Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Muirden (1872–1940)

by Brian Condon

This article was published:

William Muirden (1872-1940), school proprietor, was born on 9 May 1872 at Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland, son of Alexander Muirden, sheriff-officer and auctioneer, and his wife Catherine, née Mackay. The family fell upon hard times and William's elder brother Alexander migrated to South Australia. In 1887 he formed Adelaide's first business college, the Adelaide Shorthand Institute. In 1892 William joined him in the business, but Alexander left Adelaide next year. William combined with William Hogg to operate the Shorthand and Business Training Academy which provided the earliest correspondence education in the colony, from 1895 teaching country students by letter. In 1900 William Muirden established, as sole proprietor, the consistently successful Muirden College Ltd. On 14 December 1897, at Mile End, he had married Mabel Florence Lambell; they had a daughter and three sons.

Mostly begun as institutions to teach shorthand, by the 1890s nearly all business colleges had established typing as a core subject, supplemented by disciplines like book-keeping. By the late 1890s Muirden could boast that his graduates worked in over ninety per cent of Adelaide's business houses. The colleges prepared students for a wide range of public and private organizations, including State and Commonwealth public services.

From 1913 to 1934 Muirden published his Commonwealth Series—widely used and republished booklets on grammar, spelling, commercial practice, etc., for use by students preparing for public examinations all over Australia. A deacon at Stow Memorial Congregational Church, he was influenced by Rev. W. R. Fletcher, who possibly urged him to study for his arts degree at the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1910). He formed the William Muirden Book Club, and belonged to the Wayville Literary Society and the Caledonian Society.

His professional reputation assured by his conduct of the business colleges, he became a public advocate for commercial education and helped to prepare the path—long and tortuous—for its acceptance as a subject suitable for academic study at the highest levels. Perhaps it was his 'love of the best in art, music, and literature' that made him unusual in supporting the inclusion of general education (as distinct from technical, skill-training aspects); Muirden College's curriculum reflected this. In February 1914 Muirden was appointed by the State government as an honorary commissioner to inquire into and report on commercial and technical education in Britain and Europe; he was away eight months. In 1924 he helped to establish, and was a director on the first board of King's College, a private Congregational and Baptist school (now Pembroke School).

Muirden bought Hassett's Business College in Prahran, Melbourne, in 1923, and moved there in 1925 to direct it, as Muirden's Business College (in 1936 the name reverted to Hassett's Commercial College). He was assisted by two of his sons; the other remained in Adelaide to run the college, which is still directed by a grandson of William Muirden.

A robust, tall and handsome man, but modest, Muirden was a perfectionist. He conducted his Melbourne school successfully, enjoyed bowls and became an active Methodist. He impressed associates with 'the balanced symmetry' and 'harmony' of his nature. Survived by his wife and family, Muirden died of coronary vascular disease at his East Malvern home on 25 November 1940. He was cremated and his estate was sworn for probate in Melbourne and Adelaide at £9792.

Select Bibliography

  • H. T. Burgess (ed), Cyclopedia of South Australia, vol 2 (Adel, 1909)
  • M. Figg (compiler), A Brief History of Muirden College, 1900-1980 (Adel, 1982)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 26 Nov 1940
  • Age (Melbourne), 27 Nov 1940
  • H. Jones, The History of Commercial Education in South Australia with Special Reference to Women (M.A. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1957)
  • newsclipping books held by Muirden College, Adelaide
  • private information

Citation details

Brian Condon, 'Muirden, William (1872–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 May 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 May, 1872
Golspie, Sutherland, Scotland


25 November, 1940 (aged 68)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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