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Sharman, Matthew Stanton (1876–1953)

by J. Lawry

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

Matthew Stanton Sharman (1876-1953), educationist, was born on 21 May 1876 at Campinas, Brazil, son of Matthew Sharman, joiner, and his wife Ann, née Jones, both English born. After some years in Brazil, where his father worked on railway construction, the family returned to England to avoid further attacks of yellow fever which had claimed the lives of two children and threatened his mother's health. Seeking a warmer climate because of continued ill health, the family arrived in Melbourne in 1882.

Matthew attended Central Richmond State School and with a government scholarship entered Scotch College where, in 1894, he was dux. At the matriculation examinations he won the Greek and Latin exhibition and gained first-class honours in mathematics. In 1895 he entered Ormond College, University of Melbourne (B.A., 1898; M.A., 1901; B.Sc., 1907; M.Sc., 1909). Winning first-class honours and the exhibitions in all first and second-year mathematics and natural philosophy subjects, he graduated with second-class honours, gaining the Lyle and Wilson prizes and the Dixson final honours scholarship.

Sharman began teaching in 1898 as senior master in mathematics at Wesley College, and continued in 1899 at Carlton College. After serving as pupil-teacher at Malmsbury State School, he attended the Melbourne Training College in 1901-02 and was appointed lecturer there in 1903. In 1907 he was also appointed by the university an honorary lecturer to assist Dr John Smyth, lecturer in education, and in 1910 he joined the method staff at the new University Practising School which became University High School in 1913. In January 1915 Sharman was appointed second principal of the school and vice-principal (secondary) at the Training College.

Conservative in his personal life, as U.H.S. principal Sharman was highly regarded although not particularly original; traditions of loyalty, honest endeavour and service, established by his predecessor L. J. Wrigley, were preserved. But there was consistency in his educational philosophy. He opposed corporal punishment, overcrowded courses and the tyranny of examinations. He experimented with self-government, supported innovative work by his staff and encouraged high standards and freedom based on self-discipline. His ideals were encapsulated in the increasingly important ceremonial life of the school.

Sympathetic towards staff and pupils, every one of whom he knew by name, he offered ready advice and extra tuition. He fostered a rich cultural life in the school, sharing his own love of music, and engaged parents and the wider community in many activities; a strong advisory council helped to secure the transfer in 1930 from Lygon Street to new accommodation in Story Street. Sharman served the Old Pupil's Association as president and the U.H.S. Masonic Lodge as the first worshipful master.

Awarded the Education Department travelling scholarship in 1925, he visited England and the United States of America. His report, Some Phases of Secondary education Abroad, confirmed the essential conservatism of his educational approach, concluding that the current system of teacher-training was 'best suited to our own conditions'.

A shortish, not robust, slightly swarthy gentleman, Sharman was neatly dressed, alert, approachable but not gregarious. Never condescending, he was unfailingly courteous. Some 1100 old pupils attended his retirement presentation in the Melbourne Town Hall in May 1941. For many he was the ideal schoolmaster, although some pupils rejected his constant promotion of ideals and traditions, and some staff found his faith in the triumph of common sense and his unwillingness to give firm rulings exasperating.

In 1940-42 Sharman was an honorary instructor in mathematics and mechanics for the Royal Australian Air Force. Ill health stopped his war-time work at the Maribyrnong munitions supply laboratories. He had married Alice Mary Ann Taylor on 11 January 1905 at Richmond Presbyterian Church. They shared interest in music, the Church, the school and their Canterbury home, where Sharman died on 10 August 1953. Survived by his wife and childless, he was cremated. A portrait by Archibald Colquhoun hangs at University High School.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Nicholson (ed), First Hundred Years (Melb, 1952)
  • A. Hoy, A City Built to Music (Melb, 1961)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • University High School, Principal's Report, 1929, and Record, 1, 1915, 2, 1925, 1, 1926, 2, 1941
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Sept 1953, p 67
  • Melbourne Graduate, 4, no 2, Dec 1953, p 99
  • Education Dept (Victoria), record of M. S. Sharman (History Services, Education Dept, Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

J. Lawry, 'Sharman, Matthew Stanton (1876–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sharman-matthew-stanton-8399/text14749, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2014.

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

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