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ROBERTSON, Hume James (1860-1921)

ROBERTSON, Rev Hume James (1860-1921)

Hume Robertson during World War I.

Hume Robertson during World War I.

Hume Robertson, minister and AIF chaplain was one of six children of Rev John Dickson Robertson (c1832-1915) and Amelia nee Spencer (c1834-1911 and first lived at Yarrawonga. He entered the College briefly in 1875, re-entering in 1876, and went on to Ormond College, University of Melbourne, in 1881, where he studied theology and graduated BA.

He enlisted in the AIF on 22 November, 1915 as a Chaplain-Captain, aged 55, and embarked on 27 May, 1916 on HMAT All Ascanius for France, where he was attached to 21 Battalion in September. He transferred to 5 Battalion in December, then in May 1917 went to No 2 Australian General Hospital. He was again sent out to a battalion, this time the 37th, on 13 September 1917, where he was wounded on 12 October, then went back to No 2 AGH in March 1918. He was promoted Major on 27 May 1918.

The following account of Hume Robertson was published in Pegasus in 1918:
‘A soldier in the Motor Transport Column in France, writing to his parents, refers to an Old Geelong Collegian in these terms: "I met the Presbyterian chaplain one evening under shell fire. I was just about to go up for some wounded that were in a German 'pill-box,' when up came this chap and asked could he come on board. Of course I never noticed that he was a padre, so I said: 'Get up matey. By cripes you're taking a risk coming up here, old chap, and another thing, I'm not much good on a Ford car, so look out I don't break your neck." We got on all right, shells kept landing almost on us, and close by, and Chaplain-Captain Robertson said: "I feel just as safe here as if I was in the old Black Rock 'bus." I had to laugh. However we got there. He shook hands and wished me luck, and off he went right up to the front. He is still going strong.’

He returned to Australia in 1919, embarking on 13 April, and was demobilised on 27 August. Shortly after his return from the war, Hume Robertson became ill and after a long debilitating illness died in 1921. He was interred at Brighton Cemetery.

His ministry of 36 years was nominally exercised in the charges of Mia-Mia, Castlemaine and Brighton Beach. Hume Robertson was greatly admired and at his eulogy Rev P J Murdoch described him as having a genius for friendship, humorous, industrious and gallant. His popularity and humble dedication to the Presbyterian Church saw his many friends institute the Hume Robertson Scholarships in 1924. Founded as a memorial to Hume Robertson these scholarships were awarded at the Geelong College and Ormond College to the sons of Presbyterian ministers. At Ormond, the scholarships were available to theological students. During the war he wrote two papers which were subsequently published (probably in 1924) as a small booklet entitled 'Faith and Comfort' to coincide with the foundation of the Hume Robertson Scholarships. This booklet is held within the Geelong College Archives.

With the Rev Rentoul, he published 'The Church at Home Prayers for Australian Family Worship' in 1907.

The following obituary was published in the College Magazine Pegasus in September, 1933:
'His friends have founded two valuable scholarships, one at the College and the other at Ormond, to commemorate the name of this very gallant Geelong Collegian who both in Peace and War was worthy of his school.

Hume Robertson was conspicuous at school for the extraordinary enthusiasm which he threw into everything he undertook. This keenness of interest he never lost. Living and dying were to him rich adventures. He loved variety as boys do, loved laughter and games and good company. But he possessed also the qualities that belong more especially to manhood, dogged determination, breadth of mind, fortitude in suffering, sympathy with trouble, and fearless opposition to all that was evil.

Early in life he asked himself the question that confronts every Public School boy - ‘How can I most fully serve the world I live in ?’ He felt that he could give himself most freely as a minister of the Gospel, in making plain the things by which men live and nations endure, and in revealing through his own brotherliness the love of God to men. From this decision he never wavered, and wherever he went his joyous personality made people reconsider the meaning of religion.

All his qualities had full scope when he went as a chaplain to France. The men in the trenches found a soldier who would share their risks, and officers discovered in him a leader of men who strengthened their authority. His coolness in danger infected others with courage. After being wounded he was stationed at a large base hospital. At any hour of the night, if aeroplanes were attacking the town, he would leave his shelter and walk the wards, steadying everyone with his ready humour, prepared to lend a hand in any emergency. At this post his self-denying thoroughness revealed itself amazingly. The parents of every man in that huge house of healing received a weekly account of their boy's progress. It meant to him sometimes 100 notes a day, - what it meant to the parents they alone know.

But his life work lay mainly in Victoria, in Mia Mia, Castlemaine, and Brighton Beach. In his church at Brighton Beach a memorial service was held a few days after his death, and the Rev P J Murdoch, MA, spoke to the congregation about their minister. The words that follow are from the tribute he paid that day to the character of his friend: ‘This man, whose death we mourn, whose release from pain we rejoice in, was a man very greatly beloved - so deeply beloved that any attempt to sketch his character must disappoint his friends. Yet some such attempt I must make, and I ask your pardon for its inadequacy. Hume Robertson had a genius for friendship. He made friends wherever he went, and he retained them. He retained them by maintaining friendly intercourse and doing friendly acts. He took a great deal of trouble to do that. And he took trouble because of his friendly spirit. Friendliness was an innate disposition. He was very keen about his work; very keen about his games; but throughout work and game the human interest persisted - the friendly hand was feeling for the hand of a friend.

And this friendliness was thoroughly catholic. Men of his own profession and men outside of it, lawyers, doctors, soldiers, wise men and foolish men, women as well as men - all were grist to his mill. All were embraced by his goodwill, and all felt his spell. And so it comes about that there are few men in our community whose death would be felt by so many to be a personal loss. We deeply mourn the loss of the community, and the loss of the Church; but for all of us and for a multitude of others there is something; more intimate. We are experiencing a personal bereavement.'

Sources: Pegasus May, 1918 p37; James Affleck. Geelong Collegians at the Great War, p295; Hume Robertson. Faith and Comfort, 1918; Bendigo Advertiser 20 Feb, 1900 p3; Castlemaine Mail 22 Oct, 1917 p1; Pegasus Sept, 1933 pp8-9.
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