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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Weigall, Albert Bythesea (1840–1912)

by J. B. Windeyer

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Albert Bythesea Weigall (1840-1912), schoolmaster, was born on 16 February 1840 at Nantes, Normandy, France, fourth son of Edward Weigall, vicar of Hurdsfield and rural dean of Buxton, Derbyshire, England, and his wife Cecilia Bythesea, née Brome. His godfather and great-uncle was Admiral Bythesea. He was educated at Macclesfield Grammar School and won a scholarship to Brasenose College, Oxford (B.A., 1862; M.A., Sydney, 1869). In need of a job and a sea voyage for his health he accepted a post teaching classics at Scotch College, Melbourne. He arrived in Victoria in the Alfred in October 1863 and taught under A. Morrison until he succeeded W. J. Stephens as headmaster of Sydney Grammar School in January 1867.

When Weigall took over, the school had only 53 boys and 9 masters; he was told by the trustees that it would probably be closed, but by 1912 he had built it up to 696 boys, with 26 talented staff dedicated to the school. He encouraged and often initiated activities which developed esprit de corps and loyalty to the school, and allowed contact with individual boys outside the classroom. He formed the Sydney Grammar School Cadet Corps and became its captain in 1871. He fostered sport, introduced school colours and a uniform cap and instituted a prefect system; he also supported the publication of the first Sydneian in 1875 and debating, music and drama clubs. Through these activities he acquired knowledge of all the boys at the school and retained it long after they had left. He took pride in their successes in public examinations and in distinctions gained by old boys in academic, professional and public life. He was created C.M.G. in 1909.

Weigall taught Greek at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts in 1867-68 and was a member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1867. He was a prominent founder of the Headmasters' Association in 1880 and in 1892 of the Teachers' Association, New South Wales, of which he was many times president. He was a fellow of St Paul's College in 1887 and in 1891-93 a councillor of the Women's College within the University of Sydney, but failed to win election to the university senate. He criticized excessive public examinations as 'unnecessarily harassing to teachers and to pupils and … injurious to the progressive continuity of school work'; he also disliked the low standards of examinations, lack of social recognition for teachers and parents' indulgent submission to their children. He suggested a scheme of inspection of secondary schools as an alternative to the public examinations as a measure of a school's merit. Although an admitted conservative when discussing reforms in education, he upgraded the modern or commercial side of his curriculum and expanded science teaching. A devout Anglican, he was a member of St Andrew's Cathedral Chapter in 1876-1912 and a member of Sydney Diocesan synods in 1884-97; but he was well aware that the school, by its foundation Act, was for 'all classes and denominations'.

Weigall died of heart and gall bladder disease on 20 February 1912 in a private hospital at Darlinghurst and was buried in the Anglican section of South Head cemetery. He was survived by his wife Ada Frances, née Raymond, whom he had married at St Philip's, Sydney, on 24 September 1868, and by four sons and four daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £13,856. After his death many distinguished old boys paid tribute to his abilities as a headmaster, and the school trustees said that he had won 'for the School the first place of the Public Schools of Australia, and for himself a name worthy to rank among the foremost in the muster roll of famous Headmasters of the Empire'. His portrait hangs in the school; the Weigall Ground, Rushcutters Bay, is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • M. W. MacCallum, In Memory of Albert Bythesea Weigall (Syd, 1913)
  • C. E. W. Bean, Here, My Son (Syd, 1950)
  • C. Turney (ed), Pioneers of Australian Education (Syd, 1969)
  • Sydneian, 1875-1912
  • Australian Teacher (Sydney), 1893-1909.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. B. Windeyer, 'Weigall, Albert Bythesea (1840–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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