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Edwin Bean (1851–1922)

by E. L. French

This article was published:

Edwin Bean (1851-1922), educationist, was born on 16 April 1851 at Bombay, India, son of Dr John Bean (1810-1882), surgeon-major in the East India Co.'s service, and his wife Martha Jessie, daughter of Dr Cornelius Butler, of Brentwood, Essex, England. His mother took him to England; at 6 he was sent to Somerset College, Bath, and at 9 to the school at 11 Arlington Villas, Clifton, which opened as Clifton College in 1862, with Bean as the sixth pupil enrolled. There he held a Guthrie scholarship worth £70 a year, came under the influence of three outstanding teachers in Thomas Edward Brown, John Addington Symonds and John Percival, had modest success at sport, helped to found the Cliftonian, showed promise as a classicist and poet and gained a scholarship to Trinity College, Oxford (B.A., 1872).

Bean began preparing for the Indian Civil Service, but in 1873 he went to Hobart as tutor to the family of Samuel Travers. In 1874 he became assistant classical master at Geelong Grammar School, where he introduced rowing. In 1875 at Sydney Grammar School he taught classics, was keenly interested in games, debating and theatricals, and founded the Sydneian. In 1877 he was appointed headmaster of All Saints' College, Bathurst, founded in 1873. Soon afterwards he married Lucy Madeline, daughter of the Hobart solicitor, Charles Butler, of Ellerslie.

Bean set out to build a school according to principles learnt at Clifton: the prime purpose was to form character, secondarily to train the mind; character was formed most effectively in boarding schools, where the 'close community of life with life' admits 'constant modification of character' and 'produces a most powerful public opinion'; the informing of that opinion made it 'almost a necessity that to be effective, boarding schools should profess some form of religion'. In the government day schools, restricted in their religious exercises by 'the Australian compromise of sects', no 'Australian Arnold, Vaughan or Percival' could arise. The boarders at All Saints' were always slightly fewer than the day boys, though sufficiently numerous to warrant the practice of Bean's ideas. The Bathurstian, which he saw as 'an outcome of the school's intense internal life', was begun in 1878. From less than thirty pupils in 1877 the enrolment rose to ninety in 1883.

In February 1883 he visited England, low in health, after his father died in Essex. Returning in the Michaelmas holidays Bean found that the government had begun to establish state high schools under the Public Instruction Act of 1880, and that one was in Bathurst. He campaigned against the government plan and published with Joseph Sly High Schools Versus Scholarships (Bathurst, 1886), arguing for a scheme of subsidies and scholarships, similar to that provided by the Queensland Grammar Schools Act of 1860 and the Amendment Act of 1864, which he held was economical and 'equitable alike to existing schools and distant scholars'. Competition from the high schools reduced his enrolment to sixty-nine by 1886 but by redoubled efforts he held his ground. The Bathurst High School was then closed. In 1888 he was temporarily worn out by the struggle and resigned, believing that another attempt to open a high school was inevitable.

On 6 January 1889 he left Bathurst for a holiday in Tasmania and on 16 March sailed from Sydney in the Veletta for Europe. While in Brussels he was induced to apply for the headmastership of his father's old school, Brentwood, in Essex. He was selected and began duty in March 1891. With its slender endowments, Brentwood, founded in 1557, had suffered by the agricultural depression of the late 1880s, enrolling only forty-five pupils in 1891. Sensitive to democratic sentiment and the demand for a measure of state regulation of schools, Bean persuaded the governors in 1893 to accept some free scholars from elementary schools under a scheme of the charity commissioners, and welcomed in 1903 a recommendation of the Board of Education's inspectors for additional buildings. In 1910 a large new building was completed with the aid of money solicited from the Old Boys and a large donation by Evelyn Heseltine, a businessman of Warley. Bean resigned at the close of 1913, leaving a school of solid reputation and 201 pupils, and retired to Hobart.

In retirement he was active in school and church affairs. He taught classics at Hutchins School and was a member of St Stephen's Church, Sandy Bay. Ordained deacon in 1897 and priest in 1898, he became examining chaplain to the bishop of Tasmania and acted as locum tenens for absent clergy. He was active also in the Victoria League's work for British immigrants. He died on 19 August 1922 after a short illness. He was survived by his wife and three sons, one of whom was the historian, Charles Edwin Woodrow.

Bean's particular genius as a schoolmaster was his intuitive understanding of the crucial importance of a school's corporate life and of the means by which it could be inspired. He was an able student and writer but chose to employ his talents in schoolmastering rather than scholarship. With James Cuthbertson he was a founder of the school magazine in Australia. He wrote occasional poems in Tennysonian vein which were collected and published in England in 1905 under the title Deianira, and Other Poems, and in his last term at Brentwood he wrote A Historical Sketch of Sir Anthony Browne's School, Brentwood, Essex, 1557-1913.

Select Bibliography

  • Clifton College Register 1862-1947 (Bristol, 1948)
  • Brentwoodiad 1557-1957 (Brentwood, 1957)
  • W. A. Steel and J. M. Antill, The History of All Saints' College, Bathurst, 1873-1963 (Syd, 1964)
  • Sydneian, Dec 1875, Sept 1876, Dec 1877, Aug 1907
  • Bathurstian, 14 Dec 1883, 15 Apr 1889, Dec 1913, June 1919
  • Brentwoodian, Dec 1913, Apr 1914, Mar 1915, Dec 1922
  • Cliftonian, 27, 9 Oct 1922
  • Chronicle of the Society of Old Brentwoods, 8, Dec 1942, 40
  • Mercury (Hobart), 27 June 1877, 21 Aug 1922
  • Bean, papers in proof (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. L. French, 'Bean, Edwin (1851–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 26 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

Life Summary [details]


16 April, 1851
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


19 August, 1922 (aged 71)

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