Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Heywood Reynolds (1905–1981)

by J. D. Legge

This article was published:

John Heywood Reynolds (1905-1981), historian and university college warden, was born on 9 May 1905 at Kings Heath, Birmingham, England, son of Albert Heywood Reynolds, schoolmaster, and his wife Bertha Moore, née Cattell.  John moved to South Australia as a child and was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, and the University of Adelaide (BA, 1928), where for two years he was assistant-master at St Mark’s College.  As a Rhodes scholar, he studied modern history in 1929-32 at Balliol College, Oxford (BA, 1939; MA, 1940).  He returned to Adelaide in 1932 and was briefly acting-master at St Mark’s.  On 23 February 1933 at Flinders Street Lutheran Church he married Magdalene Hedwig Dorsch, daughter of Agnes Dorsch.  That year he took up a dual appointment at the University of Western Australia, as senior tutor at the newly established St George’s College and as part-time assistant-lecturer in the history department.

In 1940 Reynolds became warden of the college, a post he was to hold until 1971.  Known universally as 'Josh', he was a vivid member of the university community, with eccentricities that made him something of a character.  Slightly stooped in bearing, a continuous pipe-smoker, sometimes solemn, sometimes mischievous in manner, he was the subject of a degree of affectionate mockery.  He was, however, profoundly respected as warden, teacher and counsellor.  As warden, he was concerned to follow the English tradition and to make the college environment the centre of the students’ university experience:  there was formal dining in hall, contact with senior staff, sporting and social activities, and a moderate disciplinary system.  Reynolds also welcomed the wider university community to the college; the Dragon Society, a university staff discussion group, met in the library.  He had a great love of theatre; he supported, and often participated in, amateur theatrical performances, mounted annually by the college dramatic society.  In 1946 he stage-managed Winterset, a play by Maxwell Anderson, and in 1951 G. B. Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra.  He produced Shaw’s St Joan, which completely absorbed his energies for some months in 1947 and was remembered as a legendary production.  In 1955 he played the Duke of York in Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Josh Reynolds became a significant figure to generations of students.  While mainly concerned with the administration of St George’s, he taught British history in the university until 1975, his enthusiasm manifesting itself in his habit of beginning lectures in his booming voice as he reached the door of the classroom.  A crusader for the residential principle in universities, he helped to plan five additional colleges on the land adjoining St George’s.  He represented convocation on the senate from 1941 to 1978.  The university conferred on him an honorary LL.D in 1963.

A devout Anglican, Reynolds was heavily engaged in church matters as a member of the diocesan council.  He was appointed MBE in 1977.  In retirement he continued to participate in university affairs until failing health, accentuated by his wife’s death in 1978, made it impossible.  Survived by two of his three daughters, he died on 1 September 1981 at Claremont and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.  The college holds his portrait, painted by David Lawrence in 1954.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley, 1963
  • B. Wills-Johnson (ed), St George’s College, the First Fifty Years, 1931-1981, 1981
  • Anglican Messenger, July 1970, p 12
  • West Australian (Perth), 5 September 1981, p 23
  • University News (University of Western Australia), October 1981, p 5

Citation details

J. D. Legge, 'Reynolds, John Heywood (1905–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


9 May, 1905
Kings Heath, Birmingham, England


1 September, 1981 (aged 76)
Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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