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DAVIDSON, Arthur Irving (1875-1961)

DAVIDSON, Rev Arthur Irving (1875-1961)


Presbyterian Minister, Military Chaplain and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria in 1936, Rev Arthur Irving Davidson was a dedicated member of the Ministry with a profound impact on the Presbyterian Church. Known as ‘Irving’ he was an associate of the Geelong College Principal from 1920, Sir Francis Rolland. While he was overseas in England, Irving performed the marriage ceremony for Francis Rolland and Aline Ballance.

Rev Arthur Irving Davidson

Arthur Irving Davidson


Born on 28 August 1875, Irving was enrolled at the Geelong College on 12 February 1889. His address at entry was Myers St, Geelong. It is possibly Irving who won the following prizes listed in the 1889 Annual Report. These were awarded to an A J Davidson however Irving was the only Davidson at the College in 1889:
1st, Latin, 4th Class
1st, Greek, 4th Class
2nd, Euclid, 4th Class
2nd, French, 4th Class
1st, Scripture, 4th Class

He later followed his father into the ministry. With sporting and academic success throughout school and University, he passed through the Theological Hall at Ormond College and in 1901 graduated MA in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who later became King George V and Queen Mary.

Irving acted as minister of the Ryrie Street congregation while his father visited the Holy Land and Great Britain; Irving also assisted at Scots Church. He had been a student minister at Neerim South where he met and later married Alice Hopwood nee McCulloch, the daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth McCulloch. Her father Sam, was the second son of the Laird of Chippermore, and followed his brothers, William and James McCulloch to Australia where they had a carrying business at Echuca. Alice was named after the daughter of Henry Hopwood who had the first pontoon bridge across the Murray River, enabling stock and provisions to be moved interstate to supply the rapidly-increasing population on the Goldfields.

During his university vacations, Irving went to the Western District to work as a tutor to the Ramsay family near Birregurra. When he heard that a new church was being built at Noorat, he was called as minister to the congregation there as his first charge in 1902 with his wife, Alice. The church had separated from Terang Presbyterian Church and the bluestone church had been built in memory of the Hon Niel Black, MLC. The Session recorded their appreciation of Rev A Irving Davidson of his ‘untiring zeal, activity and earnestness displayed in building up the Church in Noorat and Glenormiston during the six years of his ministry’ . During their stay at Noorat the young couple had three children born at Noorat.

In 1908, he moved with his family to Carlton after the Home Mission Department of the Presbyterian Church asked Irving to work in the difficult inner city mission of Fitzroy. In 1910 Irving was called to Eaglehawk, Bendigo where he instigated the building of a new church at Marong. His name can be seen there prominently engraved on the foundation stone. Multiple services in scattered centres were still part of a minister's life so he travelled by horse and buggy for miles through the bush to attend small wooden churches.

On 9 February 1916, Irving responded to a request for chaplains to serve in the war and resigned from the Eaglehawk parish. The 40 year old Irving enlisted with the 37th Battalion on 1 March 1916 and from 1916 - 1918 served with it as Chaplain Captain through its training days at Seymour, its voyage on the army transport Persic via Cape Town, more training at Salisbury near Stonehenge and finally, in Flanders and France, in the mud and battles of Armentieres and Messines. After Messines, the battalion was sent to a rest camp at Bleqin near St. Omer and from there, Irving was sent home. "The History of the Thirty-seventh Battalion" by N G McNicol, contains an appreciation of his work with the troops. After the war, many of them held church parades at Hawthorn, to hear their old chaplain.

With Irving away, his family moved to Camberwell and attended the church of Rev P J Murdoch. Alice kept busy with the wives of his battalion who sewed and made up parcels to send to the troops - she made him a waistcoat from the backs of kid gloves stitched together, which his grandchildren treasure today.

Rev Arthur Irving Davidson (courtesy H Jones)

Arthur Irving Davidson (courtesy H Jones)

Irving was discharged on 26 February 1918 and returned to Melbourne. In March, he took a service in the vacant charge at Hawthorn and towards the end of April was called to that congregation and an association with Scotch College, Stratherne, MLC and Tintern began when their boarders attended his services. In 1919, because of the Spanish Influenza plague, services were held outside under the date palms. He promoted youth groups, Sunday School, annual picnics, bible classes, physical culture clubs, tennis teams and later during the depression when young men were out of work, Irving led them on long hikes to occupy their time. On Anzac Days, the Scotch College cadets would march to church led by a highland pipe band. Irving Davidson in full military uniform and regalia would preach a stirring sermon, not as glorification of war but as an inspiration in altruism and was much in demand to speak at other services. When the Shrine of Remembrance was opened, he stood on the steps with the Duke of Gloucester and led the assembled gathering in the Lord's Prayer.

