Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Henry Ellwood (1889–1972)

by Andrew Spaull

This article was published:

William Henry Ellwood (1889-1972), educationist, was born on 19 April 1889 at Congupna, Victoria, seventh surviving child of John Ellwood, an English-born farmer, and his wife Catherine, née Patience, from Scotland. William attended Wunghnu State School and there, in 1904, joined the Education Department of Victoria as a monitor (formerly pupil-teacher). Studying and teaching, he qualified as a primary-school teacher in 1907 and was sent to a number of schools including Strathmerton West, Hiawatha (Gippsland), St Kilda Park and Albert Park.

On 8 January 1915 Ellwood enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Commissioned in May, he embarked for the Middle East and in October joined the 24th Battalion at Gallipoli. By August 1916 he was a captain in France. Although severely wounded on 3 May 1917 during a charge at Bullecourt, he remained on duty and inspired his company to repel five counter-attacks; for this action he was awarded the Military Cross. In January 1918 he was promoted major and in June 1919 returned to Australia where his appointment terminated on 15 September. He served in the Militia in 1920-38 and rose to lieutenant colonel while commanding the 8th Battalion.

At Ascot Vale Presbyterian Church on 27 March 1915 Ellwood had married Elsie May Cross. On demobilization, he returned to schoolteaching and studied part time at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1922; M.Ed., 1928; M.A., 1935). In 1922 he was appointed lecturer in primary method at Melbourne Teachers College. His lectures and exercises formed part of J. W. Elijah's The Principles and Technique of Teaching in Elementary Schools (1924). In 1925 Ellwood became district inspector for Ouyen-Mildura.

Next year he was appointed principal of Ballarat Teachers College where he remained until 1931 when it was closed as part of the government's economy measures. While at Ballarat, Ellwood established a reputation as a warm, generous leader who was interested in student welfare and staff development. He transferred these values to his work as district inspector (1932-35) in the Maryborough region. Sympathetic to the plight of teachers in their neglected schools, he none the less insisted that they should practise progressive methods which would develop the interest of the individual child. His occasional demonstration lessons showed that he had lost none of his practical skills, especially in the teaching of reading and literature. During 1936 he visited Tasmania to study the progress of the new Area Schools. In 1938-45 he was chief inspector of Victorian primary schools, the last person to fill this post after commencing a departmental career as a monitor.

World War II seriously interrupted Ellwood's plans to enrich the primary school curriculum. He was obliged to keep many of the schools operating with under-trained teachers. He took pleasure in the expansion of civics education and in the publication of the second edition of the Victorian Readers (he had planned something brighter, but wartime restrictions resulted in a more traditional publication). His Handbook for the Elementary School Teacher (1943) was used as an essential text for twenty years. In 1945 he established a curriculum and research branch in the Education Department, introduced a supervisor of school libraries and began a major revision of the primary-school curriculum. Ellwood hoped that, unlike previous revisions, the process would be continuous and involve classroom teachers in its formulation.

In 1946 the Cain government acceded to a campaign by the Victorian Teachers' Union to establish a teachers' tribunal for the independent determination of salaries and promotions. Ellwood was appointed its first chairman. He was able to improve teachers' employment conditions following years of indifference by governments of all persuasions. In the early determinations of the Victorian Teachers' Tribunal he reduced the salary differentials between primary and secondary teachers. The tribunal was less responsive to union claims for equal pay for women teachers: in a 1948 decision it conceded the principle of equal pay, but found that women teachers' material needs were less than those of men. Ellwood retired from the tribunal in 1954.

A trustee (1945-65) of the Public Library of Victoria, he effectively represented that body on the Documentary Film Board, at the library school of the Royal Melbourne Technical College (from 1960 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) and in public campaigns such as Library Week. Survived by his wife and three sons, Ellwood died on 26 June 1972 at Glen Iris and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Bessant and A. D. Spaull, Teachers in Conflict (Melb, 1972)
  • Education Department (Victoria), Vision and Realisation, 1, L. J. Blake ed (Melb, 1973)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Jan 1937
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 Nov 1965
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 27 June 1972.

Citation details

Andrew Spaull, 'Ellwood, William Henry (1889–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 April, 1889
Congupna, Victoria, Australia


26 June, 1972 (aged 83)
Glen Iris, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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