Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Frank Shann (1882–1943)

by Lyndsay Gardiner

This article was published:

Frank Shann (1882-1943), educationist, was born on 16 March 1882 in Hobart, elder son of Frank Shann, journalist and second master (later headmaster) of the City School, and his wife Frances, née Wood. He grew up at Nhill, Victoria, attending the local state school. As a lad, he worked to support himself and to assist in his brother Edward's education. In Tasmania, in the late 1890s, he worked briefly as tutor to the Lewis family near Burnie, and as distributor of W. H. Fitchett's Review of Reviews. After private study he matriculated in Melbourne, at his second attempt, in 1902. He attended university part time, graduating B.A. with honours in history and political science in 1908, and M.A., Dip. Ed. in 1912.

Shann was 'the compleat teacher' all his life: at Launceston Church Grammar School (1900-04); at Wesley College, Melbourne (1905-14), teaching senior English, history and business subjects and commanding the cadet corps; as co-principal of Launceston Grammar (1914-17); and finally as headmaster of Trinity Grammar School, Kew, Melbourne (September 1917–June 1943). Enthusiastic, energetic and capable, always in a hurry, he was an old-fashioned liberal in politics and a staunch Anglican, being a member of the Victorian synod and a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral (1937). A just disciplinarian, he was not averse to corporal punishment—but administered only by himself.

In his time Trinity grew materially, numerically (from some 200 to 300 boys) and in quality. The then-novel Dalton plan operated at Trinity from 1922 to 1927 when, judging the staff/student ratio inadequate, Shann abandoned it. In 1924 he published The Dalton Plan in Australia. He made use of the new media of films (silent) and of wireless (a weekly Australian Broadcasting Commission musical programme). When St Paul's Cathedral School closed in 1929, he accepted its boys into Trinity where they boosted numbers during the Depression; in 1937 he founded the school orchestra. Under Shann, Trinity was granted 'A' classification for public examinations. Because the school was small and poor, Shann acted in many capacities: in the evenings working on administrative and educational affairs; during vacations mowing, with a hand mower, the school oval; commanding the revived cadet corps from 1939; and from 1922 organizing for senior boys annual interstate or country tours. For cultural stimulus he maintained lifelong membership of the Boobooks and the Wallaby Club.

Shann's difficulties in educating himself made him a prime mover in the establishment (1921) of the Associated Teachers' Training Institute by the Incorporated Association of Secondary (later Registered) Teachers of Victoria of which he was president in 1923-25. In 1918 he was co-opted to the committee which recommended to the university council the establishment of a loan fund for needy students. He contributed articles on schools to the Argus. Other activities included membership of the Trinity Grammar Masonic Lodge, the Headmasters of the Associated Grammar Schools (president 1924, 1931 and 1938), and of the Headmasters' Conference of Australia.

Shann had married on 16 December 1908 Eileen Caplen Hall; she died in 1929. Shann died at Trinity, still in harness, of coronary vascular disease on 1 July 1943. His second wife Christabel Melina, née Parnell, whom he had married at St Mary's Church, West Perth, on 7 January 1931, and two sons and two daughters of his first marriage survived him. He was cremated after a service at St Paul's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne (Melb, 1936)
  • Trinity Grammar School, Jubilee Year Book 1902-1952 and Mitre, Aug 1943
  • G. Blainey et al, Wesley College. The First Hundred Years (Melb, 1967)
  • B. Lewis, Sunday at Kooyong Rd (Melb, 1976)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 2 July 1943
  • Incorporated Association of Registered Teachers of Victoria records (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • records (University of Melbourne)
  • private information.

Citation details

Lyndsay Gardiner, 'Shann, Frank (1882–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 April 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]


16 March, 1882
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia


1 July, 1943 (aged 61)
Kew, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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.