Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Gabriel Purton (1883–1948)

by A. I. Keenan

This article was published:

David Gabriel Purton (1883-1948), Christian Brother and teacher, was born on 3 December 1883 at St Bathans, Central Otago, New Zealand, son of George Purton, miner, and his wife Ann, née Dee. He attended the Christian Brothers' School in Dunedin until, aged 13, expressing a strong desire to join the Congregation of the Christian Brothers, he was sent to Mt Sion Novitiate at Lewisham, Sydney, to continue his studies.

Making his first profession in December 1900, Purton began teaching at Albany, Western Australia, in 1901. On the closure of the Albany college in 1903, he was transferred to the Christian Brothers' College at Fremantle, where he distinguished himself by the quality of his teaching and his rapport with his students.

In 1914-23 at C.B.C., Adelaide, Purton was assigned the greater part of the senior work. At the end of his first year his students secured first places in Latin and Greek in the higher public examination, and for some years thereafter first places in the junior public examination as well as outstanding results in economics and history. Purton found time to graduate from the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1916), having won the Roby Fletcher scholarship in psychology. In 1917 he was a Robert Barr Smith prizeman in Greek. He than graduated M.A. in English in 1918.

In 1922 Purton was appointed temporary lecturer in psychology and logic. His brilliant success as a lecturer occasioned many calls upon him to deliver addresses to Catholic, Irish and educational societies. Literary and debating societies sought his services as adjudicator or consultant. His administrative ability, so highly demonstrated in years to come, had been exercised from 1920 as headmaster of C.B.C., then in a special capacity as founder and first headmaster of Rostrevor College in 1923.

Purton joined the staff of Nudgee College, Queensland in 1924. While teaching there, he began what he regarded as his greatest work—the editorship of the Brothers' privately circulated magazine, Our Studies, in which he published a wealth of articles, editorials and book reviews. His editorials were invariably encouraging and practical. He placed great emphasis on study as an ongoing duty for the teacher. His writings reveal his versatility: he treated the culture essential to the religious teacher, training of character, development of personality in the teacher, with many topics pertaining to religious education in a Catholic school. He contributed articles to another Australian magazine, the Holy Name Monthly, and wrote two text-books for use in Catholic schools: The Story of the Church (1934) and History of Australia and New Zealand (1937).

In Victoria, as headmaster of St Patrick's College, Ballarat (1934), and St Kevin's, Toorak (1941), Purton appeared to be at the height of his power; each had its history of academic successes and progress. At St Patrick's College, Goulburn (1944), he showed the first signs of a breakdown in health. He resigned from teaching and in 1947 returned to Ballarat as director of studies for the Christian Brothers. But the comparative rest came too late to stay the deterioration of his portly frame. He met his end courageously, surrounded by his Brothers and boys in prayer. He died of cardiac disease at Ballarat on 20 September 1948 and was buried there in the general cemetery.

Purton was a man with a talent for learning, dispensed liberally for the benefit of the young; his work in the classroom is his greatest claim to fame. He had the gift of lucidity in his exposition of doctrinal subjects, and an enthusiasm for the practical application of educational theory and technique. He exerted great influence over all his students, inducing them to share his love of reading, and was much loved for his cheerfulness and readiness to help at any time.

Select Bibliography

  • B. G. Rooney, David G. Purton (Rome, 1949)
  • R. B. Healy, The Christian Brothers of Wakefield Street 1878-1978 (Adel, 1978)
  • Our Studies, Apr-Oct 1929, 1930
  • Advocate (Melbourne), 30 Sept 1948
  • Catholic Leader, 30 Sept 1948
  • Holy Name Monthly, Nov 1948
  • Christian Brothers' Archives (Strathfield, Sydney).

Citation details

A. I. Keenan, 'Purton, David Gabriel (1883–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 19 May 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]


3 December, 1883
St Bathans, Central Otago, New Zealand


20 September, 1948 (aged 64)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia

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