Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Frederick Ward (1883–1954)

by R. M. Gibbs

This article was published:

John Frederick Ward (1883-1954), schoolmaster, was born on 20 July 1883 at Newton, Lancashire, England, son of John Ward, master butcher, and his wife Mary Ann, née Russel. The family migrated to Adelaide in 1886 and lived at Norwood. Educated at the local primary school, young John won a scholarship to Prince Alfred College; its Methodism accorded with family adherence. He topped the colony's senior public examinations in 1900, with credits in his eight subjects and first place in four. Further scholarships helped him to graduate from the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1903) with first-class honours in classics, at a higher level than any previous student. His M.A. (1908) in classics received similar honours.

He taught at Prince Alfred College in 1904-05 and 1910-19; in the interval he was second master at Rockhampton Grammar School, Queensland. On 21 December 1912 at the Congregational Church, Subiaco, Perth, Ward married Florence Winifred Braddock who later became president of the Adelaide Young Women's Christian Association. Poor eyesight frustrated his attempts to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force. In 1920 he was appointed headmaster of Thornburgh College, Charters Towers, Queensland, and in 1923 foundation headmaster of Wesley College, Perth. Respected for his learning, he believed in a classical base for education and aimed to produce fine Christian gentlemen. In 1930 he achieved his ambition of becoming headmaster of Prince Alfred College, and followed his predecessors John Hartley and Frederic Chapple in emphasizing mathematics and science; like them, he enjoyed almost unlimited authority and dominated the school. Ward also shared a belief in the value of hard work, demonstrating it especially through detailed supervision of school affairs in the Depression and in World War II when the school's resources were strained. Prince Alfred College lacked the endowment and prestige of its Adelaide rival, the Anglican Collegiate School of St Peter, a lack which he felt keenly.

Although he introduced drawing and reintroduced German in 1939, Ward hardly changed the courses. Physically, the school scarcely altered. Few left it without firm impressions of their headmaster: a tall, bespectacled, white-haired figure whose thunderous temper too often obscured his sensitive nature; a fine scholar, of religious but not bigoted conviction; a leader respected by many students and by his staff. One teacher, Hal Porter, described him as a 'straight-backed Methodist Olympian'. A member of the South Australian government's education inquiry committee in 1942, Ward also belonged to the councils of the University of Adelaide and of Lincoln College. He was a founder and chairman (1943-46) of the Australian Headmasters' Conference, and a long and staunch member of the Australian Student Christian Movement. Appointed O.B.E. in 1948, he retired that year and wrote Prince Alfred College (1951). On the last day of his life he quoted the precept by which he had always been guided: 'Faith is putting into your life the substance of what you believe'. He died on 18 August 1954 in North Adelaide and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery; he was survived by his wife, two daughters and a son, the historian Russel Ward.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Porter, The Paper Chase (Syd, 1966)
  • R. M. Gibbs, A History of Prince Alfred College (Adel, 1984)
  • R. Ward, A Radical Life (Melb, 1988)
  • Australian Intercollegian, Oct 1954
  • Prince Alfred College Chronicle, Oct 1954
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Aug 1929, 19 Aug 1954
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 16 Aug 1929
  • private information.

Citation details

R. M. Gibbs, 'Ward, John Frederick (1883–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 July, 1883
Newton, Lancashire, England


18 August, 1954 (aged 71)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.