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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Le Couteur, Philip Ridgway (1885–1958)

by A. G. Thomson Zainu'ddin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Philip Ridgway Le Couteur (1885-1958), educationist, was born on 26 June 1885 at Kyneton, Victoria, only son of Methodist parents George Thomas Le Couteur, pharmaceutical chemist, and his wife Fanny Byron, née Maling, both Victorian born. Educated at Middle Park State School and Warrnambool Academy, he served an apprenticeship in a pharmacy before entering the University of Melbourne in 1903 to study arts. In 1904 he won a Queen's College residential scholarship and, graduating B.A. in 1906 with the Hastie scholarship in logic and philosophy, became a tutor there. A triple blue in cricket, football and lawn tennis, he was also active in student entertainments.

After beginning a medical degree in 1907 Le Couteur won the Victorian Rhodes scholarship for 1908 and, taking out a Melbourne M.A., proceeded to University College, Oxford, where he completed the final classical school with third-class honours. He won an Oxford cricket blue and in 1911 a place in Wisden for making 160 runs and taking 11 wickets for 69 against Cambridge. He played regularly for Gentlemen versus Players, wrote for the Windsor Magazine on the psychology of cricket, and took a great interest in the development of 'that little bowling deceit', the googly. He was also a member of the Oxford String Quartette.

Le Couteur studied experimental psychology at the University of Bonn, Germany, under Professor O. Kulpe and K. Buhler until early 1913 when he was appointed lecturer in mental and moral philosophy in the newly established University of Western Australia. He began duties in March after marrying Emma Holdsworth, the musically gifted daughter of E. H. Sugden, master of Queen's, on 8 February at the Methodist Chapel, Bedale, Yorkshire. Le Couteur worked hard to establish his department which was the first in Australia to include a psychological and pedagogical laboratory. During World War I he captained a rifle club; consideration for his young family and for his father after the deaths of his mother and sister forced a reluctant decision against enlistment.

In 1918 Le Couteur succeeded Otto Krome as headmaster of Methodist Ladies' College, Melbourne. The position proved difficult, as control of the school was shared with the foundation president W. H. Fitchett, a living legend and a bulwark against reform. For ten years Le Couteur served on various university committees and school councils and captained the Hawthorn-East Melbourne Cricket Club. Unsuccessful in applications for the headmastership of Sydney Grammar School in 1921 and the mastership of Queen's in 1927, he became head of Bishop Hale's School, Perth, in 1929. In 1931 he was appointed headmaster of Newington College, Sydney, succeeding C. J. Prescott.

Le Couteur's term at Newington covered the difficult Depression and war years, yet saw a remarkable increase in pupils and the opening of a preparatory school, Wyvern House, in 1938. With his wife Le Couteur developed the school's musical life, encouraging the belief that 'it is manly to be cultured and refined'. On retirement in 1948 he took a counselling position with Communication Engineering Ltd and maintained an interest in the Fairbridge Farm School movement.

A man for whom family ties and friendships were important, 'Pip' believed that 'education includes all those influences which enable us to get the most out of life'. He combined an ardent Platonism with Spartan simplicity. He was 'the traditional pipe-smoking, scholarly headmaster type … with a rare sense of humour … a dreamer … whose dream stuff could be (and often was) translated into reality'. He died at Gunnedah, New South Wales, on 30 June 1958 and was buried in Rookwood Methodist cemetery. His wife, two daughters and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Macmillan, Newington College 1863-1963 (Syd, 1963)
  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • R. M. Heath, A Short History of the Le Couteur and Sugden Families (Gunnedah, NSW, 1979)
  • A. G. T. Zainu'ddin, They Dreamt of a School (Melb, 1982)
  • Australian Quarterly, Dec 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Sept 1931, 10 Dec 1948
  • Bulletin, 16 July 1958
  • M. D. Hancock, Headmasters of Hale School 1890-1959 (typescript, State Library of Western Australia)
  • file 0422/255 (University of Western Australia Archives)
  • Monash papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

A. G. Thomson Zainu'ddin, 'Le Couteur, Philip Ridgway (1885–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 15 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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