Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Joseph McClemans (1874–1960)

by R. J. S. Barrett-Lennard and G. C. Bolton

This article was published:

William Joseph McClemans (1874-1960), clergyman and educationist, was born on 15 December 1874 at Crossakiel, County Meath, Ireland, son of Hugh McClemans of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and his wife Mary, née Cromer. Educated at Elphin Cathedral Grammar School, Roscommon, and Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1897), William graduated with honours in Greek.

After migrating to Western Australia, he was ordained deacon (1899) and priest (1900) by the Church of England bishop C. O. L. Riley. Energetic and popular, McClemans was curate (1899-1901) of Greenbushes and rector of Day Dawn, on the Murchison goldfields (1901-02), Geraldton (1902-05) and Boulder (1905-07), building a church at each of his posts except Geraldton. At Christchurch, Geraldton, on 3 January 1905 he married Ada Lucy Walker, a nurse. In 1907 he became rector of an important suburban parish, Christ Church, Claremont, and in 1912 canon of St George's Cathedral. He became a prominent public figure, forthright and respected for his intellect and oratorical skills. Perceiving the need for a private school for boys not sufficiently advanced or too young for the established secondary schools, McClemans founded Christ Church Preparatory School in premises adjacent to his rectory. From a modest start with one classroom and nine dayboys, Christ Church survived early difficulties to become a grammar school covering all secondary years. By 1960 it had grown into the largest private school in Western Australia, with 669 boys on the roll. McClemans was also influential in the decision by the Church of England to purchase the small, private school of Charles Harper, which became Guildford Grammar School.

Although a married man with five young daughters McClemans thought it his duty to serve as a chaplain during World War I. When commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force on 30 October 1915, he was 6 ft 1 ins (185 cm) tall and weighed 13 stone (82.5 kg). Discharged on 18 April 1917, he returned to Claremont deeply affected by his experiences on the front, and increasingly sought consolation in alcohol. Late in 1922 he was obliged to resign as rector. Separated from his wife—they divorced in 1929—and family, he spent twenty years farming on several different blocks, acquired through the Soldier Settlement Scheme, in the Lake Hinds and West Kondut area, north-west of Wongan Hills, 125 miles (200 km) north of Perth. This was a significant period of withdrawal from the social life he had known, though he found support from friends in the area. His inexperience and the 1930s Depression led to his efforts at farming being ultimately unsuccessful.

Circumstances improved when McClemans married with Methodist forms Susie Violet Forrest, the niece of Sir John Forrest, on 19 May 1943 at Claremont. Though estranged from many of his family, he re-established contact with some of them in his declining years. After the death of his wife in 1950 McClemans lived at York, then Gosnells and finally Subiaco, where he died, after a long illness, on 17 April 1960. He was buried in Karrakatta cemetery, survived by five daughters of his first marriage, of whom Sheila (Kenworthy) became the first woman to enter legal practice in Perth and Dorothy (Sanders) was a popular novelist.

Select Bibliography

  • A. and D. Muir, Family History of William and Margaret Forrest (Manjimup, WA, 1982)
  • P. Sharpe and L. O’Hara, A Goodly Heritage (Perth, 1992)
  • G. C. Bolton and J. Gregory, Claremont (Nedlands, 1998)
  • L. Davies, Sheila (Syd, 2000)
  • West Australian, 22 Apr 1960, p 10.

Citation details

R. J. S. Barrett-Lennard and G. C. Bolton, 'McClemans, William Joseph (1874–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 December, 1874
Crossakiel, Meath, Ireland


17 April, 1960 (aged 85)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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