without alteration. He also did much preparatory work in the opening of the Dr. Dill-Mackay orphanages.


He took an influential part be letter and personal interview in securing the passing of the Liquor Reform Bill during the Wade Ministry. The Bill was framed substantially along the lines he advocated. Following this, the first local option poll was held on the 10th September, 1907. A sweeping victory was won, in that reduction was carried 65 electorates, as against 25 electorates for continuance. This splendid vote was nullified through the failure to reach a three-fifth majority of the votes cast. Mr. Rutledge at the time was a Vice-President at the N. S. W. Alliance and in the forefront of the campaign. The Alliance made him a life member, “ïn recognition of his long and distinguished services to the cause of temperance”. In 1906 he was elected State President of the N.S.W. Christian Endeavour Union.


He was an able debater. His well-marshalled arguments, his telling voice, fairness and sincerity, carried considerable weight. When Woolls Rutledge spoke on some of the big questions of Conference debate, it was certain that the galleries would be filled with friends or opponents, to hear him. When first elected to the General Conference he was one of the youngest members, but his contribution to the business soon won him place in its highest counsels.

Not less powerful was he in newspaper controversy. Ever courteous and avoiding personalities, he entered into controversy with some of the ablest controversialists in the State on questions of social and political reform and other matters of public welfare. Very soon his power to influence public opinion was recognised. Perhaps his most vigorous newspaper controversies and victories were regarding insidious attacks on State education and Government institutions by the Roman Catholic Church. The movement for political precedence and concessions was led by the able Cardinal Moran and his not less able lieutenant, Archbishop Kelly. A policy of aggression and boycott obtained undue privileges. Positions of place and influence were openly secured for their followers. A strong attempt was made to undermine the State education system and obtain State aid for Roman Catholic schools and other industrial institutions. For a number of years Mr. Rutledge was their most formidable opponent. He exposed their schemes and the injustice of their claims. The public was stirred and Protestants awoke to the menace that threatened the public administration. Matters were brought to a head in the case of a civil servant (a Protestant) dismissed from the service but appointed to another important position when he joined the Roman Catholic Church.

At a great public meeting in the Sydney Town Hall in 1905, Mr. Rutledge scathing exposed the sectarian influences at work in the public service of the State. So great was the publicity given to his speech, that the Government of the day was forced to take notice. Mr. Rutledge re-affirmed through the press his public statement. He asked that his statements should be thoroughly investigated before a proper tribunal. The Government appointed a select committee of inquiry with Mr. A. Griffith, M.L.A., as chairman. His appointment as chairman was generally regarded as most unfair as it was well-known he had a strong prejudice against Mr. Rutledge. At the opening of the inquiry Mr. Rutledge stated his willingness to assist the committee in eliciting the truth. He stated however, his objection to Mr. Griffith as chairman and his principal judge. Through personal bias he had already made up his mind adversely to him. The objection was over-ruled by the chairman. The inquiry made a great stir and aroused much comment. Mr. Rutledge ably conducted his own case, but was much hampered by the committee. His summing up of the case was described as one of the most lucid and masterly ever given in any inquiry in the court of law. The Melbourne “Spectator” in its comment said: “The summing up by Mr. Rutledge was marked by great ability…..and must have convinced unprejudiced persons that there was ample ground for his complaint against Roman methods of packing the public services”. The New South Wales Parliament declined to accept the utterly inadequate report of the Commission as presented by Mr A. Griffith, the chairman, by carrying the previous question. The refusal of the N.S.W. Government to declare there was no foundation for Mr. Rutledge’s complaint, was very aggressive. Incidentally, the publicity put an end to the preferment that advanced men-denominationally-out of all proportion to their numbers.

Another long controversy was waged with the drink traffic and the powerful brewery interest which intimidated Governments, and obtained unwarrantable concessions. The mobilising of the Temperance forces struck a heavy blow at the liquor ascendancy in the State. Mr. Rutledge’s high standing in public estimation wan confidence in his proposals. His letter and reported speeches, found in the old papers of that date, are examples of discernment, good judgment and high patriotism. They undoubtedly helped to create and mould public opinion that finally led the Government to pass the Liquor Reform Bill.


Great as were his labours in so many spheres, his monumental work was the union of the several branches of Methodism. He was engaged on this project for more than ten years. Methodism today little realises the apparently impossible task of winning over an influential majority at first opposed to union. His church statesmanship and strong grasp of details, enabled him to take the hesitating cause in hand. He became the recognised leader, and directed the movement with ability and thoroughness. He was perhaps the one man at that stage who could lift the question from a pious hope to an assured prospect. He crystallised the union sentiment into practical shape. Constant vigilance hat to be exercised, however, lest the main purpose should be lost sight of through parochial fears and differences.

