Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frederic Chapple (1845–1924)

by Alan H. Dennis

This article was published:

Frederic Chapple (1845-1924), headmaster, was born on 12 October 1845 at St Pancras, London, son of John Chapple, mason, and his wife Louisa, née Brewin. He studied at King's College, University of London (B.A., 1870; B.Sc., 1873) and at Westminster College, a Wesleyan teacher-training institution where he later taught for five years. He was a founding member of the National Union of Elementary Teachers, which he represented in 1870 at a congress on the desirability of religious teaching in government schools. It was a cause he was to espouse again in South Australia. During this period he declined appointment as principal of a Wesleyan university in Illinois, United States of America.

In 1876 Chapple agreed to succeed J. A. Hartley as headmaster of Prince Alfred College and arrived in Adelaide on 8 April. An early achievement was to secure in 1878 the incorporation of the school. This removed its financial control from 'the hands of four or five gentlemen who might do as they liked' and vested it in a board of management. He continued to shift the school's emphasis away from classical subjects and towards mathematics and natural science, aiming to broaden the boys' minds. Chapple considered that colleges such as Prince Alfred were 'freer' than state schools to devote themselves to 'education' as distinct from 'instruction'. As president of the Collegiate Masters' Association, he told the 1881-83 commission on the working of the education Acts, that provision by the state of advanced or secondary education for 'the people' would be 'a very perilous experiment' and should not be 'one of the functions of government'.

Chapple played an active community role outside the school: he was warden of the Senate of the University of Adelaide in 1883-1922, vice-president of the Royal Society of South Australia in 1880-81, president of the Literary Societies' Union and vice-president of the South Australian branch of the Teachers' Guild of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1900 he published The Boy's Own Grammar … and he supported Our Boys' Institute, the State athletic association, and the Young Men's Christian Association of Adelaide of which he was president for seven years. He impressed his contemporaries as being a man of energy and whimsicality and pre-eminently of a 'simple, earnest religious faith'. A Methodist, he was a president of the Council of Churches and, on leave in England in 1901, was a delegate to the Methodist Ecumenical Conference.

On 16 April 1870 at Bethnal Green, London, Chapple had married Elizabeth Sarah Hunter, a schoolmistress. They took great pride in the excellent academic achievements of their four daughters and four sons. Phoebe was an intrepid medical doctor. On Chapple's retirement at the end of 1914 he was appointed C.M.G. It was said by a successor, J. F. Ward, that Chapple had been 'the man who really founded Prince Alfred College as a great school'. He died on 29 February 1924 at his home in Norwood and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. A bronze bust by G. A. Barnes is in the school's Old Assembly Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • J. J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity (Adel, 1901)
  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • J. F. Ward, Prince Alfred College (Adel, 1951)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia) 1878, 4 (157), 1883-94, 3 (27a)
  • Prince Alfred College Chronicle, Jan 1915, May 1924
  • Observer (Adelaide), 24 Mar 1894, 1 Nov 1902, 8 Mar 1924
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 3 Mar 1924.

Citation details

Alan H. Dennis, 'Chapple, Frederic (1845–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 April 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

Life Summary [details]


12 October, 1845
London, Middlesex, England


29 February, 1924 (aged 78)
Norwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.