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Strong, Sir Archibald Thomas (1876–1930)

by V. A. Edgeloe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Archibald Thomas Strong (1876-1930), by Bernard Hall, c1920

Archibald Thomas Strong (1876-1930), by Bernard Hall, c1920

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3644548

Sir Archibald Thomas Strong (1876-1930), scholar, teacher and man of letters, was born on 30 December 1876 at South Yarra, Melbourne, son of Herbert Augustus Strong, professor of classics in the University of Melbourne, and his wife Helen Campbell, née Edmiston. The family moved to Liverpool, England, in 1883 when Herbert was appointed professor of Latin at University College.

From Sedbergh School, Archibald went in 1893 to read classics at University College, Liverpool, graduating B.A. in 1896; then as a classical exhibitioner he proceeded to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated in literae humaniores in 1900. As an undergraduate at Liverpool he was active in sport, a member of the Students' Representative Council and an editor of the Sphinx. In vacations he acquired an extensive knowledge of the literatures and a competence in the languages of France and Germany; he was later to add Italian to his store.

In 1901 ill health compelled him to abandon reading for the Bar under F. E. Smith (Lord Birkenhead); in search of a more congenial climate, Strong returned to Melbourne. There he became influential in educational, literary and dramatic communities: teaching and examining at secondary level, giving extension lectures for the university, and serving as president of the Melbourne Literature (1910), Melbourne Shakespeare (1913) and Mermaid societies. He was chief Commonwealth censor of 'cinematograph films' (1919-22), an advocate of a national theatre, and with Gregan McMahon a founding member and trustee of the Melbourne Repertory Theatre. He was, as well, the editor of a relatively short-lived literary journal, the Trident, and for fifteen years literary critic for the Melbourne Herald.

Rejected on medical grounds from active service in World War I, Strong gave unstinted civilian service in support of the allied cause. He spoke regularly at recruiting rallies, drafted material to raise war loans and to campaign for compulsory service, wrote numerous press articles and constantly emphasized Imperial ties. He also served on the executive of the Commonwealth Directorate of Education Propaganda on War and Peace Issues. Nettie Palmer regarded his occasional denigration of some contemporary German men of letters as unrepresentative of the general Australian literary community. During the war Strong published Australia and the War (1915) and Story of the Anzacs (1917).

From 1912 to 1921 he taught at the university, being acting professor and head of the department of English in 1916-19 while (Sir) Robert Wallace was absent on war service. Yet it was as the first Jury professor of English language and literature (1922-30) in the University of Adelaide that Strong made his original and lasting contribution to academic education in his special field by introducing in 1923 a four-year course for an honours degree. Thickset, bull-necked, but with refined features, he had commanding presence as a lecturer and displayed extensive and profound scholarship, especially of the Elizabethan and Romantic periods. His publications included small volumes of original verse in traditional form and style in 1905, 1916 and 1918; volumes of literary criticism in 1910, 1911, 1921 and (posthumously) 1932; translations into modern English verse of the ballads of Theodore de Banville in 1913 and of Beowulf in 1925; and, with Wallace, a short history of English literature (1921) and an anthology of English verse and prose (1923).

Strong's international standing was attested by his articles on Australia for the Liverpool Daily Post in 1903, on literature for the Australian Encyclopaedia in 1925 and on Australian poetry for The Times in 1927; he also published his address to the International Conference on Education at Vancouver, Canada, in 1929, an article on cultural development in Australia in the Cambridge History of the British Empire and eleven sonnets in the second edition of the Oxford Book of Australasian Verse. Recognition of his academic stature was accorded by the award in 1920 of a Litt.D. by the University of Melbourne, and of his extensive contributions to the literary and dramatic arts by a knighthood in 1925. He was described as Australia's 'most highly cultured' and 'most widely-read' man.

Strong never married. He died in Adelaide on 2 September 1930 of cerebral thrombosis and was buried in the North Road cemetery. The library of the University of Adelaide acquired his valuable collection of more than 5000 books.

Select Bibliography

  • All About Books, Oct 1930
  • Australian Quarterly, Dec 1930
  • Observer (Adelaide), 25 Mar 1922, 6 June 1925
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 4, 11 Sept 1930
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Sept 1930
  • records of University of Adelaide and University of Liverpool and Magdalen College, Oxford
  • Directorate of War Propaganda file (National Library of Australia)
  • newsclippings (University of Adelaide Archives).

Citation details

V. A. Edgeloe, 'Strong, Sir Archibald Thomas (1876–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/strong-sir-archibald-thomas-8701/text15227, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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