Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Ewart (1838–1927)

by Rupert Goodman

This article was published:

David Ewart (1838-1927), educationist, was born on 31 August 1838 at Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland, son of Thomas Ewart, farmer, and his wife Grace, née McLagan. He was educated at the village Free Church school where he became a monitor and pupil teacher and then won a Queen's scholarship to Moray House, Edinburgh. He completed the course in 1858 and matriculated at the University of Edinburgh but lack of funds forced him to leave the university and take up teaching. He was appointed to the Free Church school in Stuartfield, Aberdeenshire, and in 1861-63 had charge of the Free John Knox School in Aberdeen.

He arrived in Queensland in September 1864 and, while waiting for a vacancy with the Board of General Education, lumped cargo on Raff's wharf. He was appointed assistant master at the Normal School, then went to Eagle Farm and to the head teachership of Rockhampton Central Boys' School. His ability impressed the general inspector, Randal MacDonnell, and led to his appointment in 1873 as organizing master and acting inspector. He was promoted district inspector in 1874, senior district inspector in 1876, registrar in 1879 and general inspector in 1882. In 1905-09 he was the first director of education.

His major influence on Queensland education was felt during his years as general inspector when John Anderson was under-secretary of the Department of Public Instruction. Ewart's limited views on primary education, his lack of appreciation of developments in secondary and technical education and his unfavourable reports after visits to the southern colonies retarded educational advance in Queensland. His autocratic manner in dealing with teachers and their problems was criticized in 1888 by the royal commissioners on the civil service who reported that he had so exercised his powers 'as to bring the staff into a frame of mind very little short of rebellion'. While his annual reports had literary merit they also showed that by 1901 there was mounting criticism of Queensland's outdated primary syllabus, method of inspection, over-centralized administration and lack of modern teacher-training facilities. Not until Ewart retired in 1909 and was replaced by Reginald Roe and John Story did Queensland's education system advance towards those operating elsewhere in Australia.

Ewart died in Toowoomba on 4 May 1927 and was buried in the Toowong cemetery, Brisbane. At Aberdeen in 1864 he had married Jane Milne; of their three sons and three daughters, he was survived by William James, a Queensland government architect; David, a senior member of Dalgety's; and Helen who married A. O. Jackson, manager of the Queensland National Bank, Toowoomba.

Select Bibliography

  • E. R. Wyeth, Education in Queensland (Melb, 1955?)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland, 1860-1960 (Canberra, 1968)
  • Royal Commission on Educational Institutions, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1875, 2, 192
  • Royal Commission on Establishing a University, Evidence, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1891, 3, 958.

Citation details

Rupert Goodman, 'Ewart, David (1838–1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 August, 1838
Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland


4 May, 1927 (aged 88)
Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

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