Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter Scott (1855–1925)

by R. Philps

This article was published:

Walter Scott (1855-1925), classical scholar, was born on 10 September 1855 at Newton Tracey, Devon, England, third son of George Erving Scott, gentleman, and his wife Agnes, née Ward. Educated at Christ's Hospital school and from 1874 at Balliol College, Oxford, (B.A., 1878; M.A., 1881), he won the Ireland scholarship in 1876 and took first-class honours in classics in 1878. He was a fellow of Merton College (1879-86), won the Derby and Craven scholarships in 1880 and lectured at The Queen's College (1880-82).

Upon Professor Badham's death, Scott was selected professor of classics at the University of Sydney, arriving in February 1885, the year that he made his scholarly reputation through publication at Oxford of Fragmenta Herculanensia. At a propitious moment in terms of university resources, he successfully urged the division of his chair and became first professor of Greek in 1891; his teaching load was consequently reduced.

Scott's predeliction for classical studies was balanced by an active liberal idealism. He strove for the inclusion of modern literature, modern history and philosophy in the arts curriculum and for wider choice for students, arguing that, properly taught, many subjects other than classics contributed to a liberal education. Emulating an English movement to extend the benefits of university teaching and to forge links with the community, in 1886 he inaugurated the University Extension Board lectures. Having argued unsuccessfully for the inclusion of political economy at Sydney, he and others used the interest generated by extension lectures on this subject to form the Australian Economic Association in 1887. Although president on three occasions (1890-91, 1898), he showed in his addresses that he was, essentially, attracted to social ethics rather than economics.

Ethics and idealism merged in his brief involvement in the Toynbee Guild, another Sydney version of an English concept whereby university men were encouraged to help working-class people to improve their lot. Scott was its president in 1897. His liberal idealism also found him a key supporter of the foundation of Women's College within the university. He personally contributed £700 to its cost and was the foremost candidate elected to its foundation council.

University teaching brought him involvement with colonial schools. He was prominent in the Teachers' Association of New South Wales, forerunner of the Teachers' Guild of New South Wales, and in the formation of its registry for teachers. He also supported public schools, but denounced the pupil-teacher training system, urging unsuccessfully the appointment of a professor of education to ensure better training.

Ill health resulted in his resignation in August 1900. Although he was professor of classics at McGill University, Montreal, Canada, from 1905 to 1908, he returned to classical research at Oxford. Shortly before he died there of heart disease on 26 February 1925, the first of his four volumes of Hermetica. The Ancient Greek and Latin Writings which Contain Religious or Philosophic Teachings Ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus was published in London, the remainder appearing posthumously.

Shy and in later life somewhat reclusive, Scott never married. Poor health limited his scholarly output but his work was influential. Despite his personal reserve and arcane scholarship, he provided invaluable leadership and practical support for several important educational and social movements.

Select Bibliography

  • H. E. Barff, Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney (Syd, 1902)
  • University of Sydney, Calendar, 1884-1901
  • Times (London), 27 Feb 1925
  • C. Turney, History of Education in New South Wales, 1788-1900 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 1964)
  • R. Philps, Forty Years of Educational Leadership (M.Ed. thesis, University of Sydney, 1974)
  • minutes of University of Sydney Extension Board, 1887-99, and Professorial Board, 1886-1901, and Senate, 1884-1901 (University of Sydney Archives) memoranda from various professors to Challis chair committee, University of Sydney Senate, 1889 (University of Sydney Archives)
  • Liversidge papers (University of Sydney Archives).

Citation details

R. Philps, 'Scott, Walter (1855–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 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]


10 September, 1855
Newton Tracey, Devon, England


26 February, 1925 (aged 69)
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

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