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Frederick Thomas Perkins (1877–1960)

by K. J. Cable

This article was published:

Frederick Thomas Perkins (1877-1960), Anglican clerical schoolmaster, was born on 23 January 1877 at Westbury, Wiltshire, England, son of George Joseph Perkins, schoolmaster, and his wife Sarah, née Oborn. His father conducted a school at Westbury until he and his family migrated to Queensland. Perkins was educated at the Townsville Grammar School, then the University of Sydney where he took honours in classics (B.A., 1899; M.A., 1901), won an athletics blue and, as Eleanor Abbott scholar, resided in St Paul's College. After teaching at The King's School Perkins entered the Anglican ministry. He was made deacon on 8 March 1903 and ordained priest by Bishop Stretch of Newcastle on 28 February 1904. He served as precentor of Christ Church cathedral (1903), rector of Gosford (1905) and of Stroud (1907). On 30 October 1907 he married Isabella Catherine Bethune (d.1958) at Christ Church Cathedral.

Education remained his main interest. He had several brief stints as sub-warden and vice-warden of St Paul's College, where he was later a fellow (1918-29). In 1908 Perkins became headmaster of the new Monaro Grammar School at Cooma. The venture was successful and in 1913 he was appointed headmaster of The Armidale School. Despite wartime difficulties, the school prospered. In both places, he acted as examining chaplain to the bishop.

In 1918 an influential group of lay and clerical local residents planned a school in Sydney's eastern suburbs and acquired Cranbrook, the Bellevue Hill mansion recently vacated by the State governor. Perkins was given charge. Cranbrook School, though Anglican, was not placed under the control of synod and retained complete autonomy.

The first decade of his headmastership was highly successful. A large building programme was almost completed—save for the chapel that Perkins, who was also chaplain, so much wanted. Playing fields were constructed. There was a good educational standard. While rejected for membership of the Great Public Schools Association, Cranbrook finally joined the Associated Schools. By 1928, with a large junior school and an overall enrolment of 338 boys including 100 boarders, Cranbrook had made remarkable progress.

A born teacher and a shrewd administrator, Perkins took a personal interest in all aspects of school life. A man of mercurial temperament, he had begun by 1928 to feel the strain of office; a visit to Britain in 1929 did not give him relief; he returned to face the Depression which caused severe problems to private schools. An attempt by the council to assist Perkins by appointing a coadjutor in 1931 was neither effective nor acceptable. At the end of 1932 he resigned. For all the tension, Cranbrook had fared better during the Depression than some other schools with longer histories.

After serving as locum tenens at the nearby Church of St Mark, Darling Point, Perkins became rector of St Giles', Greenwich, in 1935. He left this quiet North Shore parish in 1940 to return to Cranbrook as acting-headmaster after his successor (Lieutenant-General Sir) Iven Mackay had returned to the army. Perkins remained as chaplain and general mentor to the new headmaster (Sir) Brian Hone. 'Polly' Perkins, always a loved figure in the school, was by now something of an institution there. He finally left in 1947, to become chaplain and assistant master at St Helen's School, Cockermouth, England, where his son-in-law was head.

Perkins returned to Sydney in 1955 and lived in retirement at Strathfield and then at Roseville. Survived by a son and daughter, he died at Wahroonga on 13 November 1960. He was cremated after a funeral service at All Saints' Church, Woollahra, which was the occasion for spontaneous tributes to the kindly little man who had been one of Australia's notable clerical headmasters. Perkins House at Cranbrook is his memorial; the school holds his portrait by John Longstaff.

Perkins' elder brother Alfred George (1875-1947), Anglican clergyman, served in North Queensland and in the diocese of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • A. C. Child, Cranbrook (Syd, 1968)
  • Cranbrookian, May 1933, Aug 1939
  • Church Standard, 22 Aug 1947
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Nov 1960.

Citation details

K. J. Cable, 'Perkins, Frederick Thomas (1877–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 5 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 January, 1877
Westbury, Wiltshire, England


13 November, 1960 (aged 83)
Wahroonga, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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