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Clemes, Samuel (Sammy) (1845–1922)

by William N. Oats

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Samuel Clemes (1845-1922), educationist, was born on 25 December 1845 at Liskeard, Cornwall, England, son of Samuel Clemes, hatter, and his wife Jane, née Willis. Both parents became teachers at Ackworth Friends' School, Yorkshire. Samuel was orphaned at the age of 5 and brought up by his uncle at St Austell, Cornwall. He attended the Friends' Sidcot School, Somerset, in 1857-59, and worked in the drapery business, but his interest in teaching and mission work led to his acceptance by the Friends' Foreign Mission Association for training at the Flounders' Institute, Yorkshire, in 1870-71. After a year's teaching apprenticeship at Rawdon School he married an Ackworth teacher, Susannah Hall, and they went as missionaries to Tananarive, Madagascar. Susannah's ill health caused their return to Yorkshire in 1882, and she died at Sowerby. Clemes then became head teacher at Wigton Friends' School, Cumberland, and on 12 July 1884 in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, he married Susannah's sister Margaret.

In 1886 Clemes was appointed as headmaster of a proposed Friends' school in Hobart, Tasmania, and, with his family, sailed in the Tainui on 12 August. Friends' High School opened at Warwick Street, Hobart, on 31 January 1887 with thirty-three students; it moved to larger premises at Hobartville, North Hobart, in 1889. The school was unique as a co-educational day and boarding establishment with pupils from all Australian colonies and New Zealand. His leadership and geniality did much to create its sense of community while Margaret Clemes's help gave a family atmosphere to the boarding house.

Clemes emphasized the teaching of science, an attitude stemming from his pioneering interest in chemistry as a subject at Wigton. He also stressed physical and technical education, believing the latter should be part of every student's programme, not for vocational reasons, but because manual skills had a moral value; his introduction of the Sloyd System was in advance of contemporary practice. A distinctive feature of the extra-curricular programme was 'Education for Leisure', and through the school's Natural History and Essay Society Clemes encouraged exploration of the countryside, collection of fossils, plants and specimens and systematic recording.

Clemes was a frequent public lecturer in chemistry and geology in Hobart. He travelled as far as Queensland as a minister of the Society of Friends. He was honorary secretary in 1897-1910, chairman in 1910-15 and president in 1915-22 of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb Institution; a member of the Royal Society of Tasmania from 1910; a foundation member of the Hobart Young Men's Christian Association and president of the Tasmanian Council of Churches.

Clemes resigned in June 1900 after misunderstandings with the committee of his school, and that year he established Leslie House School in Pirie Street, New Town—it moved to Boa Vista in Argyle Street in 1907. It also flourished as a 'family' school with an emphasis on character development. The kindergarten was based on Froebel's ideas and Madame Montessori's methods were later introduced. Clemes died on 25 October 1922 in New Town and was buried in the Society of Friends' section of Cornelian Bay cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, the elder of whom, William, had followed his father in 1915 as headmaster of Leslie House School, renamed Clemes College in 1922—in 1946 it was amalgamated with The Friends' School.

Clemes was regarded by many as an innovator fifty years ahead of his times. He was outspoken in his opposition to prizes and marks, having faith that students would pursue learning for its own sake. His announcement in 1887 that no homework would be set drew much public comment. To hundreds of his pupils he was affectionately known as 'Old Sammy'. One of these wrote: 'The traditional relation of master and pupil did not exist between him and us, for we always felt that in him we had a sincere and approachable friend … With him, religion was not a creed to be believed, but a life to be lived. His constant advice to his pupils was that they should aim at growing up good, rather than great or clever'.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • I. M. Shoobridge, Samuel Clemes 1845-1922 (Hob, 1933)
  • W. N. Oats, The Friends' School, 1887-1961 (Hob, 1961)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 3 Nov 1886, 26-28 Oct 1922
  • Weekly Courier (Launceston), 2 Nov 1922
  • W. N. Oats, The Friends' School Hobart: Formation and Early Development (M.Ed. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1976).

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Citation details

William N. Oats, 'Clemes, Samuel (Sammy) (1845–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clemes-samuel-sammy-5683/text9603, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 June 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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