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Dixon, Horace Henry (1869–1964)

by C. G. Pearce

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

Horace Henry Dixon (1869-1964), schoolmaster and bishop, was born on 1 August 1869 at Cambridge, England, one of eleven children of Thomas Dixon, bookseller, and his wife Lucy Ellen, née Eastgate. Starting his career as a teacher, he worked for three years as a housemaster at Warkworth House, Cambridge, before graduating through Fitzwilliam Hall (for non-collegiate students), Cambridge (B.A., 1892; M.A., 1908). Ordained in St Alban's Abbey (deacon 1893, priest 1894) he served in the parishes of Epping in 1893-94, St Michael and All Angels, Walthamstow, in 1894-97 and St Matthew's, Burnley, in 1898-99, and worked briefly in the East End of London. On 23 November 1897 at Margate, Kent, he married Florence Marie Godbold (d.1932).

Bishop William Webber recruited Dixon for Queensland. Arriving in Brisbane in 1899, he was assigned to Southport, an immense parish covering more than 2000 sq. miles (5000 km²) from Beenleigh to the New South Wales border; he had to cover it all on horseback. He was constantly reminded that Southport was the main seaside resort of southern Queensland, and it occurred to him that the town was the natural centre for a school. He discussed the idea in 1901 with two men who knew the district well, E. J. Stevens, M.L.A., and Dr R. S. Berry, who practised in Southport. Both promised support. A group of buildings on the Nerang River, known as 'Government House and Estate' had been used as a summer residence by governors of Queensland but was no longer required. Dixon secured a one-year lease of the property rent free if he paid for repairs, with an option to purchase after three years for £1000. Webber was sympathetic but the diocese was unable to finance the scheme and it was eventually arranged that Dixon would accept personal responsibility. If the school proved successful, the Church would take it over as soon as possible as a diocesan school for boys.

Financed by a loan from his sponsors, the repairs were undertaken by Dixon and helpers. Two boarders entered the school in September 1901. There were six boarders and 1 or 2 day-boys at the beginning of 1902, about 35 boys at the end of 1903 and 45 at the end of 1904. That year the number of applications encouraged him to proceed with purchase of the buildings and four acres (1.6 ha) of land as soon as the lease expired. He relinquished his incumbency of St Peter's parish, Southport, in 1905. Help was difficult to obtain and he found his spare time occupied with carpentering, woodcutting, clearing, road-mending or repairing machinery; electric light did not reach the school till 1920 and town water about 1930.

Energetic and a visionary, Dixon stamped himself as a colourful schoolmaster. He aimed at 'the highest possible moral and physical attainment'. By a combination of showmanship and bluff and intimate knowledge of his pupils, he earned great popularity with them. Sometimes stern and hard, he was often witty and full of fun, enjoyed a practical joke, and respected those who could take it and look after themselves. He had a most impressive sonorous voice and manner so that congregations listened to him almost with awe. About 1903 the boys nicknamed him 'Jimmy', and his assistant master 'Joey', after the Aboriginals Jimmy Governor and his brother Joe, outlawed in New South Wales. The name stuck to Dixon all his life.

The school became recognized in 1907 as the diocesan school for boys and in 1913 it was taken over by the diocese and renamed the Southport School. Dixon carried on, participating keenly and successfully in football, cricket, tennis, shooting, rowing and cadets, besides teaching in class and acting as chaplain. He retired in December 1929, leaving one of the best-known and largest boarding schools in Queensland with over two hundred boarders.

Dixon had been a controversial figure who was not always appreciated. He was a strong man who rarely failed to get his own way, but the academic standards of the school and its emphasis on sport were criticized. Few of the sons of graziers who made up the great majority of the boys were interested in proceeding to higher education; but in the late 1920s standards did improve markedly.

An honorary canon since 1919, Dixon was appointed in 1930 canon residentiary at St John's Cathedral and archdeacon of Brisbane; he became dean of Brisbane in 1931, and was consecrated bishop coadjutor in 1932, receiving an honorary doctorate from the Australian College of Theology. He was disappointed not to be elected archbishop in 1934 and did not get on well with Archbishop John Wand. As an administrator Dixon had some reputation for treating junior clergy like schoolboys. Much of his work came to be concentrated on directing the Queensland Social Service League. He was on friendly terms with Wand's successor, Archbishop Sir Reginald Halse. Said to be the world's oldest active Anglican prelate, Dixon was appointed C.B.E. in 1960 and retired next year. In his latter years, groups of Southport old boys made a practice of visiting him on his birthday. He died on 8 November 1964 at St Martin's Private Hospital and was buried in Lutwyche cemetery. He was survived by his wife Enid Rose, née Morgan-Jones, whom he had married on 15 August 1936, and by the two sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, Here, My Son (Syd, 1950)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland 1860-1960 (Canb, 1968)
  • H. H. Power, Bush Doctor (Adel, 1970)
  • Church of England, Diocese of Brisbane, Church Chronicle, 1 Dec 1964
  • Queenslander, 14 Sept 1918, 3 Oct 1929, 19 Mar, 31 Dec 1931, 7 Jan 1932
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 20 Feb 1961, 9 Nov 1964
  • RHSQJ, 10 (1975), no 1, and for bibliography
  • K. Rayner, The History of the Church of England in Queensland (Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1962)
  • Diocesan council Committtee on The Southport School, Report 1909 (Church of England Diocesan Archives, Brisbane).

Citation details

C. G. Pearce, 'Dixon, Horace Henry (1869–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dixon-horace-henry-5982/text10209, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 November 2018.

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

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