Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Norman Murray Gladstone Gratton (1886–1965)

by Peter C. Read

This article was published:

Norman Murray Gladstone Gratton (1886-1965), schoolmaster, was born on 21 July 1886 at Richmond, Melbourne, elder son of Joseph Gladstone Gratton, a grocer from England, and his Victorian-born wife Annie Cay, née Carlin. His father died in 1888, his mother when he was 18. Educated at North Melbourne State School, he then attended Melbourne Teachers' College and, with a scholarship, the University of Melbourne (Dip.Ed., 1913; B.A., 1915). He taught in various Victorian state schools. On 31 December 1912 Gratton married a teacher, Jeannie Gordon Tweedie.

He held a commission in the Victorian Rangers but was rejected for service in the Australian Imperial Force. After joining the Collegiate School of St Peter in Adelaide in 1916 as senior master to establish a curriculum for non-academic senior boys, in 1918 he was appointed founding headmaster of a Presbyterian school to be established as a memorial to the sons of Scotland who had fallen in World War I.

Next February Scotch College, with an enrolment of 72 boys (12 boarders), was opened in small premises at Unley Park formerly occupied by Kyre College. At the end of 1919 Scotch moved to Torrens Park, the former home of Robert Barr Smith on its present site, Carruth Road, Mitcham. The daunting task of turning an elegant but run-down Victorian mansion into a first-class boys' college was a challenge that Gratton met. Under his energetic leadership classrooms and dormitories were created, army huts were converted to classrooms or workshops, the coach-house became a science block and the stables a gymnasium. Ovals and tennis courts were established. By 1928 there were over 300 boys. The Depression led to a dramatic fall in numbers, but the college survived. In 1942 the Torrens Park property was compulsorily acquired by the American Army, and it was later occupied by the Royal Australian Air Force. Through Gratton's determination the college survived in temporary quarters at Belair until 1944. He then initiated a programme of expansion and development on the Mitcham site: in 1946 the college built a junior school, Gratton House.

When he retired in 1951 there were over 400 pupils. No more popular figure had ever trod the school grounds. As Mr Justice Bright said: 'None could doubt the total involvement of Mr Gratton in the School … he was an unquestioned leader. I never heard him raise his voice in anger, or saw him lose control. Boys who towered over him physically obeyed him without thinking … He lived for the School'. He was concerned with educational principles, disapproved of fierce competition and his voice carried weight in professional conferences. Gratton had been a member of the South Australian Public Examinations Board and of the English and Australian Headmasters' conferences, and chairman of the local Headmasters' Association. He was chief commissioner of the Boy Scouts' Association of South Australia in 1931-34. An elder of the Presbyterian Church, he had been president of the Presbyterian Men's League. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1952.

In 1955 his Adelaide Hills home and possessions were destroyed by a bush fire. Norman Gratton died on 1 January 1965, survived by his wife and two sons. His ashes were scattered in the college grounds and his portrait, by Nora Heysen, hangs in the school chapel.

Select Bibliography

  • Scotch College Magazine (South Australia), 48 (1965)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 13 Dec 1948, 2 Jan 1965
  • R. N. Gilchrist, History of Scotch College Junior School (typescript, held by school Archives)
  • Scotch Reports, 1964-81.

Citation details

Peter C. Read, 'Gratton, Norman Murray Gladstone (1886–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 18 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]


21 July, 1886
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


1 January, 1965 (aged 78)
South Australia, Australia

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