Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Whinham (1803–1886)

by R. J. Nicholas

This article was published:

John Whinham (1803-1886), educationist, was born on 3 August 1803 at Sharperton, Northumberland, England, son of Robert Whinham, farmer, and his wife Jane, née Arkle. At Holystone school he favoured classics and mathematics; self taught from 14, with the help of a Catholic priest he matriculated to the University of Dublin at 19 but was unable to attend it. He taught for twenty-five years in an elementary school at Ovingham near Newcastle upon Tyne, where he enjoyed the simple village life and married Mary, a gifted elocutionist; they had six daughters and two sons.

Whinham's capital was lost in the depression of 1848-49 but he later saved enough to migrate with his family to Australia. On 1 April 1852 they arrived in Adelaide in the Athenian; Whinham intended to farm, but he settled in Waymouth Street, later moving to Margaret Street where he began a school with three pupils. On 25 July 1853 he became assistant master at the Collegiate School of St Peter and considered starting a secondary school of his own. Next year his North Adelaide Grammar School opened in a one storey slate building in Ward Street, with one pupil. The numbers increased rapidly and without patronage or endowments he competed successfully with older foundations; annual fees were 55 guineas for boarders and 8-12 guineas for day pupils.

Whinham achieved repute for his school and made it one of the best known in Australia. It flourished until the 1870s when attendance fluctuated between 200 and 300. He retired in 1873, handing over to his son Robert who built a new, larger college, costing £6000, on the corner of Jeffcott and Ward streets; it was opened as Whinham College on 22 September 1882.

Robert was killed by a fall from a horse on 10 October 1884 and John resumed the headmastership, but the shock of his son's death and ensuing heavy responsibilities hastened his own death from pulmonary phthisis on 13 March 1886 at North Adelaide. An Anglican, Whinham was buried in the North Road cemetery survived by his wife (d.1891), one son and four daughters. For many years he had prepared the astronomical calculations for local newspapers. He was also a distinguished president of the Preceptors' Association in South Australia, which promoted teachers' professional status. After his death the school, which had made an outstanding contribution to the educational and cultural life of South Australia, declined in prestige and finally closed in 1898.

Select Bibliography

  • Register (Adelaide), 15 Mar 1886, 19 Oct 1928
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 20 Mar 1886
  • R. J. Nicholas, Private and Denominational Secondary Schools of South Australia: Their Growth and Development (M.Ed. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1953).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. J. Nicholas, 'Whinham, John (1803–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 August, 1803
Sharperton, Northumberland, England


13 March, 1886 (aged 82)
North Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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