While in France, Irving had seen that religious observance cut across the barriers of denomination and he pursued the cause of Church Union. He directed his sermons toward it and one of his addresses for children was based on the theme that unity is strength. He demonstrated this with sticks which he invited a child to break singly and then in a bundle. Although the motion for Union was defeated in the Presbyterian Assembly, Irving continued to advocate unity and in his eighties, attended a fully representative ecumenical service held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Irving taught in several schools and sat on the School Councils of Stratherne, Scotch College and Ormond College.

When Scotch College moved from its early East Melbourne site out to Hawthorn, Irving was involved in the re-use of the East Melbourne site as St. Andrew's Hospital, Chalmers Hostel for Girls and the Presbyterian Babies' Home until it moved to Canterbury.

In 1936, Irving became the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria. During this period, he travelled widely and his name is recorded on various foundation stones, wall plaques and honour boards around Victoria. He was particularly involved in work of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria which, on his death, noted his contribution: ‘He was an examiner for the College Committee of the General Assembly of Australia from 1904 to 1918 and for varying periods he was convenor of the following committees - Deaconess Training (GAA), Architecture, Girls' Hostel, Hospitality, Assembly Exchanges and Budget and Finance Organisation. … He was a man of personal charm, a good musician, a good mixer and a faithful presbyter.’ He had the gift of organisation and boundless energy. His manner was easy with plenty of humour.

Irving stayed at Hawthorn for 22 years retiring in 1940 at the age of 65. With the outbreak of World War II he returned to chaplain duties with the military forces. He was appointed Staff Chaplain with the rank of Squadron-Leader in the Air Force for a period, after which he resumed his Army commission as Chaplain Captain. These various appointment involved considerable air travel to distant bases in Australia, including Darwin. He received the Efficiency Decoration in recognition of his services.

After the War, he did relief preaching, often travelling to take services in country churches, then he became a hospital chaplain, working in the public hospitals and for a short time, chaplain to Pentridge, then at Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital for many years. Irving retired to live in North Balwyn which was expanding and he could see the need for a new parish so he gathered parishioners at his home who formed a committee to establish the new Church of St. Aidan's. Rev Irving Davidson died 5 September 1961.

James Affleck notes that Rev Irving Davidson’s diary for the period September 1915 to 26 February 1918 and entitled A Padre’s Reminiscences is held by the Australian War Memorial.

Irving’s father, Reverend Arthur Davidson was Minister of the Ryrie Street Presbyterian church from 1879 for 35 years until 1914 and retired due to ill health. In 1911 the congregation agreed to move to Newtown and formed the new St. David's Presbyterian Church and on 28/2/1914, Arthur Davidson laid the foundation stone. The Davidson family lived in Myers Street (now Geneva House) which was the manse for the bluestone Ryrie Street church, known as the Steeple Church (later the GAMA theatre and now forms part of the GPAC complex). His mother was Helen 'Nell' Prichard who had arrived with her parents and family in 1852 aboard the Eldorado from Monmouth, Scotland. Irving inherited a distinct cleft in his chin ‘the Prichard dimple’ which is also noticeable in the next three generations.

Irving's brother, Keith McMillan Davidson (1885-1967), was also enrolled at the College.

The above is from a biography written by and courtesy of Heather Jones; Image courtesy Heather Jones; References listed by Heather Jones include: Fouchery Antoine Letters from a Miner in Australia - Antoine Fouchery; Georgian House, 1965; Prichard, Katherine Susanna (KS Prichard is acousin of A I Davidson. She describes the first days of the Prichard family in Australia. Brownbill W R The History of Geelong and Corio Bay. Wilkes and Co 1965. (The Presbyterians forming a cricket club met with the approval of Arthur Davidson-’there is nothing wrong in playing cricket, only sickly religious sentimentalism can suppose there is.’; Davidson, Nancy May Extended Family Peter Gore Davidson, 1975; Collins, Dale Victoria's My Home Ground - Dale Collins, published by Cheshire; Morris, Allan. Rich River - (history of Echuca, Henry Hopwood and the McCulloch Carrying Company); McCulloch, Prof. Samuel Clyde Untitled Publication (Grandson of William McCulloch); The Rolling Years: Noorat Church Centenary Booklet; Stirling, Craig. Scarlet Blossom (Pseudonym of Helen McCulloch) McCulloch family history.: The Biography of Rev. Dr. Davis McCaughey - details of the Manse family at Lorne.

In 2011, Rev Arthur Davidson was inducted into the Old Geelong Collegians' Association (OGCA) Notables Gallery.


Sources: Heather Jones Family History; Affleck James Geelong Collegians’ at the Great War p165.
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