Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henderson, Thomas (1872–1968)

by Harold J. Sutcliffe

This article was published:

Thomas Henderson (1872-1968), headmaster, was born on 7 December 1872 at Mooloolah, Queensland, second of four children of Thomas Henderson, police constable, and his wife Eliza, née McAteer, both from Ireland. The family moved to the Brisbane suburb of Hemmant where Thomas attended the local state school. In April 1888 he was admitted to the Department of Public Instruction and sent to Kangaroo Point Boys' School as a pupil-teacher; three years later he became an assistant-teacher. He then taught at Ipswich East (1896-97) and Woolloongabba (from 1898) boys' schools. At Holy Trinity Church, Woolloongabba, on 10 April 1901 he married with Anglican rites Maria Ada Mumford, a telephone-operator. From July 1902 Henderson ran the one-teacher school at Glencoe until appointed head teacher of a new school at Rangeville, Toowoomba, in July 1909. He was transferred to Ascot State School, Brisbane, in May 1920, and remained there for nineteen years.

A competent and progressive administrator, Henderson was unusually innovative and creative. His concept of 'the school beautiful' inspired the establishment of attractive grounds, with gardens, flowering trees, bush-houses, rockeries, fish ponds and vine-covered archways. Adventure playgrounds, planned athletic ovals and games courts were added features. Gymnasiums and swimming pools built at Rangeville and Ascot were among the first in Queensland state schools. Appreciating the value of school libraries, Henderson acquired a separate building at Ascot for use as a library and reading-room. He arranged for one teacher to become an art specialist in order to implement an ambitious programme of art, craft and art appreciation. By drawing on the talents of his staff, he decorated schoolrooms with murals of educational and aesthetic value.

Henderson introduced choral work, and founded a bugle band at Rangeville and a brass band at Ascot. Pupils were consistently successful in external scholarship examinations, winning three Lilley medals during this period. Sport was encouraged and a competitive house-system introduced. Well in advance of their general acceptance by the Department of Public Instruction, Henderson established project clubs which promoted pupils' interests in poultry, beekeeping, fish, vegetables and flowers. Ascot held its own annual agricultural and horticultural show. He was also instrumental in establishing a model, one-teacher school within Ascot where teachers-in-training spent some time in anticipation of their service in small schools.

A successful amateur sportsman, Henderson turned out for athletics, cricket, football and bowls. He rose to the rank of lieutenant in the Queensland Teachers' Volunteer Corps and was an officer of school cadets. With the help of his colleagues, he produced several textbooks on mathematics, history and geography; for many years he was an executive-member of the Queensland Teachers' Union. 'Hendy's' reputation was built on his ability to develop his staff, to inspire the co-operation of individuals and to involve communities in his work. Many of his achievements were the more impressive for being accomplished during the Depression. Affectionately regarded as the 'Mr Chips' of Ascot School, he retired on 30 June 1939. He died on 12 December 1968 at Clayfield and was cremated; his wife, three daughters and three of his four sons survived him. The other son Trevor Macateer Henderson predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Guy and H. Sutcliffe, Ascot (Brisb, 1995)
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 Dec 1968
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 Dec 1968
  • teachers' staff cards and other Education Department records (History Unit, Queensland Department of Education, Brisbane)
  • Rangeville and Ascot state schools records (Queensland State Archives)
  • Henderson family records (privately held).

Citation details

Harold J. Sutcliffe, 'Henderson, Thomas (1872–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 5 June 2023.

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, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]


7 December, 1872
Mooloolah, Queensland, Australia


12 December, 1968 (aged 96)
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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