RENTOUL, John Laurence (1846-1926)


RENTOUL, John Laurence (1846-1926)
Presbyterian divine
son of the Rev. James B. Rentoul, D.D., was born at Garvah, County Derry, Ireland, in 1846. He was educated at Queen's College, Belfast, and Queen's University, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1867 and M.A. in 1868, with first-class honours and the gold medal for English literature, history and economic science. He also did post-graduate work at Leipzig. Entering the Presbyterian ministry, he became incumbent of St George's church, Southport, Lancashire, and while there married Annie Isobel, daughter of D. T. Rattray. Early in 1879 he came to St George's church, St Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne. Five years later he was appointed professor in the theological hall, Ormond College, university of Melbourne, his subjects being Hebrew and Old Testament Criticism, New Testament Greek, and Christian Philosophy. While still under 40 years of age he was given the degree of D.D. by the Theological Faculty of Ireland. At Ormond he exercised a great influence over many generations of candidates for the Presbyterian ministry, and was a conspicuous figure in all the counsels of his church. He showed great ability in conducting religious controversies, for which he was equipped with wide reading and knowledge of the languages of the original texts. He stated once that he never entered on a fight willingly, but once the contest had started he fought with great vigour and, many of his friends thought, with a full appreciation of the joy of combat. It was not for nothing that he was popularly known as "Fighting Larry"; but he had no ill-will to his opponents and never bore rancour. He was made moderator-general of his church for 1912-14, and when war broke out was appointed chaplain-general of the A.I.F. His last years were clouded by the long illness of his wife following an accident, and the break-down of his younger son, a youth of extraordinary promise, while studying for his examinations. Rentoul died suddenly on 15 April 1926 leaving a widow, two sons and two daughters. He was the author of From Far Lands; Poems of North and South, published in 1914, and At Vancouver's Well and Other Poems of South and North, 1917. His poetry has been praised, a good example of it is "Australia" which was included in The Oxford Book of Australasian Verse, but though fervid and deeply felt, it is seldom of high quality. In prose Rentoul published in 1896, The Early Church and the Roman Claims, which ran into six editions. He also wrote The Church at Home; Prayers for Australian Households, and several pamphlets.
Rentoul was somewhat frail-looking but was in reality strong and active, showing much endurance during his yearly trout-fishing holidays in New Zealand. He was interested in the aborigines and all oppressed people, and incurred some odium by taking up the cause of the Boers at the time of the South African war. He was a fine scholar, learning all his life, and his erudition, keen wit, versatility, strength of conviction, and scorn of compromise, made him a remarkable preacher and lecturer. As a debater he had great readiness in retort, and in developing his argument his words flowed with an almost volcanic passion. He was not without foibles and there was a streak of genius in him. In private life he was courteous, kindly and generous, a man who would do anything to help a friend—or a foe. His elder daughter, Annie Rattray Rentoul, wrote verse with some ability. A list of volumes of her songs which were set to music will be found in Serle's A Bibliography of Australasian Poetry and Verse. The younger daughter, Ida Sherbourne, afterwards Mrs Outhwaite, became well-known as an illustrator of fairy tales.
The Age and The Argus, Melbourne, 16 April 1926; The Presbyterian Messenger, 23 and 30 April 1926; P. S. Cleary, Australia's Debt to Irish Nation Builders; Who's Who, 1926.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.


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