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Donald Cameron (1838–1916)

by Rupert Goodman

This article was published:

Donald Cameron (1838-1916), educationist, was born on 19 December 1838 at Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland, son of John Cameron, merchant, and Katharine Ross. He was educated in Edinburgh at the Free Church Normal School and later at the university (M.A., 1863). He was briefly a master at St John's Grammar School, Hamilton, near Glasgow, but in December 1865 he migrated to Queensland 'for health reasons'. With his educational background he found many opportunities in the new colony. For a time he was tutor to the family of David McConnel of Cressbrook and for a year ran a successful private school in George Street, Brisbane. In 1869 the trustees of the newly-established Brisbane Grammar School offered him the position of second master to Thomas Harlin.

Cameron's contribution to Queensland education stems from three highly important official reports and from his service as headmaster of the Ipswich Boys' Grammar School in 1875-1900. In 1874 the royal commission on education in Queensland requested him to visit Victoria to report on the working of the 1872 Education Act there. His report convinced the commissioners that Queensland should follow Victoria's example and set up a system of free, compulsory and secular education, centralized within a Department of Public Instruction in charge of a minister responsible to parliament. Cameron's report also strongly criticized Victoria's system of payment by results, and so saved Queensland from the introduction of a scheme which had a pernicious effect on the development of teaching in Victoria.

Throughout his career Cameron was closely associated with the movement to establish a university. In 1891 he was appointed a member of the royal commission which later recommended the establishment of the University of Queensland. Cameron's third report, made to parliament in 1901, was on the grammar schools of Queensland. His comprehensive survey of their organization and development, curriculum, problems associated with entry, examinations and discipline, role of the trustees, and probable effects of proposed changes in the scholarship system, was the first authentic picture to be placed before parliament and came at a time when important developments in secondary education were being considered.

Cameron's greatest contribution to Queensland education was undoubtedly his service for twenty-five years as headmaster of Ipswich Grammar School. During his term the school became well established, the curriculum was modernized and students were encouraged to sit for the public examinations of the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne in which they performed remarkably well. Despite economic setbacks in the 1880s and 1890s Ipswich Grammar School maintained consistently high standards under Cameron and its reputation spread beyond the borders of Queensland. He was the typical Arnold image of a headmaster, scholar and Christian gentleman, who by precept and example sought to instil high ideals of personal conduct.

Cameron died in Brisbane on 21 June 1916. On 27 February 1868 in Brisbane he had married Martha, daughter of Dr Richard Smith, surgeon, of Winchcomb, Gloucestershire, and his wife Sarah Alexander. Their four sons each had a distinguished career. John Alexander (b.1869), medical graduate of Cambridge University, practised for many years at Ipswich, Queensland; Walter Evan (b.1871), science graduate of Cambridge, became Queensland government geologist; Archibald Preston (b.1872), engineering graduate of Cambridge, was a civil engineer in India; Donald Allan (b.1877), medical graduate of Sydney University, won prominence as a Brisbane surgeon. Their only daughter, Katharine Mary Ross (b.1878), married Rev. Robert Sanger, headmaster of the Armidale School.

A portrait of Cameron is at Ipswich Grammar School.

Select Bibliography

  • B. G. Lawrance (ed), Ipswich Grammar School, 1863-1913 (Maitland, 1914)
  • J. H. Allsopp, A Centenary History of the Ipswich Grammar School, 1863-1963 (Ipswich, 1963)
  • Ipswich Grammar School Magazine, jubilee edition, 1913
  • Royal Commission on Educational Institutions, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1875, 2, 335
  • Royal Commission on Establishing a University, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1891, 3, 847
  • Report on State Grammar Schools, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1901, 1, 1243
  • Queensland Times, 22 June 1916.

Citation details

Rupert Goodman, 'Cameron, Donald (1838–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 12 July 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]


19 December, 1838
Portree, Inverness-shire, Scotland


21 June, 1916 (aged 77)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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