Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Charles Badham (1813–1884)

by Wilma Radford

This article was published:

Charles Badham (1813-1884), by unknown photographer, 1870s

Charles Badham (1813-1884), by unknown photographer, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22932041

Charles Badham (1813-1884), university professor, was born on 18 July 1813 at Ludlow, Shropshire, England, the fourth son of Charles Badham, M.D., F.R.S., and his first wife Margaret Campbell. His father became professor of physic at the University of Glasgow in 1827, translated the satires of Juvenal and wrote a pioneer work on bronchitis. His mother was a cousin of the poet, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844).

Charles and his three brothers were sent to Pestalozzi's institution at Yverdon in Switzerland, where the educational reformer, Dr Charles Mayo (1792-1846), taught Greek and Latin. By 1826 Badham was at Eton as a King's scholar; he then went to Wadham College, Oxford (B.A., 1837; M.A., 1839). For seven years in Germany, France and Italy he studied classics in the great libraries where the manuscripts were held and formed lasting friendships with Continental scholars, particularly C. G. Cobet of the University of Leyden. He was incorporated M.A. at St Peter's College, Cambridge, and was made deacon in the Church of England in 1846, ordained priest in 1848 and awarded a D.D. at Cambridge in 1852. Although his standing as 'the first Greek scholar of the day' in England was acknowledged by many eminent men, his religious opinions were such that preferment was denied him. Despite the charm felt by intimates, his eloquence, his skill as a teacher, his geniality and tact, he was suspect for his close friendship with Frederick Denison Maurice, who was then under fire for heterodoxy.

Badham became headmaster of a school at Southampton, then of King Edward's Grammar School at Louth in 1851-54; in these years his only religious works appeared, in two slight volumes: Five Sermons (Louth, 1852), and A Sermon Preached in the Church of St. Botolph, Colchester (Colchester, 1853). Hortatory in general tone, they have the lengthy, controlled sentences of his secular addresses. In 1854-66 he was headmaster of the Birmingham and Edgbaston Proprietary School. He became part of Birmingham's intellectual élite, and his presence was later referred to in terms of appreciation. His address at the school prize-giving in September 1864, published as Thoughts on Classical and Commercial Education (Birmingham, 1864), shows his breadth of outlook on the role of various kinds of education and of various subjects. On its title-page Badham included 'Litt. Dr. Honoris Causa, in the University of Leyden', a prized distinction conferred on him in 1860. In his Louth and Birmingham years letters continued to cross the Channel, to and from 'mon cher Cobet' and his colleagues at Leyden. Most written by Badham were in French, a few in Latin, apart from the frequent Greek passages. Suggested emendations, comments on books by the correspondents and others, new insights into familiar passages reveal a fresh and lively community of interest. His link with the University of Leyden, and the close bond with Cobet, enriched the life of this English scholar, chafing at his bonds. Although restricted by the demands of his school work, Badham nevertheless produced in this period editions of works by Euripides and Plato, with critical and explanatory notes of great importance; many of his emendations of the original texts were later accepted by scholars. In 1863 the Senate of the University of London elected him an examiner in classics; in this role he worked with William Smith the lexicographer, who formed a high opinion of his personality, wisdom and learning.

Farewelled by pronouncements of regret at England's loss, Badham succeeded John Woolley as professor of classics in the University of Sydney. Heralded by a series of magnificent references by George Grote, Dr William Smith, Cardinal Newman and others, he arrived on 23 April 1867. The break with England was permanent, although some old ties remained. Those in Birmingham heard little of him and some assumed that he was no longer living. But the man described as 'far from robust' had embarked on a period of intense activity and usefulness as a member of the senate, of the board of studies in the faculty of arts and of the library committee, as dean of the faculty of arts and of the faculty of law. As a teacher his influence was strong and enduring; his students included Edmund Barton, Thomas Butler and E. R. Garnsey.

Badham's work with the public examinations under the authority of the university continued his already long connexion with school pupils and their education. The senate had postponed final consideration of its committee's report on instituting the examinations until his arrival. The first senior and junior public examinations were held towards the end of 1867. Badham's range of subjects was wide: he examined in English, French, German, Latin, Greek and the history of England. In England he had examined in classics for the Indian Civil Service; in Sydney he examined for the civil service, took part in the law examinations and also co-operated in the examining of teachers working under the Council of Education. On Christmas Eve 1866 Cardinal Newman had given him a book in gratitude for 'a special kindness done by him to the Fathers of the Oratory in conducting a competitive examination of their schoolboys amid the anxieties of his preparation for his voyage to Sydney'. In 1872 he went to Hobart as examiner in English, Greek, Latin and French for the Tasmanian Council of Education of candidates for the degree of Associate of Arts and for the award of the Tasmanian scholarships for university study in Britain. A decision was made on the award of a prize for Latin verse composition, the task being to render verses by Mrs Hemans into Latin elegiacs. In all of these activities the old schoolmaster, the new professor, found scope for his gifts of mind and personality.

Badham claimed 'the honour of being useful'. He was confident that his advice was worth having and would be welcomed. He informed William Wilkins, secretary to the Council of Education, that he was willing to inspect schools. The offer was not accepted. In 1876 he wrote to the premier, John Robertson, when a bill to amend the Public Instruction Act was introduced, offering 'a few remarks upon the system of primary education' in the colony. A much longer document in the form of a letter to William Bede Dalley, published as Primary Education, constituted a lively attack on teaching in the schools controlled by the Council of Education, including the subject of analysis. It drew a stinging rejoinder from Robert Morehead, whose letter, also published as Primary Education, was addressed to Robertson. This was a continuation of Badham's running battle with the council which commenced not long after his arrival in Sydney. His work for the public examinations was positive and fruitful; as polemicist he was a continuing irritant, his contribution harder to assess.

