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Rowland, Percy Fritz (1870–1945)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Percy Fritz Rowland (1870-1945), headmaster, was born on 14 April 1870 at Islington, London, eldest son of Frederick Arthur Alexander Rowland, solicitor, and his wife Catherine, née Laflin. He was educated at University College School, London, and at St Paul's School as a Dean Colet foundation scholar. In his final year (1889) he won two literary prizes and was awarded the MacBride scholarship to the University of Oxford. At Hertford College he majored in classical languages and history (B.A., second-class honours, 1894; M.A. 1909).

Rowland began his teaching career at Drogheda Grammar School, Ireland, in 1894 and next year taught at King's School, Warwick. He then accepted an invitation from Sydney to tutor a son of (Sir) James Reading Fairfax. He also became an extension lecturer for the University of Sydney and council-member of the Teachers' Association of New South Wales. In 1899-1900 he taught at Christchurch Boys' High School, while lecturing in political economy and constitutional history at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand. Back in Sydney in 1901 he wrote an excellent book on Australia, The New Nation (London, 1903). After some temporary educational work in England, he accepted appointment as second master at Rockhampton Grammar School, Queensland, in 1904, succeeding T. J. Ryan, the future premier. Rowland married Jessie Adeline (d.1926), sister of A. H. Longman, at Toowoomba on 7 January 1905.

His appointment in 1905 as headmaster of Townsville Grammar School began inauspiciously with the school buildings badly damaged by a cyclone, with declining enrolments and a heavy debt. Although deficient in business management, which he left to his wife, Rowland became an outstanding educationist. In 1909 he published State Secondary Education in Queensland.

In most years after the University of Queensland was founded one or more of his students won university scholarships, although only twenty were awarded; two became Rhodes scholars (1910, 1938). Rowland imparted a love of literature and language to his students. He was before his time in teaching them to think for themselves rather than cram facts in order to pass exams. His fine sense of humour made 'dull subjects interesting and bright subjects enthralling'. Generations of 'old boys' remembered 'Boss' with affection. One of these, Colin Bingham, described Rowland as 'broad of face, with an immense forehead, and broad of body … I became fascinated by his habit of jerking up his great head in emphasizing a point in a lesson or in a speech'. In later life the two men became close friends.

His arduous duties as headmaster did not deter the writer in him. His regular articles in the Townsville Daily Bulletin and North Queensland Register in the 1920s and 1930s attempted to awaken cultural appreciation among the isolated North Queenslanders. A brilliant essayist and literary critic, Rowland also published in Australian and English literary and educational journals. Although The New Nation had been well received by critics, its sales were disappointing. Other publications such as At Call-Over (1936) and Essays in Brief (1939) were said to combine 'a sense of history with humour and understanding'. His gifts were also 'bent to the sharp criticism of defects in the Queensland educational system', and particularly of neglect of the far north.

Rowland retired in 1938 after thirty-four years of sacrificial leadership of a small provincial grammar school in a cultural backwater. After a visit to England, in 1940-44 he lived in Brisbane where he gave 'invaluable assistance' to Meanjin in its early years. Survived by three daughters and a son, Rowland died at St Leonards, Sydney, on 14 October 1945; following an Anglican service, he was cremated. The P. F. Rowland Memorial Library at Townsville Grammar School is named in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Hornibrook, Bibliography of Queensland Verse (Brisb, 1953)
  • R. W. Moore, The History of Townsville Grammar School (Brisb, 1959)
  • A. McKay, Percy Fritz Rowland (Townsville, 1974)
  • C. Bingham, The Beckoning Horizon (Melb, 1983)
  • Australian Quarterly, 18, Sept 1932, p 57
  • Meanjin, Spring 1945, p 239
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 Dec 1938
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 16 Oct 1945.

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Rowland, Percy Fritz (1870–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rowland-percy-fritz-8286/text14521, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 2 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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