Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Peter Corsar Anderson (1871–1955)

by G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

Peter Corsar Anderson (1871-1955), educationist, was born on 16 February 1871 at the manse of Menmuir, Forfarshire, Scotland, son of Rev. Mark Anderson, Presbyterian minister, and his wife Jane, née Corsar. He was educated at Madras College, St Andrew's, from which he won a bursary to the United College in the University of St Andrew's. Here his career was distinguished and versatile. A prizeman in Hebrew and church history, he was also president of the students' representative council, a champion rifle-shot, and a golfer of such prowess that in 1893 he won the amateur championship of Great Britain. After graduating B.A. in 1892 he studied theology at St Mary's College and in 1895 was licensed in divinity by the Church of Scotland, but did not pursue this calling because of a breakdown in health. He took a recuperative journey to visit a brother in Western Australia, but moved on to Victoria, where in 1896-1904 he became an assistant master at Geelong Church of England Grammar School.

In 1904 Anderson was appointed headmaster of Scotch College, Perth. A formidable task confronted him: established in 1897, the school was sited in grossly inadequate temporary premises, and suffered from the ineffectualness of the first headmaster John Sharpe. Some of the college council considered that the venture should be discontinued; others sought a solution in a move to a new site at Swanbourne, seven miles (11 km) west of Perth, where a benefactor offered land. Anderson at once insisted that, unlike his predecessor, he should participate in council meetings, and soon proved himself a vigorous organizer amply capable of ensuring the success of the move.

Anderson was headmaster for forty-one years, retiring in 1945. During this period enrolments rose from 59 to 410; more than 3000 boys passed through Scotch in his time. The first decade of his régime was marked by the provision of science laboratories, a cadet corps, sports grounds and a boatshed. By 1914 Scotch was established as one of the four leading independent boys' schools in Western Australia, and for the next thirty years Anderson was doyen among the Protestant headmasters, setting an educational model whose influence extended well beyond his own college. He was especially insistent on the need to provide an alternative system to the government high schools; it gratified him that many Scotch graduates later became prominent in the business and professional life of the State. He was less memorable as a teacher of English and history than as a masterful administrator, careful in times of financial stringency but insistent on bold planning whenever opportunity permitted. Impressively built and inclined to be set in his opinions, he earned the nickname 'Boss', but was respected for his scrupulous fair-mindedness and capacity for hard work. Legends generated around him, such as the yarn that he once caned the entire school in an attempt to put down smoking. If one or two of his younger masters found him intellectually mediocre, the majority held him in great respect even during his last difficult wartime years. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1947.

On 5 July 1899 at Hawthorn, Victoria, Anderson had married Agnes Henrietta Macartney of Mansfield; they had six sons and seven daughters. Bedridden in his last years with rheumatoid arthritis, he died on 26 August 1955 at his home at Swanbourne, close to Scotch College, and was cremated. His wife and eleven children survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. A. Phillips, ‘Three schoolmasters’, Melbourne Studies in Education, 1976, S. Murray-Smith ed (Melb, 1976)
  • Scotch College Reporter, 1906-45
  • Smith's Weekly, 25 Sept 1926
  • West Australian, 10 Oct 1945, 27 Aug 1955
  • M. Uren, Scotch College History (1968, Scotch College Library, Swanbourne, Western Australia).

Citation details

G. C. Bolton, 'Anderson, Peter Corsar (1871–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1871
Menmuir, Forfarshire, Scotland


26 August, 1955 (aged 84)
Swanbourne, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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