How clearly, courteously, patiently and convincingly the leader met the several objections, is seen in the press correspondence of the day, reports of committees, Conference debates, and resolutions. “Methodist Union – A Plain Statement”- was the title of a pamphlet written by Woolls Rutledge which had wide circulation and a favourable reception. At the end were “Thirteen Reasons For Methodist Union”. They were clear, reasonable, convincing.

Union was still further advanced by a “Grand Union Demonstration” under the auspices of the Federal Council held in the Centenary Hall, Sydney, on August 29, 1895. The platform was the most brilliant array of Methodist speakers ever assemble in Sydney. His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor of South Australia, Chief Justice Way, a loyal Methodist and personal friend of Rutledge, presided. He was accompanied by Sir Frederick Darley, the Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales. The speakers were the Hon. J. S. Larke, government representative of Canada; Rev. W. H. Fitchett, B. A. (Melbourne); Rev. H. T. Burgess (Adelaide), and Rev. Theophilus Parr, M. A. (Sydney). A choir of 150 voices led the praise under the conductorship of Mr. W. I. B. Mote, and his son, Arnold, the brilliant boy organist, the only 14 years of age, presided at the organ. Mr. T. R. Bavin, B. A., afterwards Premier of New South Wales, sang a solo.

The movement for Union, from that point onwards continued to gain ground and make headway. At last all conscientious and reasonable objections were removed. Initial preparations began for organic union. The Methodist Church Enabling Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament. It was resolved that Union would be consummated in the year 1902.


On Tuesday, February 25, 1902, the first United Conference opened in Sydney Town Hall. The preparations were largely in the hands of Woolls Rutledge, and lacked nothing in attention to detail. A united choir of 250 voices and a well-balanced orchestra led the praise. The hall was crowded with an audience of over 4,000 people. The President of the Wesleyan Conference, 1901, Rev. George Lane, presided. The meeting was pervaded with the spirit of praise and thanksgiving. The long and difficult negotiations had been brought to a triumphant conclusion. It was a joyful gathering. The emotion of some found vent in tears as they sang the old hymn: “And are we yet alive and see each other’s face”. The divided members of the Methodist household were united by the bonds of Faith, Hope and Love. As was expected, the Rev. W. Woolls Rutledge was elected President by an overwhelming majority, and was installed as the press reported, “amid the loud plaudits of the assembly”. In acknowledging the vote, he said that much as he prized the honour of becoming President, he thanked God more that Methodist union was accomplished. With him, the cause was always greater than personal considerations.


The daily papers the next morning made lengthy and generous reference to the Conference and its President. The Sydney “Daily Telegraph” in a eulogistic account of the President’s successful career said: “When the movement for Methodist union was first started, he consistently championed the cause during the years when the question of Union was not altogether favourable. It was largely due to his effort as the recognised leader of the Inions Party that the consummation of the great scheme was brought about. His elevation to the dignified and honourable position of first President of the Conference of United Methodism was a tribute to, and a reward for, the services he had rendered to the cause”. His election was received with satisfaction by the Church and State. His personal popularity with all sections of the uniting Churches enable them to see in him in that year of transition, the spirit and embodiment of Union.

The Hon. Wm. Robson, M. L. C., an honoured Methodist layman, wrote in the Church paper “The Methodist”: “The subject of his sketch is a notable figure in the Methodist Church of Australasia. He has a high reputation in the Methodism of the continent as represented by the General Conference. The special work to which Mr. Rutledge has devoted his abilities and energies during the past dozen years is that of bringing about the union of the several Methodist Churches. From the first he was the natural and acknowledged leader. Fearless in fight he was always shown himself fair and considerate to opponents…..now he has the reward and joy of seeing union not only in New South Wales but throughout Australasia”.

At he time of his election he was the youngest President to occupy the chair. It was a coincidence, as one of the Sydney papers pointed out in its leader, that a year, to a day, after the inauguration of the Commonwealth, came the federation of Australian Methodism.

During his presidential year he was fully engaged in the work of adjustment and in strengthening the bonds of the united Church.


