Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Franklin, Richard Penrose (1884–1942)

by Manning Clark

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

Richard Penrose Franklin (1884-1942), by Bernard Hall, c1920

Richard Penrose Franklin (1884-1942), by Bernard Hall, c1920

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3644551

Richard Penrose Franklin (1884-1942), schoolmaster and educationist, was born on 28 November 1884 at Surbiton, London, son of Samuel Franklin, solicitor, and his wife Julia Reed, née Gould. He was educated at Borlase School, Marlow, and at St Paul's School, London, where he distinguished himself both in the schoolroom and on the playing field. He was captain of the school in 1903-04 and played in the cricket and football teams. In 1904 he became an undergraduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he obtained a first-class honour in the classical tripos. He won a blue for athletics. In 1908 he migrated to Victoria to join the firm of Dalgety & Co. Ltd. Finding that his interests lay elsewhere he decided to try his hand at schoolmastering. In the last term of 1910 he joined the staff of the Geelong Church of England Grammar School. In the following year he became the senior housemaster and senior classical master of the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), where his brother Charles was also a teacher. In 1915 he applied for and was appointed headmaster of the Melbourne Church of England Grammar School.

In February 1917 Franklin enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, and became a lieutenant in the artillery. He returned to Australia on 6 May 1919. He received a most enthusiastic welcome on resuming his duties as headmaster. By then he was known to the boys of the school as 'Lofty' because of his tall, slim figure. By then many boys had been privileged to get to know the inspiring teacher, and the warm friend behind the reserve which he presented to the world. The 1920s was to be the flowering time of his life.

A passionate believer in education in Greek and Latin as the foundation of a career in the professions, or public life or the Church, he urged all talented boys to study both those subjects. To assist him he was fortunate to have on the staff such brilliant teachers of the classics as Carl Kaeppel and Harold Hunt, later professor of classics at the University of Melbourne. Whether this policy was beneficial to the other pupils remains one of the unanswerable questions. The policy produced results both at school examinations and at the university. The Franklin argument was that classics was the foundation for success in medicine, law, natural sciences, and the humanities. The Franklin argument was that boys must learn to decide for themselves what was right and wrong, what was true and what was false.

Under his direction the school enjoyed a similar success on the sporting field. Franklin's idea of the good man had been influenced more by Greek ideas than Christian teaching. Believing in the Greek maxims of 'Know thyself', 'Moderation in all things' and 'Avoid excess', he taught generations at the school the Greek idea of harmony, of balance between the Dionysian and the Apollonian elements in a human being. Discipline and restraint came, in his opinion, as much from the playing fields as the classroom. In his own field as a coach of high jump, long jump and hurdles he produced outstanding performers.

Franklin became prominent in the public life of education, notably as president of the Headmasters' Association and of the Headmasters' Conference of Australia. He was vice-chairman of the Soldiers' Children Education Board, and an active member of the Council of Public Education.

During a visit to Scotland in 1935 to attend an educational conference he contracted a severe chill. One his return to Melbourne he was granted six months leave of absence. As his health did not improve during that convalescence in June 1936 he accepted medical advice that he should resign the headmastership of the Melbourne Grammar School. He died on 12 October 1942 at Toorak. He did not marry. He was cremated after a memorial service in the school chapel.

Estimates of Franklin's work at the Melbourne Grammar School have differed rather sharply. Those in a position to benefit from his belief in the classics, and those privileged to get to know the man behind the forbidding exterior never lost their enthusiasm, their gratitude or their affection. Others believed it was a mistake to put such emphasis on the classics when education was moving so swiftly towards the sciences and the social, sciences. Even those not in a position to benefit from any educational policy realized that they had the good fortune to grow up in the presence of a mighty spirit.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis (Melb, 1965)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 9 June 1927
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Oct 1942
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 Oct 1942
  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School Archives.

Citation details

Manning Clark, 'Franklin, Richard Penrose (1884–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/franklin-richard-penrose-6234/text10727, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 October 2014.

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

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