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William Alexander Boyd (1842–1928)

by G. N. Logan

This article was published:

William Boyd, n.d.

William Boyd, n.d.

photo supplied by Toowoomba Grammar School

William Alexander Jenyns Boyd (1842-1928), agricultural journalist, schoolmaster and soldier, was born in Paris on 27 November 1842, son of Captain Charles Boyd, 95th Regiment, who had been a lieutenant-colonel in the Anglo-Spanish Legion of 1835, and his wife Mary, née Vachell, an aunt to the writer H. A. Vachell. He was educated in England, in Germany at Mannheim and Bonn, in Switzerland at Cully (near Lausanne) and the Italian School at Zurich, and at the Lycée de Versailles, France. Placed in a Manchester mercantile house while being coached for the army, he preferred to go to sea and, as a teenager, sailed the world in American ships. He migrated to Queensland in 1860 and, immediately selecting a small block at Oxley Creek, grew cotton, arrowroot and rice, and energetically and with characteristic initiative built the district's only cotton-mill. On 2 December 1862 he married Isabella Dawson, who soon began teaching privately; in 1867 Boyd became headmaster of the new West Oxley State School. He was a successful teacher with a progressive concern for individual needs and an 'intimate conversational style'.

Boyd began to grow sugar at Pimpama in 1871 and built his own mill. When cane-rust and frosts defeated him, he became headmaster of Townsville State School. He was made 'Occasional District Inspector and Promoter of New Schools' in 1874 and for nearly two years travelled alone through goldfields and remote stations observing northern life and manners. As agricultural editor of the Queenslander from 1874, he published a series of sketches of colonial characters noticed in those years. He resigned from teaching in 1875 to buy and edit the Cleveland Bay Express at Townsville and returned to southern Queensland considerably wealthier in 1878.

Boyd selected 1000 acres (405 ha) near Helidon for citrus-growing, and opened a private school at Milton. Visiting London in 1882, he wrote the immigration handbook, Queensland, and republished his earlier sketches as Old colonials. He owned Eton School at Nundah in 1883-89, but had to close it because of depressed rural economic conditions; he became headmaster of Toowoomba Grammar School, but reopened Eton in 1891-93.

As first editor of the Queensland Agricultural Journal from 1897, Boyd set out to improve the standard of agriculture. His practical and readable periodical emphasized the application of science, experiments with new crops, particularly in the tropics, and the formation of co-operative, agricultural and industrial societies whose basic theme of self-help satisfied his own individualist ideal. 'Union is muscle', he urged, but nevertheless exhorted farmers not to defy authority: above all the farmer 'must not only be a strenuous worker but also a reader'.

Boyd argued for agricultural development as an aspect of defence, and also promoted it in education. In the Education Office Gazette he advocated the rejuvenation of school gardens with object lessons on the basic principles of agriculture and natural science. His enthusiastic propaganda probably influenced the inclusion of optional agricultural courses in the 1905 primary syllabus. In 1906 he began a schools' section in the journal and wrote an agricultural textbook in 1908.

An enthusiastic amateur soldier in 1885-97, Boyd commanded the Brisbane Garrison Artillery from 1891 and was largely responsible for recruiting the Darling Downs Mounted Infantry; he retired as major. Fluent in French, Italian and German, he served for three months in 1914 as a censor at Bundaberg. He had long been active in the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia.

His wife died in 1916 and he was married again on 22 January 1918 in Brisbane to Violet Picton Cora White. Retiring as editor of the Agricultural Journal in April 1921, he continued to write for Brisbane and interstate publications. When his second wife died in 1927, he joined an adopted widowed daughter in Sydney where he died on 19 May 1928. He was buried in Toowong cemetery, Brisbane, with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Sherwood Shire First Annual Show (Brisb, 1921)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1875, 2, 75, 1876, 2, 894
  • Education Office Gazette (Brisbane), July 1900
  • Muses' Magazine (Brisbane), Sept 1928
  • Brisbane Courier, 21 Jan 1915, 21 May 1928
  • Queenslander, 24 May 1928
  • Board of Education, register of teachers, 1860-75 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

G. N. Logan, 'Boyd, William Alexander (1842–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 July 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

William Boyd, n.d.

William Boyd, n.d.

photo supplied by Toowoomba Grammar School

Life Summary [details]


27 November, 1842
Paris, France


19 May, 1928 (aged 85)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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