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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bickersteth, Kenneth Julian (1885–1962)

by J. S. C. Miller

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Kenneth Julian Faithfull Bickersteth (1885-1962), by unknown photographer

Kenneth Julian Faithfull Bickersteth (1885-1962), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 33258

Kenneth Julian Faithfull Bickersteth (1885-1962), headmaster, was born on 5 July 1885 at Ripon, Yorkshire, England, son of Rev. Dr Samuel Bickersteth and his wife Ella Chlora Faithfull, née Monier-Williams. He was educated at Rugby School and Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1907; M.A., 1912). After visiting India, he attended Wells Theological College, was ordained in 1910, and accepted a curacy at Rugby Parish Church.

In 1912 Julian Bickersteth went as chaplain to Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. Late in 1915 he returned to England and became senior chaplain in the 56th (London) Division in France and Flanders. His commanding officer admired 'his devotion to the welfare of all ranks': always 'moving about among the troops and sharing both their pleasures and their hardships', Bickersteth was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

In 1919 he was appointed headmaster of the Anglican Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide. An English advisory committee had recommended him for his impeccable clerical background, public school education, colonial experience, war service, earnest Christianity and 'social qualifications … beyond dispute'. The Rugby headmaster noted his 'transparent sincerity', 'abundant energy', 'strength of will and character'. These qualities were in demand before Bickersteth arrived in Adelaide in 1920, by men there who desired his aid in setting up an Anglican residential college, based on English models, at the university. He joined the university council in 1921 and soon persuaded the Anglican synod to form a committee to plan for a college. When it lapsed, he formed another committee of ex-members of such colleges, which enlisted the support of leading citizens and raised funds: St Mark's College opened in 1925 and Bickersteth was elected to its council, next year becoming a foundation fellow.

At St Peter's he built up pupil numbers, especially boarders, and improved academic standards. By 1930 this was reflected in excellent public examination results. Bickersteth also introduced the English house-system and compulsory games. A man who never cultivated privacy, he exercised a strong spiritual influence, centred round the chapel, and guided many boys to ordination. Bickersteth was undoubtedly a controversial figure; his definite and uncompromising churchmanship led to some difficulties with the council, particularly on the question of confession, but his headmastership was a landmark in the school's history. He organized the first of the headmasters' conferences for the independent schools in Australia. In 1926 and 1931 Bickersteth visited England, and in 1933 returned there as head of Felsted School, Essex, applying the same gift for living 'at a tremendous pace' and enthusing others. He brought stimulating lecturers and preachers to the school and was popular as a speaker himself.

In 1943 Bickersteth became archdeacon of Maidstone and a residentiary canon of Canterbury Cathedral. He welcomed Commonwealth visitors there and went to South Australia in 1948 seeking funds for the cathedral's post-war restoration. From 1953 he was a chaplain to the Queen and retired in 1958. Two years later he visited Adelaide again where he stayed with Bishop T. T. Reed, an old pupil and friend. At this time he was made one of the first three honorary fellows of the newly founded Australian College of Education. Bickersteth, a bachelor, died at Canterbury on 16 October 1962 while preparing a sermon.

Select Bibliography

  • ‘The history of the college and college register 1925-1935’, St Mark's College Record, 1936, special supplement
  • St Mark's College, Lion, 1962-63
  • St Peter's College Magazine, Dec 1962
  • Register (Adelaide), 6 June 1919
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Apr 1960, 19 Oct 1962
  • Times (London), 17 Oct 1962, p 19, 22 Oct 1962, p 12, 31 Oct 1962, p 15
  • The Collegiate School of St Peter, 1847-1947 (State Records of South Australia)
  • biographical file (State Records of South Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. S. C. Miller, 'Bickersteth, Kenneth Julian (1885–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 10 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Kenneth Julian Faithfull Bickersteth (1885-1962), by unknown photographer

Kenneth Julian Faithfull Bickersteth (1885-1962), by unknown photographer

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 33258