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Hart, Alfred (1870–1950)

by David Bradley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Alfred Hart (1870-1950), scientist, educator and Shakespearean scholar, was born on 5 December 1870 on a farm in Cedar County, Iowa, United States of America, son of Frederick Hart, farmer, and his wife Ellen, née Latham; his parents were on a visit from Birmingham, England, and shortly returned there. Alfred arrived at Melbourne with his father, brother and sister in September 1879. He won a scholarship to Melbourne Church of England Grammar School in 1884, carrying off the Agar Wynne prizes for Latin in 1885 and Greek in 1886.

Despite a period of residence in Trinity College (1888-89) Hart did not complete a B.A. at the University of Melbourne until 1896. Reluctant to seek support from his family, he had gone schoolteaching in north-east Victoria and in Gippsland, finally becoming headmaster of St James's Grammar School, Melbourne. There he also conducted adult evening classes. Having taken his M.A. in 1901, he enrolled in natural philosophy, and next year was appointed science master at Melbourne Grammar, at the same time teaching English and business communication at the Working Men's College. On 20 February 1903 he married Teresa Jane Tucker of Bendigo and marked the year with his first publication, an anthology of extracts for schools, English Ideals, edited with M. P. Hansen. (A companion volume appeared in 1912.) Now a B.Sc. (1904), he joined the Working Men's College full time, first as instructor in mathematics, his salary supplemented by part-time tutoring at Catholic teachers' colleges, and then, in 1908, as head of the department of mathematics and physics. He retired in 1935. He devoted some of his leisure to chemistry, winning the Dixson Research Scholarship in 1906 and taking his M.Sc. in 1911. He enjoyed a small private practice as a chemical analyst for many years.

Hart was active in the post-Federation debates over technical training and state funding of secondary schools. His submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the Working Men's College (1911) illustrates his characteristic appeal for proper academic standards of technical teaching within a liberalized syllabus and he succeeded in increasing the humanities content of the curriculum of the new junior technical colleges. He was, on the other hand, convinced that the extension of technical training was a prime responsibility for a modern state, and published two pamphlets on the subject, in 1915 and 1917. As member of the standing committee of Convocation representing graduates in arts in 1924-50 he organized the Melbourne University Association, and published under its auspices a scathing attack on government parsimony: University Reform and Finance … (1936).

In 1940 a grateful university conferred a Litt.D. upon Hart, but this rare distinction was won by examination and was a recognition of his eminence in what had been a beloved pastime—the study of Shakespeare. He was at various times secretary and president of the Melbourne Shakespeare Society and one of its most regular speakers. Thirty-eight of his addresses survive. Five were collected and revised in Shakespeare and the Homilies (1934). In the remainder, seeking for 'more facts and fewer guesses' in Shakespearean scholarship, he set out to test the then current theories of the provenance of a variety of sound and suspect Shakespearean texts by arithmetical calculations of their line-lengths and vocabularies. Later in Stolne and Surreptitious Copies (1942) he argued an impressive case for the unorthodox view that the 'bad' Quartos must have originated from a double process of theatrical cutting and memorial reconstruction. Both books made lasting contributions to the international debate on the principles of Shakespearean editing, but Hart never went abroad, and his work, hampered by isolation, had been overtaken, even in 1942, by scholars overseas. A later study of Shakespearean vocabulary, the labour of six years, remains in manuscript, irrelevant now in the age of computers.

His last published work was a genial History of the Wallaby Club (1944), a record of forty-two years of companionship in that exclusive rambling and dining society. Hart died on 6 October 1950, predeceased by his wife in 1938 and by a son and a daughter, and survived by a daughter. He was buried in Fawkner cemetery. Hart had had no religious affiliation.

Select Bibliography

  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1911, 2 (14)
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Nov 1950
  • S. Murray-Smith, A History of Technical Education in Australia (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1966).

Citation details

David Bradley, 'Hart, Alfred (1870–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hart-alfred-6588/text11339, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

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