Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reginald Arthur West (1883–1964)

by J. H. Pash

This article was published:

Reginald Arthur West (1883-1964), headmaster, was born on 11 July 1883 at Woodville, Adelaide, eldest of nine children of Australian-born parents William Arthur West, schoolteacher, and his wife Emilie, née Burnard. From Norwood Public School Reg won a scholarship to Prince Alfred College, where he was a contemporary of J. F. Ward and came under the influence of the headmaster Frederic Chapple. At the University of Adelaide (B.A., 1902; M.A., 1905) he majored in mathematics and philosophy and was awarded the William Roby Fletcher prize for psychology and logic. Determined to become a schoolteacher rather than an academic, in 1903 he joined the staff of the Pupil Teachers' School in Grote Street. Five years later it was absorbed into the new Adelaide High School, on the same site, with W. J. Adey as headmaster. At the Parkside Methodist Church on 21 December 1912 West married Eva Beatrice Annie Claughton (d.1947), also a schoolteacher; they had a son and two daughters.

Promoted to second master at A.H.S. in 1912 and appointed headmaster in 1920, West inherited a well-organized school with a strong academic curriculum oriented to preparing pupils for tertiary studies. Under his direction A.H.S. became a worthy rival to the long-established private secondary schools and developed a vigorous sporting tradition. His pupils included (Sir) Hugh Cairns, J. P. Cartledge, (Sir) George Ligertwood, and (Sir) Marcus Oliphant; at least five were Rhodes scholars. Although the school was not in any sense selective, it was to retain its status as a special senior high school for almost forty years. It was never fully co-educational (except at upper levels), and the girls' and boys' premises were separated by a wall. In the 1920s A.H.S. faced a serious crisis in accommodation on a site which had been too small from the beginning. Rooms were hired in nearby church halls, factories and elsewhere to relieve the congestion. From 1929 it took over a primary school in distant Currie Street to house junior-school boys; it remained in use until the new boys' school opened on West Terrace in 1951.

Walking every day between the main school and Currie Street, West maintained a continuous presence in his widely scattered school of over one thousand pupils. He counselled prospective students on their courses and did the bulk of the timetabling. At A.H.S. pupils were called by their first names. West was particularly concerned about children from country areas, who travelled each day to the school by train; he enjoyed hearing news from them about ex-students from the same district.

His office was next to the main entrance to the central girls' building, and the door was usually open; women teachers came and went as often as the men to confer with the headmaster. The school's extra-curricular activities were voluntary for both pupils and staff, but they were encouraged and promoted, almost imperceptibly, by West. His deputy, C. M. Ward, said in 1948: 'No one could show more consideration for the individuality of both teachers and students . . . In a happy atmosphere free from repression, with no absurd barriers between staff and students, and with flourishing extra-school activities managed to a great extent by the students themselves, self-discipline has thrived along with sound work'. Although West was not an eloquent man, his school assemblies in the (Thomas) Price Memorial Hall made a lasting impact. He moved easily among the distinguished visiting speakers; where these were also old scholars the affection in which they held him was obvious to all present.

Thrice elected president (1928, 1931, 1939) of the South Australian Public Teachers' Union, West was a member (1933-53) of the council of the University of Adelaide. He was appointed O.B.E. in 1947, and retired next year after twenty-eight years as headmaster. In his later years he was content to enjoy time with his family, attend adult education classes, and work in his garden. Retaining his remarkable memory for names and faces into old age, he occasionally attended school functions. He was a staunch Methodist. Survived by his daughters, he died on 6 October 1964 at Hindmarsh and was buried in Dudley Park cemetery. A portrait of West by Douglas Roberts is held by Adelaide High School.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Thiele, Grains of Mustard Seed (Adel, 1975)
  • Adelaide High School Magazine, Sept 1947, Sept 1948
  • South Australian Teachers' Journal, Nov 1964
  • Black and White Rag, Dec 1964
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 16 Apr 1958, 7 Oct 1964
  • South Australian Methodist, 23 Oct 1964
  • private information.

Citation details

J. H. Pash, 'West, Reginald Arthur (1883–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 July, 1883
Woodville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


6 October, 1964 (aged 81)
Hindmarsh, Adelaide, South Australia, 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.