Badham served with distinction as first president of the board of trustees of the Free Public Library (later Public Library of New South Wales). He was president in 1870-83 and a member until his death. For general guidance, for practical advice, and for skilled and far-sighted work in the building of the collection, the library and the citizens it serves remain indebted to him. His opinions about the place in such a library of novels by his contemporaries, however, was a factor in the loss to the institution of what would have been, in the outcome, valued early editions.

These and other activities, including service as a trustee of the Sydney Grammar School, were eclipsed by Badham's work for university education and for the University of Sydney. The benefits of the former he sought to extend, in adapted form, to people 'of the interior'. His interest in the welfare of students unable to attend lectures led to his attempt to provide extra-mural studies well in advance of his time. 'My scheme of education by post', he called it, and corrected exercises in Greek, Latin, German and French. He worked with characteristic energy and all his powers of persuasion for the establishment of bursaries tenable at the university. The senate recorded its appreciation of his successful efforts in 1876 and again after his death. 'Sooner or later we must have evening classes', he had said in 1871; in September 1883 he wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald, firmly calling for such an arrangement. Support was ready, in the community, the government and the university. He was present at the November meeting of the Board of Studies when its report to the senate on evening lectures was agreed on. Nine days after he died, two items of business at a senate meeting on 7 March 1884 were the appointment of his successor and consideration of the board's report. Evening lectures followed.

In 1867 the university commemoration had been postponed to enable the newly-appointed professor to be present. Badham addressed the audience at the ceremony, and in this and succeeding years his powers as an orator were finely displayed. By the quality of his mind, the range of his scholarship and his energetic and forceful demeanour he gained in the colony a special kind of rank, sometimes envied and decried, but not denied. On his seventieth birthday a banquet crowned his years of service. He would have been pleased had he foreseen that the motto Orta recens quam pura nites, suggested by him for the Garden Palace, was to be incorporated in the arms of New South Wales. He had identified himself fully with his new country and recorded his sense of obligation to it.

In ill health during his last months Badham continued his usual duties. When death was near and all the years of communion at an end, he wrote to Cobet: 'Vale, in aeternum vale, omnium amicorum suavissime. Volui te scire me tui in ipsa morte non immemorem fuisse'. He died at his apartments in the University of Sydney on 27 February 1884. He had married twice. His first wife was Julia Matilda Smith; their son, Charles Lennard Cobet, entered the Department of Lands in 1870; their daughter, Edith Annesley, helped her father in his work and later won high repute as headmistress of a girls' school. Badham's second wife was Georgiana Margaret Wilkinson, who with four sons and four daughters survived him. He was buried in the cemetery of St Thomas's Church of England, North Sydney.

The colony mourned him for what he had achieved but even more for what he had been, the exemplar, the renowned scholar who came to New South Wales with a magnificent European reputation. It derived from personal contacts and published work. He published many articles in Mnemosyne and a few in British reviews. Some poems of his youth appeared in the Glasgow University College Album for 1830 and 1834, and in 1875 his small cantata for the O'Connell centenary celebration was published. But his creative gifts were in prose. In 1890 Speeches and Lectures Delivered in Australia by the Late Charles Badham, D.D., with an introductory memoir by Thomas Butler, was 'published by the subscription of a number of his old students and other admirers'; it made permanently available much of his best thinking and finest expression. His classical collection is held by the library of the University of Sydney, including copies of his own writings. Among them are Euripides' Iphigeneia in Taurus, Helena (1851), Ion (1851), Plato's Phaedrus (1851), Euthydemus et Laches (1865) and Convivium (1866). Perhaps his greatest achievement in classical scholarship was his second edition of Plato's Philebus with Introduction and Notes (1878), revised and enlarged by work completed in Sydney. Badham's editions belong to a type of scholarship now out of fashion. With his friend Cobet, he was one of the last of the great textual critics, for whom the crown of scholarship was to bring discriminating judgment and exact knowledge of the language to the task of establishing and restoring what the author actually wrote. 'Criticism is not a kind of scholarship, but scholarship itself', he wrote in the 'Australian Postscript' to his Philebus. In this, as W. H. Thompson, professor of Greek at Cambridge wrote, he had 'few equals and no superior in England'. That he was no narrow scholar is clear from the account of his activities. He wrote and spoke on Shakespeare and Dante, and was almost as much at home in the literatures of France, Italy and Germany as in those of Greece and Rome. In his teaching he drew on all of them freely for illustration; in his hands all were instruments 'to develop the taste, to exercise the judgment, and to evoke the nobler sentiments of a certain portion of the youth of this country'.

Badham Street, Woolloomooloo, is named after him. At the University of Sydney are the Badham Building, the Badham room in the union, and a portrait in the grand manner, by Giulio Anivitti, is in the Great Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Badham and L. Campbell, ‘Charles Badham’, Biographische Jahrbüch, 1884
  • A. E. Stephen, ‘Numantia. A Place of Disillusioned Aspirations’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 31, part 4, 1945, pp 249-76
  • Senate minutes (University of Sydney Archives)
  • Badham letters (microfilm, University of Leyden Library).

Citation details

Wilma Radford, 'Badham, Charles (1813–1884)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 May 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

Charles Badham (1813-1884), by unknown photographer, 1870s

Charles Badham (1813-1884), by unknown photographer, 1870s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22932041

Life Summary [details]


18 July, 1813
Ludlow, Shropshire, England


27 February, 1884 (aged 70)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.