Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Girdlestone (1863–1926)

by Selwyn M. Owen

This article was published:

Henry Girdlestone (1863-1926), Anglican clergyman and headmaster, was born on 5 July 1863 at Penkridge, Staffordshire, England, eldest son of Henry Girdlestone, clergyman, and his wife Eliza Jane, née Webb. He grew up at the rectory of Bathampton, where he acquired a love of the country and where respect for Anglican principles and traditions was instilled in him by his father. He attended Bath College for eight years before going to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he took a third-class degree in natural science (M.A., 1889) and stroked his college eight for three years and the university crew in 1885 and 1886. After a short period tutoring the Irish baron, Lord Ashtown, Girdlestone became assistant master and chaplain at his old school, in 1890-93; he was ordained in 1892.

In 1894 he arrived in Adelaide as headmaster of the Collegiate School of St Peter. Bishop Kennion, after interviewing the applicants in England, had cabled: 'Excellent man, Girdlestone, Stroke Oxford Eight, Honours, Maths and Science'. Intending to stay only two years, he remained for twenty-two, and 'raised St. Peter's from a small struggling school (170 boys) to a large and prosperous College (475 boys)'. A shy man, 'a man's man', he proved one of its greatest headmasters and organized the school 'to fit a man to take his part in the civil work of the State'. Six feet (183 cm) tall and broad-shouldered, he had a commanding presence, a friendly disposition and a conviction that firm discipline and thoroughness produced good character and were the prerequisites for a life of Christian service. His sermons in the school chapel were inspiring: he distrusted mysticism and emotion. He avoided 'cramming' and was sceptical of the value of excessive practical work in science teaching. He instilled in the school a spirit of cohesion and loyalty to the British Empire.

Girdlestone co-founded the school mission at St Mary Magdalene's Church, Adelaide, in 1908. The school's preparatory department was opened in 1910, and he strengthened the Old Collegians' Association. He sat on the council of the University of Adelaide from 1901, was a vice-president of the Classical Association of South Australia, president of the Adelaide Rowing Club and an honorary canon of St Peter's Cathedral from 1912. In 1916 he resigned from the school, as he felt that a younger man was required and he doubted his own ability to continue to inspire loyalty and devotion. He helped to run a small school at Hunters Hill, Sydney, and in 1917-19 was acting headmaster of Melbourne Church of England Grammar School while R. P. Franklin saw military service overseas.

Next year Girdlestone returned to England and was licensed to officiate in the diocese of Bath and Wells in 1922. On 17 September 1900, in Adelaide, he had married Helen Joanna Crawford in his school's chapel. When he died from intestinal neoplasm at his home Hillcote, Lansdown, near Bath, on 29 June 1926, she survived him with their daughter and son; he was buried in Lansdown cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Liber Melburniensis, centenary ed (1965)
  • St Peter's College Magazine, May 1916, Aug 1926
  • Mail (Adelaide), 14 Dec 1912
  • A. Grenfell Price, The Collegiate School of St Peter 1847-1947 (State Records of South Australia)
  • P. C. Girdlestone, Canon Henry Girdlestone (manuscript, St Peter's College Archives)
  • Council of Governors, St Peter's College, minutes, 1893-1916, and Collegiate School of St Peter, school list, 1900, 1905, 1911 (St Peter's College Archives).

Citation details

Selwyn M. Owen, 'Girdlestone, Henry (1863–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 29 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 July, 1863
Penkridge, Staffordshire, England


29 June, 1926 (aged 62)
Lansdown, Bath, Somerset, England

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