Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Ashworth Aspinall (1846–1929)

by G. E. Sherington

This article was published:

Arthur Ashworth Aspinall (1846-1929), clergyman and school principal, was born on 23 June 1846 at Southeram, Yorkshire, England, son of John Aspinall, innkeeper, and his wife Sarah, née Ingham. He came to Sydney as a child and was educated at Rev. Miles Moss's private school and later under Dr Boag and Rev. B. Quaife, close associates of Rev. J. D. Lang for whom Aspinall retained a lifelong admiration. In 1867 he attended Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts and entered the University of Sydney (B.A., 1889; M.A., 1912) in 1870 but withdrew that year after contracting scarlet fever. During his convalescence, he completed a course in divinity at Camden College. Although his education had been Congregationalist, he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1873.

Aspinall's first thirteen years in the ministry were spent at Forbes where he sought to emulate the ideals of Lang by organizing church administration, building churches there and at Condobolin, and writing about the local scene. He was an active Freemason. On 22 November 1877 at Wandoo Wandong, near Obley, he married Helen Strahorn, daughter of a pastoralist. In 1887 he returned to Sydney and next year assumed charge of St Luke's Church, Redfern. He completed his university degree and in 1891 was moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales.

In 1892 Aspinall, backed financially by his wife's family, supported plans to establish a Presbyterian boys' secondary school in Sydney. Despite opposition within the assembly, he helped Rev. Archibald Gilchrist and Rev. W. Dill Macky to draw up a constitution for the school and leased the New Brighton Hotel at Lady Robinson's Beach, Rockdale. In 1893, after Gilchrist had refused, Aspinall was appointed first principal of Scots College, assuming full financial responsibility for and control over its affairs.

Aspinall wanted to develop a college primarily for boarders, based on the ideals of Thomas Arnold. He stressed religious and moral principles, gentlemanly conduct and intellectual ability rather than success in examinations. Despite the depression, the school opened with thirty-five boys and the number soon rose to one hundred. Many early pupils were sons of his old parishioners and most continued to be of Scottish descent. In 1895 he leased St Killians from the (Daniel) Cooper estate and the school moved to Bellevue Hill where it could develop splendid playing-fields: sport was an important part of the curriculum. Scottish traditions were emphasized by establishment of the kilted cadet corps in 1899 and a pipe-band in 1900. Bearded and thickset, with bristling whiskers, Aspinall won the respect of the boys, despite his short temper and severe discipline that included corporal punishment and ridicule. In 1901 he bought the lease of St Killians and after long negotiations sold it to the Presbyterian Church in 1906 for £7000; he was guaranteed a further six years as principal.

In 1901-05 Aspinall was a founding committee-man of the Australian Historical Society and president in 1904. A fine Elizabethan scholar, he increasingly 'withdrew from his school world' to immerse himself in scholarship, and in 1912 was awarded a master's degree for his thesis on 'the metaphysical significance of the Renaissance'. In his final years as principal he became increasingly 'apoplectic', enrolment dwindled, the buildings fell into disrepair and unrest culminated in a brief strike by the boys.

In 1913 Aspinall retired and visited Britain where his wife died in 1915. He lived at Turramurra, consoled by his books and garden, until he died on 9 June 1929; he was cremated. His only daughter Jessie and four sons all became medical practitioners; his youngest son was killed in action in Belgium in 1917.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Munro, In Old Aspinall's Day (Syd, 1961), and for bibliography
  • JRAHS, 48 (1963), p 311
  • Scotsman, June 1914, June 1918, Dec 1967
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Jan 1893, 18 Dec 1896
  • Carruthers papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • memoirs of Dr A. Gilchrist (State Library of New South Wales)
  • J. D. Lang papers and letters (State Library of New South Wales)
  • S. D. Stevenson family papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • M. R. L. Bee at Scots (Scots College Archives).

Citation details

G. E. Sherington, 'Aspinall, Arthur Ashworth (1846–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 May 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]


23 June, 1846
Southeram, Yorkshire, England


9 June, 1929 (aged 82)
Turramurra, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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