Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Huffer (1833–1898)

by Cliff Turney

This article was published:

John Huffer (1833-1898), schoolmaster and inspector, was born in Condover, Shropshire, England, son of James Huffer, farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Jones. He spent eighteen months at Highbury Training College, London. In 1857 with his wife Harriett, née Sedgwick, whom he had married in 1854, he arrived in Sydney to become Isaac Coburn's assistant master at the St James's Model School. In 1858 he succeeded Coburn as headmaster and in 1862 was headmaster and training master. Huffer worked with 'zeal and good judgment' to support and extend the reforms initiated by Coburn and did much to raise the quality of instruction in about a hundred Sydney diocesan schools. In 1867 after application he was appointed an inspector under the Council of Education. In 1867-72 he worked in the Camden district and in 1873-76 in the Bathurst area. Like Coburn he found the pressure of work and inflexible requirements of the new position almost insuperable. Friction soon developed with his administrative superior, William Wilkins, because of his laxity with correspondence and reports, and his failure to maintain his inspection programmes. However, Huffer greatly improved and extended elementary education in his districts. His ideas on school organization and teaching methods were modern, and he was always positive and encouraging when commenting on the teachers' work. He repeatedly condemned the ineffectiveness of local boards and strongly advocated compulsory school attendance.

At Bathurst Huffer found the work of the inspectorate so rigorous that by 1875 he was suffering from severe 'nervous exhaustion'. His work fell hopelessly behind. Wilkins's solicitude soon turned to disapproval when it was falsely rumoured that Huffer's neglect arose from his desire to become an Anglican clergyman. His work continued to deteriorate and Wilkins advised him to resign. Huffer refused and was dismissed. In 1877 he was reappointed and transferred in 1880 to the new Department of Public Instruction but was again dismissed for inefficiency in December. Superannuated, he retired to Upper Bankstown where on 18 May 1898 he died of heart failure after chronic bronchitis and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife and a daughter, Mary Jane.

Select Bibliography

  • Denominational School Board, Annual Reports (Syd, 1854-65)
  • Council of Education, Annual Report (Syd, 1868-79)
  • K. J. Cable, ‘Saint James' Church, King Street, Sydney, 1819-1894’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 50, part 4, 1964, pp 241-61
  • Council of Education, miscellaneous in-letters, 1867-70, and minute book, 1868, and secretary's private letters, 1874-75 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Cliff Turney, 'Huffer, John (1833–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 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]


Condover, Shropshire, England


18 May, 1898 (aged ~ 65)
Bankstown, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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