Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Macarthur, George Fairfowl (1825–1890)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

George Fairfowl Macarthur (1825-1890), Anglican clergyman and schoolmaster, was born on 19 January 1825 at The Vineyard, Parramatta, the third son of Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur and Anna Maria, daughter of Governor King. He was educated at The King's School, Parramatta, in 1832-39 and privately at Mulgoa but his father's financial troubles prevented him from going to an English university. Instead he entered the local theological hall, St James's College, and was well grounded in classics and divinity by its principal, Robert Allwood. He was made deacon on 19 March 1848, priested on 4 March 1849 by Bishop Broughton and appointed a curate at St James's Church. On 16 May 1849 Macarthur married Margaret Anne Priddle.

In February 1850 Macarthur was given temporary charge of Holy Trinity, Miller's Point, and in May 1851 the incumbency of St Mark's, Alexandria (Darling Point), where he opened the permanent church, enlarged the school and acquired a glebe. His family background made him sympathetic with the independent line in diocesan affairs taken by his congregation, which included many leading citizens. He disliked the assertion of episcopal authority and in 1852 led his parish in opposing Bishop Broughton's scheme of synodical government. Meanwhile he followed the policy of his predecessor, Rev. Henry Cary, in taking pupils. By 1856 he had twelve students in 'St Mark's Collegiate School'.

In 1858 Macarthur was given leave and moved his school to Macquarie Fields House. He explained that ill health affected his preaching, but he was not in accord with Bishop Barker over questions of churchmanship and his acceptance of a military chaplaincy, and next year he resigned the incumbency. Unable to pay his staff and repay loans from the Priddles and other supporters of the school, Macarthur was bankrupted in 1859 with debts of over £7000. The sale of his assets yielded a dividend of over 18s. in the £, and he was granted his certificate of discharge on 30 August. The school at Macquarie Fields later prospered and resident enrolments rose to more than eighty. Macarthur was an excellent schoolmaster and organizer. He built up a cadet corps, systematized the curriculum and enlisted the aid of university professors. An admirer of Professor Woolley, he had adopted some of his theological liberalism and faith in national elementary education. In 1866 he published a sermon, Memoriam, a powerful defence of Woolley.

In 1864 The King's School had closed for lack of funds. To revive it, Macarthur was asked to become its head by Barker, who had come to admire his work at Macquarie Fields and had licensed him to the chapel there. Macarthur refused but, after W. H. Savigny and W. J. Stephens had also declined, he accepted on conditions which gave him a virtual monopoly of authority. In July 1868 the school at Macquarie Fields officially became The King's School. With thirty-eight pupils Macarthur returned to the Parramatta building in February 1869. He worked hard to consolidate the school which increased in numbers and accommodation. Deliberately it remained largely a boarding school but socially it was more broadly based than the Macquarie Fields school had been. The King's School was sound rather than outstanding in academic work; as a teacher Macarthur was conventional but thorough and alert. He made much use of the cadet corps and created what was probably the best local version of the English public school at that time.

In 1884 Bishop Barry arrived, anxious for diocesan educational reform. He carried out a synod resolution of 1870 in favour of Church control of The King's School, which Macarthur had earlier frustrated. He resigned in June 1886 and became incumbent of Bodalla. He ministered at this parish and elsewhere until 1888. He died at Ashfield on 16 June 1890 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, who died on 10 May 1904, by one of his three sons and by two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • R. T. Wyatt, The History of the Diocese of Goulburn (Syd, 1937)
  • H. W. A. Barder, Wherein Thine Honour Dwells (Syd, 1949)
  • Church Sentinel, Dec 1858
  • Church of England diocese of Sydney, Votes and Proceedings of Synod (1868, 1870, 1885, 1886)
  • Australian Churchman (Sydney), 23 Dec 1871, 20 June 1873
  • King's School Magazine, Dec 1887
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Apr 1852
  • Barker, Hassall and Macarthur papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Macarthur, George Fairfowl (1825–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/macarthur-george-fairfowl-4060/text6467, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 24 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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