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Derrick, Edgar Marsh (1905–1976)

by Shurlee Swain

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Edgar Marsh Derrick (1905-1976), child welfare worker and scout commissioner, was born on 10 July 1905 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, seventh child of Victorian-born parents Albert James Derrick, architect and founding secretary of the Central Methodist Mission, and his wife Martha Evelyn, née Finlay. Educated at Swinburne Technical College, Edgar initially worked as a commercial artist, but his great love was scouting. A founding member of Victoria's first cub pack (1st Camberwell), he rose to be scoutmaster of the Armadale troop. His enthusiasm for hard work earned him the nickname of 'Bus' (short for 'bus-horse') which stayed with him for the rest of his scouting career. In 1927 he was employed as quartermaster at State headquarters until he contracted tuberculosis. On his recovery he was advised by doctors never to return to indoor work.

In 1929 Derrick accepted a voluntary position as assistant-commissioner for leader training in the scouts; he was to hold the post for twenty years. Tally Ho, a farm at Burwood for homeless and delinquent boys founded by the Central Methodist Mission in 1903, had been going through turbulent times since the death of its founder Rev. George Cole in 1919. In July 1930 Derrick informed the mission's executive-committee of his interest in the institution; with Rev. Irving Benson's support, he was installed as superintendent that month.

In his twenty-seven years at Tally Ho, Derrick earned a reputation as an innovator. He believed that a bad boy was made, not born. Hence reformation was possible 'by removal from his old environment, the formation of new and more wholesome friendships . . . and the development of an ambition to succeed'. Using the ideas of Homer Lane, an American, Derrick created a society in miniature, with its own courts and parliament constituted by the boys, all of whom had jobs for which they were paid; the money was used to buy food and clothing, to pay for entertainment and to meet fines imposed by the courts for misdemeanours. Good behaviour was rewarded with stars which could be redeemed for extra privileges. While the system was not without its faults, it was a revolutionary change in an institution where corporal punishment had been the norm.

On 31 March 1934 at Wesley Church, Melbourne, Derrick married Hazel May Dalton, a fellow staff member who then took on the role of matron. During their tenure the institution expanded to include a training farm, Woodlands, at Lilydale. Never content with the traditional model, Derrick was an early advocate of both campus and scattered cottages, co-education in juvenile institutions, as well as secondary education and city-based hostels for boys unsuited to farm work. After World War II he was able to bring some of these ideas to fruition in the reconstruction of Tally Ho on the cottage system which allowed a more family-like atmosphere and greater recognition of individual needs.

Through his membership of a range of child-welfare organizations, Derrick helped to change the way in which the state cared for its wards. He was particularly influential in the establishment of training courses for child-care workers. A member of the committees of the Child Welfare Advisory Council, the National Fitness Council and the Victorian Council of Social Service (president 1954-56), he was vice-chairman of the Australian Social Welfare Council and chairman of the Youth Council of Victoria. In 1958 he was appointed M.B.E.

Derrick had continued to be involved in scouting. Appointed full-time commissioner for training and development in 1957, he became national secretary in 1965. He was also a prolific contributor to Victorian Scout and received a series of awards culminating in the silver kangaroo in 1971. Although he relinquished the national secretaryship in 1973, he maintained his interest in the movement and was a much-loved guest at troop meetings and camps. He died on 25 September 1976 at Glen Waverley and was cremated; his wife, daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. W. King, Dreams Become Deeds (Melb, 1986)
  • Central Methodist Mission, Annual Report, 1931-57
  • Victorian Scout, Mar 1973, Oct 1976
  • Spectator (Melbourne), 27 Sept 1950, 30 July 1952, 1 Dec 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 15, 25 July 1957, 1 Jan 1958, 24 Aug 1963
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15 July 1957, 27 Sept 1976
  • Tally Ho records (Wesley Central Parish Mission Archives, Wesley Central Mission, Melbourne).

Citation details

Shurlee Swain, 'Derrick, Edgar Marsh (1905–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/derrick-edgar-marsh-9956/text17639, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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