Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles John Prescott (1857–1946)

by Peter L. Swain

This article was published:

Charles John Prescott (1857-1946), educationist, was born on 9 June 1857 at Bridport, Dorset, England, eldest child of Rev. James Jenkin Prescott, Wesleyan clergyman, and his wife Henrietta, née Johnson. Educated at Kingswood School, Bath, he attended Worcester College, Oxford (B.A., 1880; M.A., 1893). He began theological studies at Handsworth Theological College, Birmingham, but married Annie Elizabeth Price (d.1931) on 30 August 1882 at Cardiff and migrated to Sydney in October to improve her health. Arriving on 15 November, Prescott was appointed to Parramatta Wesleyan Circuit and as a part-time tutor at the Provisional Theological Institute.

In 1885 Kent House, Miss Lester's school at Burwood, was purchased as a Wesleyan school for girls, and Prescott was appointed president and headmaster. He was ordained on 21 January 1886, and Wesleyan Ladies' College began unostentatiously on 27 January with ten pupils. Prescott introduced challenging academic studies for girls, as well as music, competitive games and feminine 'accomplishments'. In time ex-pupils excelled at the University of Sydney, enhancing the college's reputation. He also established a co-educational kindergarten, probably the first in the colony. The school was given colours, crest, motto, uniform, magazine and other traditions from English public schools. He was greatly helped by his wife who took charge of the domestic arrangements and had 'a delicate and skilful touch' on the organ and piano. Prescott's name is commemorated at Methodist Ladies' College, Burwood, in a dux prize and building wing.

In 1900 he moved to Newington College, Stanmore, as president and headmaster, the first to hold dual office. He fostered the ideal of a balanced liberal education within a Christian environment, with a basis of 'stiff' subjects, notably mathematics and classical studies. Other emphases were correct English, team games, and commitment to 'family, school, King and God'. Elected president of the New South Wales Methodist Conference in 1910, he published Pastoral Letters (1911). Prescott served as acting senior army chaplain in 1914-18, making many visits to camps and barracks, and was senior Methodist chaplain from 1919. In 1919 he was awarded an honorary doctorate of divinity by Emory University, Georgia, United States of America.

Esteemed by his peers, Prescott became the spokesman for other headmasters in negotiations with government, university and Department of Education. A foundation member of the Bursary Endowment Board from 1915 and of the Soldiers' Children Education Board from 1920, he was a founder and several times chairman of the Teachers' Association of New South Wales, the Headmasters' Association (foundation chairman, 1923) and the Teachers' Central Registry. He retired from Newington in September 1931 after a record term. He published several books of essays, including his reminiscences, Romance of School (1932). He was acting master of Wesley College, University of Sydney, in 1935 and acting headmaster of Annesley Methodist Girls' School, Bowral, for a term in 1938. He continued on boards and committees and contributed to the Sydney Morning Herald. Survived by two sons and two daughters, he died on 12 June 1946 and was cremated.

A short, energetic man of broad, cultured outlook, Prescott was proud of his English heritage: he was for many years a council-member of the Royal Empire Society. His portrait by Jerrold Nathan is at Newington College where his name is commemorated in the Prescott Hall, Prescott House and Prescott Science Block.

Select Bibliography

  • D. S. Macmillan, Newington College 1863-1963 (Syd, 1963)
  • P. L. Swain, Charles John Prescott (Syd, 1978)
  • S. and R. Coupe, Walk in the Light (Syd, 1986)
  • Prescott papers (Newington College Archives).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter L. Swain, 'Prescott, Charles John (1857–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 16 July 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]


9 June, 1857
Bridport, Dorset, England


12 June, 1946 (aged 89)

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.