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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Blanch, George Ernest (1864–1920)

by I. V. Hansen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

George Ernest Blanch (1864-1920), educationist, was born on 30 July 1864 at Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England, son of Joseph Benson Blanch, a Wesleyan minister of yeoman stock, and his wife Mary Spencer, née Hall. Blanch was educated at Kingswood School, Bath, and went up to Christ Church, Oxford, on a natural science scholarship. He graduated B.A. with first-class honours in chemistry in 1886 (M.A., 1890), and had also entered for the examinations of the University of London, where he graduated B.Sc. in pure mathematics, chemistry and physics in 1886.

That year, after beginning to read for the Bar, Blanch became a science demonstrator to the London School Board. He was responsible for the subject's teaching in three districts, giving experimental lectures in chemistry and physics to teachers and to the older boys in selected schools; he also supervised the work of school-board teachers.

In 1890 he was appointed to Sydney Grammar School by A. B. Weigall and took up his duties as senior mathematical and science master next year. Through the Teachers' Association of New South Wales (formed in 1892), and at his own school, Blanch pressed the claims of science as a means of strengthening pupils' powers of observation and reasoning. He contributed towards an increasingly respectful view of science as a liberal study. In 1894 he was in charge while Weigall was on a year's leave in England.

Blanch became headmaster of Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in February 1899. The 1890s had been a trying time but enrolments increased fourfold during Blanch's sixteen years at the school. He caught its fortunes as the tide turned, and his signal contribution was the harnessing of old boys' enthusiasm for the school; he also reinvigorated the prefect system. With the school in excellent heart, Blanch unexpectedly accepted the headship of Christ's College, Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 1914. He was diabetic, and hoped to find a less demanding post.

Christ's College had no academic pretensions, its boys coming from comfortable landed families. Blanch found himself accepting a task of reformation a second time. He saw the school through the war years, encouraging both patriotism and science. Numerous building projects to cope with increasing enrolments were begun under his guidance.

Blanch died of influenza on 18 September 1920 at the school and was buried in Linwood cemetery. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Standing Committee of the Anglican synod and of the Diocesan Education Board in Christchurch. He was of gentle demeanour, with a courtly manner but firm resolve. A copy of his portrait (original destroyed by fire), held by Melbourne Grammar School, shows a man of apparent softness but with steel underneath. On 13 February 1896 at Hove, Sussex, England, he had married Margaret Cochrane Whyte McLean; she survived him, together with a son and two daughters, one of whom married (Vice Admiral Sir) Roy Dowling.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Melburnian, Dec 1898, Dec 1914, May, Dec 1915, Dec 1920
  • Punch (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1911
  • G. E. Blanch, Letter to Edwin Bean, 1 May 1890 (Sydney Grammar School Library)
  • Christ's College register, Dec 1920 (Canterbury, New Zealand).

Citation details

I. V. Hansen, 'Blanch, George Ernest (1864–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 9 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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