Mr. Rutledge’s last great work was in connection with the Centenary Fund. Conference proposed that the first hundred years of Methodism in Australia should be worthily celebrated in 1915, and marked by suitable memorials. The chief need was the establishment of a college for the training of students for the ministry. Opinion was divided as to whether there should be one college affiliated with the University to serve for students entering the ministry or the profession, or a separate college for theological students. Round the question, debate ranged for some time. Woolls Rutledge advocated the affiliated college as the first step, and to this the Conference agreed. It was further proposed and agreed to, that a theological college also be established. It was left to subscribers to allocate their donations in any proportion they chose. These two education institutions were to be the main objects, although it was optional for subscribers to give to the existing colleges at Newington and Burwood, or for Home and Foreign Missions. Five years were to be taken in preparation, and an effort made to raise £50,000. With great faith and courage the Church in New South Wales set itself this tremendous task.

The opinion was freely expressed that the Rev. W. Woolls Rutledge was the man most capable of successfully organising the fund. It was believed that his appeal would stir the loyalty and generosity of Methodists throughout the State. He was elected organising secretary. Seven years previously he had brought together the Methodist Churches in union, and now he was commissioned to ask the united Church for the large sum of £50,000. If he had consulted his own feelings he would have declined. Money raising was not to his liking. But it was characteristic of him that he never refused to obey the call of the Church however great the task. He was elected by the 1909 Conference, and began preparations for launching the appeal the following year.

During the 1910 Conference, the enterprise was opened with a monster tea-meeting in the basement of Sydney Town Hall, followed by a large meeting in the Lyceum Hall. The massed audience generously responded to the inaugural appeal. Money and promises poured in till the largest sum ever received at any Methodist gathering in Sydney, amounting to several thousands of pounds was received.


The visitation of the circuits was a wearying itinerary. The strain of nightly meetings and Sunday services was extremely exacting. Frequently he preached three times on Sunday, lectured each night of the week, and interviewed people by day. His rest was broken by the necessity of catching night trains, or trains in the very early morning. From circuit to circuit he went by train, steamer, coach or other conveyance. The motor car, in 1910, was not in such general use as it is today and much of his travel in the country was by sulky and buggy. Some of the journeys were over rough roads and bush tracks. He was out in all kinds of weather. In addition he was asked at times to open Churches and Parsonages. He gave himself unreservedly to the work. So strenuous were his labours that they began to tell on his vigorous frame. Towards the end of his third year in the field when he had secured cash and promises nearly £40,000, he suddenly had a serious breakdown in health. He was taken to the Maitland Parsonage. His wife and a Sydney specialist hastened to his side. For some time his life hung in the balance. The whole Church gave itself to prayer for his recovery. Slowly the crisis passed and he regained comparative health. He was most desirous of completing the objective of the Fund, despite the advice of his family and his friends, he continued the work.

Eight months later, in August, 1914, the great war loomed upon the world with unexpected suddenness and fury. The war loomed so largely in the national life, that everything, including the Centenary Fund, was overshadowed by the cloud of anxiety. This increased the difficulty of his task. His own home was, as many others, was immediately concerned. Three of his sons enlisted, and two of them fought in Gallipoli and France throughout the whole period of the war.

The Centenary celebrations were held successfully in August, 1915. There is no doubt that but for the war the Centenary Fund would have been oversubscribed. Mr. Rutledge continued for another year finalising the work. His doctors, however, were strongly averse from his taking up any further work. He retired into supernumeraryship at the Conference of 1916, a remarkable tribute being paid to him and his ministry “which has been marked by distinguished ability both in the pulpit and in the administration of the affairs of the Church”.


The outstanding memorials of the Centenary Fund are Leigh College for theological students, and Wesley College affiliated with the University of Sydney. Leigh College is valued at £35,000; and Wesley College was built at a cost of £20,000. These two colleges will ever be associated with the name of the Rev. W. Woolls Rutledge, as monuments of his last great work in raising money for their establishment. In recognition of his devoted and successful labour, he was elected first honorary Master of Wesley College.


Though capable of concentration and sustained effort he could relax easily. His sports consisted of cricket in his younger days, in which he was a good batsman, and in later years he enjoyed a game of tennis. His two favourite hobbies were his fern house, the ferns, and carpentering. These became his chief recreation. If his health had been more satisfactory it was his intention to enter upon a world tour. He loved children and young people and they delighted to have him join in their games and mirth. He enjoyed good literature and was a wide reader. His large and costly library contained many of the choicest books. But no general reading book ever took the place of the Bible, of which he was a devout student and an expert expositor. He held to the Methodist standards of doctrine. His preaching was based on sound evangelical theology. His retiring presidential address and his ordination charge reached a high standard of excellence and of spiritual insight and appeal.


