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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wilkin, Frederick John (1855–1940)

by Jill Manton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Frederick John Wilkin (1855-1940), Baptist clergyman, was born on 3 May 1855 at Cambridge, England, eldest of ten children of William Wilkin, master shoemaker, and his wife Emma, née Allen. In 1861 the family migrated to Victoria and settled at Castlemaine where William set up business as a boot repairer. They became active members of the newly constituted (1862) Baptist Church. By the age of 19 Frederick had decided to enter the Christian ministry. Accepted as a ministerial candidate by the Victorian Baptist Association home mission committee, he began his training in 1875 at the Congregational College at Carlton, Melbourne. Three years later he was appointed minister of Eaglehawk Baptist Church. On 10 September 1878 at Carlton he married with Congregational forms Louisa Jane Thwaites, a teacher at Fitzroy Model School.

In 1880 Wilkin moved to a pastorate at Kerang from where, for nineteen years, he undertook pioneering home mission work, travelling widely to establish preaching stations in northern Victoria. During this period he wrote tracts, published articles in the Kerang Home Missionary (which he edited) and took part in public debates on social issues. He was an irrigation enthusiast and a crusader for the temperance movement. In 1899-1906 Wilkin served at Brighton, Melbourne. He was also home mission superintendent for Victoria in 1892-1911 (full time from 1906).

A keen scholar, Wilkin continued extramural studies at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1892; M.A., 1896) and the Melbourne College of Divinity (B.D., 1914; D.D., 1921). From 1912 until his retirement in 1937, he exercised a significant influence over the training of denominational leaders through his work as tutor and (from 1920) professor of theology at the Victorian Baptist Theological College.

President of the Victorian Baptist Association (later Union) in 1894-95 and secretary in 1912, 1914-20 and 1923, Wilkin was also secretary of the advisory board and the home mission committee, as well as editor of the denominational paper, the Southern Baptist. He published A Romance of Home Missions (1927) and Baptists in Victoria (1939). A strong advocate of a Baptist Union of Australia, he served from 1926 as foundation secretary of its educational board. From 1914 he led an annual ministers' retreat at his Anglesea holiday home which was later given to the Baptist Union of Victoria for the same purpose.

Amiable and bearded, with twinkling eyes beneath rather fierce brows, Wilkin was known as the 'grand old man' of the Victorian Baptists; he was respected for his leadership and loved for his warmth and humility. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 10 January 1940 at his Canterbury home and was buried in Box Hill cemetery; two daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • B. S. Brown, Members One of Another (Melb, 1962)
  • Victorian Baptist Witness, 6 June 1938, 5 Feb 1940
  • J. G. Manning, Frederick John Wilkin, (manuscript, 1984, Baptist Union of Victoria Archives)
  • I. D. Chalmers, The Life of Dr F. J. Wilkin and his Contribution to Baptists in Victoria, (unpublished paper, 1988, Baptist Union of Victoria Archives).

Citation details

Jill Manton, 'Wilkin, Frederick John (1855–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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