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Hanger, Thomas (1874–1964)

by Tom Watson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Thomas Hanger (1874-1964), headmaster, was born on 27 January 1874 at Rockhampton, Queensland, son of Richard Hanger, a wheelwright from England, and his Scottish-born wife Elizabeth, née Cherry. Thomas was educated at Bogantungan Provisional and Rockhampton Central Boys schools. Of these years he later wrote: 'A fair measure of the culture of any community is the treatment its parents hand out to their own children and, judged by this test, the community was degraded'. Denied the opportunity of a scholarship to Rockhampton Grammar School owing to his family's poverty, he embarked unenthusiastically upon the grind of a teaching career. In 1887 he joined the Department of Public Instruction as a pupil-teacher at Rockhampton Central Boys' School with an annual salary of £30. He was appointed to Maryborough in 1896 as an assistant-teacher (£114 a year) and returned to Rockhampton Central in 1899. On 2 July 1902 at Murray Street, Rockhampton, he married with Congregational forms Myfanwy Granville-Jones, a fellow teacher.

As head teacher (£200 per annum), from February 1903 he taught at Jericho, near Barcaldine, where he and his wife spent their early married life. Standing on the school verandah, he turned away in pity at the first sight of his pupils' bloodshot and scorched eyes, but it was at this place that he learned to appreciate the scent of bush flowers, 'the beauty of dawn and sunset' and the 'fragrance of the smoke from gum-sticks as the billy boils'. Postings followed at Mount Chalmers (1909-11), Rockhampton North Boys' School (1912-13) and Maryborough West (1914-16). By means of an external course at the University of Queensland (B.A., 1914) he earned a 'garret-room degree' which enabled him to pursue his life's-work as the much respected headmaster of Gympie High School between 1916 and 1940.

The highly centralized educational system influenced and fashioned Hanger, but did not crush his spirit of individualism. He rejected official creeds, yet held firmly to a disciplined code, regarding the school and the teacher as moral forces in an amoral world. Many of his senior pupils—including his son Mostyn and daughter Eunice—won scholarships to the university. Hanger cultivated a deep love of literature and music, and physical culture became a daily habit. Although he retired in June 1940, he taught, part time, his favourite subject, mathematics, at the Church of England Grammar School, Brisbane, until November 1949. His vivid memoir, Sixty Years in Queensland Schools, was published in Sydney in 1963. At the age of 90 he wrote an article for the Queensland Teachers' Journal (May 1964) in which he reflected on his career and concluded, 'few men can have richer blessings to count'.

Survived by his wife, son and four daughters, Hanger died on 18 July 1964 at Rainworth, Brisbane; in accordance with his request, he was buried in Jericho cemetery, with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Colebrook, A House of Trees (Lond, 1988)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 21 July 1964
  • Hanger staff card, History Unit, Queensland Department of Education, Brisbane
  • Hanger family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Tom Watson, 'Hanger, Thomas (1874–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hanger-thomas-10409/text18447, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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