He occupied the foremost positions in the Conference, and was the recipient of many honours. He held military and civil chaplaincies. On various occasions he was acting editor of “The Methodist”. It was generally thought by his friends that he would be elected President of the General Conference, but failing health deprived him of this crowing honour. Aristocratic in tastes and feelings, he mixed freely with the educated, and moved in the best circles. He was on close and intimate terms with public leaders and with men holding some of the most influential positions. His sympathies, however, were ever with the less fortunately situated in life. He was their friend to whom they never came in vain for counsel and help.

He was a man of unfailing courtesy, considerate of the rights and feeling of others, even in things of apparently small moment. Perfectly frank, he was free from any personal animus, though fighting strongly for principles. In a final letter in a paper in which he had been engaged in controversy, he wrote: “I have attacked no man’s religion. I hold that a man’s religious belief, so far as it affects only himself and his Master, is a matter too sacred for public discussion. I have not descended to personal abuse of my opponents; but have attacked principles”. It was his freedom from unworthy feelings regarding opponents, that led them to respect him as they did.

He maintained, through all the turmoil of his life, a deeply spiritual experience. Never was he too busy or too weary for a private prayer or devotion. This pervaded his life, and was immediately felt by those brought into personal contact with him. The same spiritual influence was felt in his Church services and meetings.


The choicest gold of his life was shared by his family and home. Here he was seen at his best. He had six sons and one daughter. His strong affectionate nature found its rest and satisfaction in the love and joy of his wife and children. He was ever considerate and appreciative. The strength and love of his life was poured forth to those whom God had given him in his family. His was the ideal home in simplicity, truth and love. While there was no favouritism in the home, yet he was strongly attached to his only daughter. On the occasion of her marriage to the Rev. F. H. McGowan, he said he rejoiced in her happiness, while at the same time they would miss her as the light of the home.


Mr. Rutledge attended his last Conference in 1921, and took his accustomed seat on the platform at the opening session. He also took part in the Conference business, although his health was far from satisfactory. About the middle of May, he suffered a collapse, and was ordered by his Doctor to keep to his bed for quietness and rest. The spirit was still strong, but he body was worn out in the service of his God, Church and country. On the 19th May, 1921, he passed to higher service. Hundreds of telegrams and letters of sympathy and appreciation, poured in to the bereaved widow and family. The regret and eulogy of the city and country press were spontaneous and general. The main features of his life and work were recalled and printed in generous appreciation. His passing was received by the people of Methodism with profound sorrow. It was a tribute to his standing in the community, that his funeral was attended by representatives of all the Churches, members of the State Parliament and Legislative Council, the City Council, business and professional men, and a large number of friends in the rank and file of the Church and State. The address in the Lindfield Church was given by an old friend, Rev. E. J. Rodd, principal of the Methodist Ladies’ College. The President and Secretary of the Conference and others took part at the Church and the graveside. All that was mortal of this great soul was laid to rest in the Rookwood cemetery, on the 21st May, 1921.

This biographical sketch may be appropriately closed with a tribute by the late Rev. Dr. J. E. Carruthers in his book , “Memoirs of an Australian Ministry”. He describes it as a wreath laid upon the grave of a trusty and well-beloved friend. “William Woolls Rutledge was one of the choicest souls that God had called of recent years into the ministry of the Methodist Church. His abilities were above the average, and his range unusually comprehensive. He was an evangelist, and had wonderful success in soul-winning in Newtown, Lithgow, Tamworth and other places in his early ministry; he was an organiser and administrator……he was skilled in Conference debate and was foremost for many years in its discussions; he was an effective platform speaker…..for social reform propaganda, for Protestant defence and aggression, and for connexional and patriotic purposes. He was of the order of ecclesiastical statesman, as was shown by his successful piloting of the Methodist Union Movement in New South Wales. The last service he rendered was in connection with the Centenary Thanksgiving Fund in 1910-15, the outstanding memorials of which are Wesley College and Leigh College. But above all, the personal qualities of W. W. Rutledge were those in which his true greatness lay. Chivalrous to an unusual degree, charitable ever in his judgements, constant with the constancy of steel to his friendships, devout in his spirit, beautifully submissive in affliction and suffering, and supremely loyal to the Lord and Saviour of us all, W. W. Rutledge was one of whom it may truly be said that being dead he yet speaketh”.

Source : http://www.geocities.com/MadisonAvenue/3333/revrut.html

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2 thoughts on “William Rutledge”

  1. Joanne, at Ku-ring-gai Historical Society we are commemorating WW1 veterans in a 4 volume book. Vol 3 is being prepared now and will include the six Rutledge boys from the two families. Could you please contact me at dwilkins@bigpond.net.au.

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