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Frederick Bridges (1840–1904)

by R. J. Burns

This article was published:

Frederick Bridges (1840-1904), by unknown photographer

Frederick Bridges (1840-1904), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 22012

Frederick Bridges (1840-1904), educationist, was born on 2 February 1840 at Windsor, New South Wales, son of Frederick Bridges, a Scottish mason brought to Sydney by Dr John Dunmore Lang, and his wife Harriet, née Burbidge. He was the first male pupil-teacher trained by the Board of National Education. He entered the board's service in 1852 and, after four years, became an assistant in National schools in Sydney. His first appointment as a headmaster was to Balmain in 1861 and later he became headmaster at Mudgee in 1863, Cleveland Street in 1865 and Fort Street in 1867. He remained at Fort Street until his appointment as a school inspector in 1876. After the Public Instruction Act of 1880 he continued as an inspector, first at Wellington and then at Bathurst. In 1884 he became deputy-chief inspector and in 1889 superintendent of technical education when this branch was transferred to the control of the Department of Public Instruction. In 1894 he became chief inspector of schools and under-secretary in October 1903, on the retirement of J. C. Maynard. Besides his educational posts Bridges was a deputy-member of the Public Service Board in 1901. In 1902 he was decorated by the French government for his work in raising funds for the relief of victims of the Martinique volcanic disaster.

Bridges's career spanned a long and important phase of the history of education in New South Wales. Significant educational developments in that period included the withdrawal of state aid to church schools, the growth of a highly centralized system of educational administration under the control of a cabinet minister, and the extension of state provision for public education into secondary and technical instruction. Bridges was closely linked with the early growth of these new branches but his main contribution was to consolidate and extend the work of his predecessors in public elementary education.

Bridges could be strict and even authoritarian. In 1886 when several teachers publicly criticized the department, he strongly recommended the dismissal of two men: 'The effective administration of a large department requires that proper discipline be maintained, and that a spirit of subordination pervade all ranks of the service. This is peculiarly necessary in the case of teachers, who should set an example of obedience to constituted authority'. At a conference in April 1904 called by the minister for Public Instruction to discuss the report of (Sir) George Knibbs and J. W. Turner who had been sent abroad to examine educational systems, Bridges opposed several resolutions designed to replace the pupil-teacher system with a system of pre-service teacher training. As the conference proceeded the general opinion of those present appeared to favour the resolutions and when a vote was taken they were passed without dissent.

On 16 November 1904, not long before he was due to retire, Bridges died of diabetes at his home in Drummoyne. He was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Gore Hill cemetery. He was survived by his wife Miriam Wade, née Holmes, whom he had married at Sydney in July 1860, and by two sons and three daughters of their nine children.

His passing marked the end of the line of educational administrators begun by William Wilkins. Energetic, decisive, a good organizer and an efficient administrator Bridges accepted as an article of faith the perennial virtues of the public education system and saw his main task as the improvement of efficiency.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W. (Syd, 1907)
  • Minister for Public Instruction, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1905, 4, 1117
  • ‘Mr F. Bridges, acting under-secretary for public instruction’, Australian Journal of Education, 1 (1903) no 5
  • Old Times (Sydney), 1, 4 July 1903.

Citation details

R. J. Burns, 'Bridges, Frederick (1840–1904)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 28 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

Frederick Bridges (1840-1904), by unknown photographer

Frederick Bridges (1840-1904), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 22012

Life Summary [details]


2 February, 1840
Windsor, New South Wales, Australia


16 November, 1904 (aged 64)
Drummoyne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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