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Frederick Armitage (1827–1906)

by Terri McCormack

This article was published:

Frederick Armitage (1827-1906), Anglican priest, headmaster and philologist, was born on 1 May 1827 at Kirby Wiske, near Brackenborough, Yorkshire, England, the third son of seven children of John Leathley Armitage and his wife Elizabeth, of Prestbury Lodge, Cheltenham. He attended Cheltenham College as a day boy from July 1841 to December 1842, then went to Bromsgrove College and in May 1846 entered Worcester College, Oxford (B.A., 1850; M.A., 1852). He was made deacon for Bath and Wells in 1852 and in 1853 ordained priest. In 1854 in Germany he married Catherine Diana Kelly of Dublin.

That year Armitage was appointed headmaster of The King's School at Parramatta, New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney in January 1855. As a classical scholar and an English gentleman of good family, he was expected to restore the school to its earlier popularity and make it something similar to the celebrated English grammar schools. Armitage recruited several well-qualified masters and made many changes in teaching and examination. The numbers increased to a hundred boarders and twenty day boys and extra accommodation was provided in the residence of an assistant master in the town. Armitage seems to have had a private income, for he financed several building improvements, including new classrooms. In 1859 he adopted a coat of arms for the school similar to that of The King's School, Canterbury. An earnest and painstaking teacher, he raised the educational standard of the school to a high level, but in 1862 he applied for a year's leave partly because of his wife's ill health and partly because he wanted to take a mathematical degree at Cambridge. He left an assistant master, L. J. Trollope, in charge and before departure published a statement declaring his willingness to return if requested. By June 1864, however, the roll had shrunk to ten pupils and Trollope had to resign; Armitage never returned and the school was closed until January 1869.

This closure, serious for the school, the Church of England and education in New South Wales, was later attributed to Armitage's lack of discipline. However, contemporaries suggested other reasons: the dilapidated roof and buildings, shortage of funds, competition from other schools, and the defection of some masters and pupils to a new school at Goulburn; Bishop Frederic Barker blamed the loss of the maternal care of Mrs Armitage through ill health. Yet none of these reasons can be accepted without hesitation. Admittedly Armitage's departure was inopportune but a headmastership devoid of endowment or guaranteed salary in a colonial school without a council or adequate financial support could hardly have been attractive to a scholarly English gentleman.

On his return to England Armitage entered St John's College, Cambridge, as an undergraduate, an unusual step for an Oxford graduate. He did not study mathematics, but won thirteenth place in the classical tripos (B.A., 1867; M.A., 1873). In 1867-71 he was assistant master at Clifton College. He resigned to devote himself to the study of French, becoming absorbed in tracing its development from Old French and Provençal. On the Continent he associated with such distinguished linguists as Gaston Paris, Paul Meyer and Professor Bartsch. In 1885 he founded Neuenheim College at Heidelberg where he was headmaster until 1891 and very successful as a disciplinarian and administrator. Later he held a lectureship in French at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he resigned in 1899. His publications included A French Grammar for the Use of Public Schools (London, 1873) and Sermons du XIIe Siècle en Vieux Provençale (Heilbronn, 1884). He died at Beech, Hampshire, on 21 December 1906.

His sons, both born at Parramatta, graduated from Oxford: Allan Leathley (M.A., 1885) was ordained priest in 1890 and later became chaplain at the British embassy in St Petersburg and at Sandhurst; Frederick Lionel (B.A., 1887), became a noted scholar in Old High German and lecturer in modern languages at Balliol College.

As a headmaster and cleric, Armitage was able and has been described as a man of kind and gentlemanly deportment, possessed of many attractive social qualities. However, his ability both as teacher and administrator is overshadowed by his high classical attainments and the priority he gave to them.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Wharton (ed), The Jubilee History of Parramatta (Parramatta, 1911)
  • S. M. Johnstone, The History of The King's School, Parramatta (Syd, 1932)
  • H. E. M. Icely, Bromsgrove School Through Four Centuries (Oxford, 1953)
  • J. Jervis, The Cradle City of Australia: A History of Parramatta, 1788-1961, G. Mackaness ed (Parramatta, 1961)
  • P. J. Yeend, A Brief Outline Concerning The King's School Parramatta (Parramatta, 1966)
  • King's School Magazine, June 1890, June 1905–Dec 1908, Feb 1932 centenary no
  • W. J. Gunther, ‘A Short History of The King's School, Parramatta’, Journal and Proceedings (Australian Historical Society), vol 1, part 8, 1903-04, pp 141-48
  • Cumberland Mercury, 9 Feb 1889
  • Echo (Sydney), 30 Oct 1890
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1 July 1907
  • Cumberland Argus, 26 Oct 1938 sesqui-centenary no
  • Hassall letters (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Terri McCormack, 'Armitage, Frederick (1827–1906)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 May, 1827
Kirby Wiske, Yorkshire, England


21 December, 1906 (aged 79)
Beech, Hampshire, England

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.