Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Rule (1830–1901)

by John Reynolds

This article was published:

James Rule (1830-1901), educationist, was born on 28th July 1830 at Mill Farm, Norham, Northumberland, England, youngest son of Thomas Rule (1787-1878), hereditary slater, and his wife Mary, née Eadington. Educated at the village school, he served an apprenticeship in the family trade and entered St John's College, Battersea, as a trainee teacher. Graduating in 1851 he immediately accepted appointment as headmaster in a large county-controlled school in Monmouthshire. He took an active part in Chartist demonstrations; his father and four elder brothers were involved in radical political movements and he remained closely in touch with his brothers all his life. In 1854 he migrated to Victoria in the Queen of the East. After a few weeks at the Ballarat diggings at the time of Eureka he left for Van Diemen's Land.

Failing to find employment as a teacher or slater, Rule became a constable in the Hobart Town Police Force. His first employment as a tutor was with the Morrisby family, farmers in the south-east of Tasmania. In 1855 he joined the Tasmanian Council of Education as headmaster of Hamilton State School. On 12 August 1857 at Kangaroo Point he married Sarah Anne Grimley. She was a certificated teacher and acted as his assistant; for fifteen years Rule was in charge of a number of country schools and in 1870 became headmaster of Battery Point Model School, Hobart, the top school of the colony. Though many of his far-sighted recommendations to a select committee in 1875 were not implemented, next year he was promoted inspector of schools and in 1886 became senior inspector in the colony; in the next eighteen years he established schools in all the new mining settlements in the west and north-eastern districts.

In 1894 he was appointed director of education. It was an inopportune time for a man with a progressive attitude to education, as depression and the failure in 1891 of the Bank of Van Diemen's Land meant the starving of public education by governments. In an official report Rule charged that 'the present system is to prepare children for pauperism not for useful citizenship', and although he set up an organized system of teacher-training at Trinity Hill State school, Hobart, he failed to implement state secondary education.

Rule also took an active part in the development of tertiary education; he was one of the founders and an early councillor of the University of Tasmania. As a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania he delivered many addresses on literary and social subjects. A leading member of A. I. Clark's intellectual circle, the Minerva Club, he contributed prose and verse to its journal the Quadrilateral. He retired in 1900, doyen of the Tasmanian public service, a 'genial old gentleman brimming with educational lore', having substantially influenced the colony's educational development. He died of phthisis in Hobart on 4 May 1901.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, New South Wales), 1867 (44), 1875 (39, 70), 1882 (106)
  • Education Dept Reports, 1895-1901
  • Examiner (Launceston), 5 May 1901
  • North West Post, 5 May 1901
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6, 7 May 1901
  • personal records (held by author).

Citation details

John Reynolds, 'Rule, James (1830–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 July, 1830
Norham, Northumberland, England


4 May, 1901 (aged 70)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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