Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Patrick Whyte (1820–1893)

by Warwick Eunson

This article was published:

Patrick Whyte (1820-1893), headmaster, was born at Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, son of Patrick Tabernarius Whyte, baker and draper, and his wife Margaret, née Hogan. He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1840 as a sizar and later worked as a government civil engineer, an instructor in the school of civil engineering at the college and as head of a private school.

In 1853 Whyte migrated to Victoria and worked as a land surveyor for eighteen months. After a brief period at St Patrick's College, East Melbourne, in March 1855 he began, as an assistant teacher, his long association with the state education system's Model Schools. Lacking a teaching qualification, he was required by Arthur Davitt, principal of the Model and Normal schools, to enter teacher training in May 1855. Whyte topped the first examination for classification in January 1856 and established himself as an outstanding member of the National school system. He survived the retrenchment that followed the financial recession at the end of the 1850s, and in 1863 was appointed headmaster of the Central Common School, Spring Street, in succession to T. H. Smith. On 1 November 1853 Whyte had married Catherine Frances McMullin; she died on 3 June 1865, and on 10 July 1866 at Brunswick he married Jane Pullar (d.1916), a Model School teacher in charge of the girls' and infants' schools; she continued teaching until his death; they had six daughters and two sons.

Whyte promoted classical studies and in a letter to the Board of Education in 1864 'regretted that after taking several promising lads through … our programme we were unable to conduct them further by preparing them for the University'. He thought that 'they should have the facility of completing their education at the best of the Common Schools'. In 1869, assisted by a scholarship, the first pupil from his school entered the University of Melbourne as a graduating student. The state school curriculum was attacked in the minister's 1876 report, in which he deplored that 'any school situated in a populous and thriving locality should restrict the subjects taught' and cited Whyte's school as one of two notable exceptions.

From 1870 until 1893 a stream of ambitious and talented pupils from the 'Old Model School' entered the professions and business, justifying the faith of Whyte and his predecessors in the quality of the Common School product. He retired in 1886, ending an era which had firmly established the reputation of the Spring Street school. In 1891 his daughter Margaret was one of the first two female graduates in medicine at the University of Melbourne. Frank Tate, an ex-pupil, helped to obtain the 1899 royal commission on technical education, the re-opening of the Training College for State School Teachers and, in 1905, the beginnings of the state secondary system. The Model School was widely respected for its scholarship and as the Continuation School became the first state high school. This later became Melbourne High School.

Whyte died of a heart attack at Victoria Parade, East Melbourne, on 18 July 1893, aged 73. He was buried in the Catholic section of the New Cemetery, Melbourne; his estate was sworn for probate at £629.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Sweetman, C. R. Long and J. Smyth, A History of State Education in Victoria (Melb, 1922)
  • J. A. Allan, The Old Model School: Its History and Romance 1852-1904 (Melb, 1934)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Victoria), 1867, 1st session, 4 (27)
  • National Board of Education, letters and papers 1855-62, and Board of Education, letters and papers 1863-72 (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

Warwick Eunson, 'Whyte, Patrick (1820–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 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]


Mallow, Cork, Ireland


18 July, 1893 (aged ~ 73)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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