Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Marden (1855–1924)

by Alan Dougan

This article was published:

John Marden (1855-1924), headmaster, was born on 9 April 1855 at Prahran, Melbourne, fifth child of John Marden, butcher, and his wife Catherine, née Murphy, both English born. He attended Geelong College and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1883; M.A., 1885; LL.B., 1887). At Cape Clear he married a schoolteacher, Jane Armstrong, on 20 December 1883. While completing his law degree Marden taught at Geelong College under George Morrison, commanding the school cadet corps, and at the Methodist Ladies' College, Melbourne.

In 1887 Marden was appointed first headmaster and principal of the Presbyterian Ladies' College, Sydney. He opened the school with Miss M. McCormick as lady superintendent in 1888 in a leased house at Ashfield; there were thirty pupils including fifteen boarders. In 1890, after examination in jurisprudence, the University of Sydney conferred on him the degree of LL.D. That year the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales bought Anthony Hordern's house at Croydon. There Marden consolidated the school and, keenly interested in horticulture, laid out beautiful gardens and playing fields.

In 1916, under Marden's guidance, the Presbyterian Church bought fifty acres (20 ha) at Pymble for £15,000 and established a sister school, administered until 1929 by a single council. Marden was headmaster of both schools. At Pymble he had greater opportunity to plan and develop buildings, gardens and playing areas, and Pymble soon outgrew Croydon.

A man of strong will, Marden administered his schools with firm discipline, tempered with kindness, understanding and generosity, and, winning the respect and affection of his pupils, strongly influenced them. He firmly believed that women should share fully in opportunities for secondary and tertiary education and also hold high Christian ideals. Although trained as a lawyer, he gave physics, chemistry and biology a prominent place—at a time when few schools included much science in the curriculum. He instituted the house system in both schools. In his later years he was assisted by a prominent educational innovator, Dr E. Neil McQueen, a scientist and an ardent advocate of the Dalton plan for education, who later succeeded him at Croydon.

Marden was a tall man, with luxuriant white hair and a large dark moustache. He bought a residence at Wentworth Falls where he spent his leisure time and holidays and exercised his horticultural skills, and where in 1919, after a visit to a daughter in Western Australia, he retired. There also he became friendly with Peter Board, director of education. Marden was active in the Presbyterian Church, serving as an elder at Ashfield for twenty-eight years and for his last six years at Wentworth Falls. He died at Randwick on 29 October 1924 and was buried in South Head cemetery. His wife, son and three daughters survived him. There is a memorial library at Croydon and his son established a memorial scholarship at Pymble.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Cameron, Centenary History of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales (Syd, 1905)
  • H. D. Mackie (ed), John Marden (Syd, 1925)
  • C. A. White, The Challenge of the Years (Syd, 1951)
  • G. C. Notman and B. R. Keith (ed), The Geelong College, 1861-1961 (Geelong, Vic, 1961)
  • Presbyterian Church of New South Wales, Minutes of the Proceedings of the General Assembly, 1886-1925 (Reports of PLC Council)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Oct 1924.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Dougan, 'Marden, John (1855–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 February 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 April, 1855
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


29 October, 1924 (aged 69)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.