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Pentreath, Arthur Godolphin (1902–1985)

by Katharine Thornton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Arthur Godolphin Guy Carleton Pentreath (1902-1985), Anglican clergyman and headmaster, was born on 30 March 1902 at Hamilton, Bermuda, son of Rev. Arthur Godolphin Pentreath, chaplain with the British Army, and his wife Helen Guy, née Carleton.  Guy’s early childhood was spent in Malta, where his father was senior chaplain to the British forces.  After the family returned to England, he attended Ashampstead Church of England School, Berkshire, and Haileybury College, Hertfordshire.  Academically inclined rather than a sportsman, he forced himself to play rugby football because he thought it would do him good.  His leadership potential was developed in the Haileybury cadet corps and as a prefect.

Entering Magdalene College, Cambridge (BA, 1925; MA, 1928), Pentreath completed the classical tripos with first-class honours in archaeology.  On 21 December 1927 at the district register office, Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield, and at Beauchief Abbey, he married Margaret Lesley Cadman, a fellow Cambridge graduate.  In 1925-26 he trained for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge.  He expected to begin his clerical career in a Yorkshire mining village but, on medical advice to live in a warmer climate, he took up a post as senior classics master and school chaplain at Michaelhouse Diocesan College, Natal, South Africa.  Made deacon in 1928, he was ordained priest by the Bishop of Natal on 3 March 1929.  He returned to England in 1930 and for four years was master of the King’s Scholars at Westminster School, London.  Effectively a housemaster, he learned how to help 'a large number of people, old and young, to work as a team to produce a desired end result'.

Appointed headmaster of the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, Pentreath arrived at the school in April 1934.  He used the example of Geelong Church of England Grammar School, then in the early years of (Sir) James Darling’s headmastership, to persuade a conservative school council to liberalise the curriculum by including music, art, woodwork and engineering subjects.  The council also agreed to extensive development of the grounds and buildings.  Assisted by his chief ally on council, (Sir) Grenfell Price, Pentreath also convinced the school’s governors to implement a new salary scheme for teaching staff.  His changes were part of the shift in the 1930s to more progressive approaches to education in Australian private boys’ schools.  He convinced masters and prefects to make less use of corporal punishment and encouraged them to lead, as he did, by moral example.

In 1939 the Pentreaths had six months leave in England.  Deeply disappointed that he was unable to enlist for active service in World War II, Pentreath returned to Adelaide determined to help the war effort.  He established a small munitions-making team in the St Peter’s engineering workshop.  An engaging speaker, he put his talents to use in patriotic radio broadcasts.  These led to an invitation to join the leadership of the Common Cause movement, a non-party political association that sought to unify society for the war effort and to promote effective postwar reconstruction.

Late in 1942 the St Peter’s council, faced with financial problems, reluctantly decided to reduce Pentreath’s salary.  When the reduction became public knowledge in 1943, some assumed that it was punishment for his involvement in Common Cause.  While some of the school’s governors were concerned at the headmaster’s participation in a group that included members of the Communist Party of Australia and trade unionists, they had not known of it when reviewing his salary and the school’s budget.  Pentreath resigned in December 1943 and returned to England, where he was headmaster of Wrekin College, Shropshire, in 1944-51 and of Cheltenham College in 1952-59.

Influenced by the prominent British educationist Sir Cyril Norwood, Pentreath followed the pattern that he had developed at St Peter’s and made similar changes to the fabric and culture of the English schools he led.  In 1959-65 he was residentiary canon of Rochester Cathedral.  After retiring he lived at Beaulieu, Hampshire, and pursued his lifelong interest in sailing.  He never really stopped teaching and for twenty-five years shared his enthusiasm for ancient Greek art and architecture as a popular lecturer on the Swan Hellenic cruise line’s educational tours.  His comprehensive guide to monuments and archaeological sites, Hellenic Traveller, was published in 1964.  In 1976 he returned to Adelaide for the renaming of a building at St Peter’s College in his honour.  Widowed in 1977, he died on 30 October 1985 at East Brabourne, Kent, and was cremated.  His daughter and two sons survived him.  He was remembered as a humane and generous man, who inspired many to give of their best.  In an obituary F. H. Schubert, a member of his teaching staff at St Peter’s, described him as 'one of those rare men who could speak of beauty without embarrassment'.  The college holds a portrait of Pentreath painted in 1962 by (Sir) William Dargie.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Price, The Collegiate School of St Peter, 1847-1947 (1947)
  • Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 16, 1988, p 38
  • St Peter’s College Magazine, December 1943, p 3, December 1985, p 10
  • St Peter’s College Council of Governors papers 1934-43 and Pentreath papers (St Peter’s College archives, Adelaide)
  • A. G. Price papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information

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Citation details

Katharine Thornton, 'Pentreath, Arthur Godolphin (1902–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pentreath-arthur-godolphin-15062/text26261, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 27 May 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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