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LAWRENCE ADAMSON, HEADMASTER of WESLEY COLLEGE, MELBOURNE

The orange brown One Penny ‘Reading’ postcard on yellow stock was cancelled with a duplex MELBOURNE/ 16 S/ JE 10/ 91 with a VICTORIA obliterator, and it was addressed to L.A. Adamson Esq, Wesley College, Prahran (Figure 1).

The reverse had a printed heading of EDLINGTON FOOTBALL CLUB and the following manuscript message:
Auburn, June 10, 1891 L.A. Adamson Esq      Dear Sir    We will be on your ground next
Saturday a little before 3.  I see you made a big stand against the Arlington last Saturday so we should have a good game    Yours Truly        W.F. MOLESWORTH 71 Chancery Lane
Hon. S ec.  (Figure 2)

Lawrence Arthur Adamson, educator, was born on 20 April 1860 at Douglas, Isle of Man, second son of Lawrence William Adamson, LL.D., and his first wife Annie Jane, née Flint.  At 10, Adamson was sent to London and in 1874 he entered Rugby School, where he did well in classics and all forms of sport.  He matriculated in 1879 at Oriel College, Oxford (B.A.), and was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple in 1885.   He decided to practise law in the warmer climate of New South Wales, but finding the Sydney climate too moist, he moved early in 1886 to Melbourne, and was admitted to the Bar.  Meanwhile, he did private coaching, and also accepted a temporary teaching post at Melbourne C. of E. Grammar School.   He was awarded his B.A.  in May and M.A. in December by the University of Melbourne.  In 1887 he became senior resident master at Wesley College and held the post until 1892, teaching English and history and fomenting a new interest in sport.

After the disappointment of all the Wesley staff being dismissed, and Adamson having another teaching position elsewhere, fast forward to February 1902 when Adamson was appointed Headmaster of Wesley College.  Over the next thirty years he came to be regarded by many as Australia’s most famous headmaster.
Inheritances had left him a wealthy man, and he made many donations to the college.  He  often returned to England and indulged in innovations such as motor cars and aeroplanes.  His other interests included dogs, antique furniture, china, bronze, silver, statuary, and green-herb cheese.  He was a warden at Christ Church, St Kilda, and a deacon of St Paul's Cathedral, and never married.  Adamson always placed great emphasis in the regular school assemblies on good manners, community service, music, sporting achievement, and especially on the maintenance and development of a corporate school spirit.  These themes were echoed in the college Song Book, which was considerably enlarged during his headmastership;  he, himself, composed many of its words and tunes, including the well-known melody for Newbolt's 'Best School of All'.

Adamson extolled the effects on character of training and preparation for military service;  he was proud of his family's distinguished military record.  He encouraged the college cadet corps, paid tribute to Wesley collegians who enlisted for active service, insisted on writing the chapter on 'Wesley at War' for the jubilee history of the college (1921), and treasured volumes of war letters sent to him and other staff members by old boys serving in World War I.
He accentuated the importance of excellence in sport.. The first half of Adamson's tenure  was marked by outstanding team successes, especially in rowing, football and athletics, but there were bitter controversies between Wesley and other public schools which were highlighted by the press.  Wesley teams and supporters were sometimes accused of poor sportsmanship.  Adamson usually defended his boys, emphasizing the dictum that any school must teach its students 'to win decently and lose decently'.  He believed that good sporting results helped to increase enrolments, and, the numbers did increase from 204 in 1902 to 594 in 1920 and fluctuated in the next decade when successes were less frequent.

The strong influence of Adamson's educational ideas and policies on secondary education in Victoria,  may have been his most lasting achievement.  In 1891 he was foundation secretary of the Victorian Institute of Schoolmasters and helped to draft the teachers' registration bill, which that body tried to persuade parliament to pass in 1892.  In 1898, while at University High School, he initiated and organized a series of teacher-training classes, at that time the only such courses in Victoria.  In 1904 Adamson and Krome established the Association of Secondary Teachers of Victoria and through it Adamson exerted some influence on parliament, which passed the Registration of Teachers and Schools Act in 1905.

In 1908 the board permitted Wesley College to establish a teacher-training institution which was formally equal in status with the government Training College.  He was well ahead of his time in his belief that a 'leaving certificate' issued to a student by an approved school should be a sufficient qualification for university entrance.  As a member of the university's Board of Public Examinations in 1905-11, and as a leading member of the powerful Schools Board from 1912, he influenced others towards a more liberal view of the role of external examinations in secondary education.  In 1903-32 he was secretary and chairman of the Headmasters of the Associated Public Schools.
As president of the Metropolitan Football Association for thirty-seven years, Adamson loudly proclaimed the virtues of amateur sport.  For many years he was a delegate to the Victorian Cricket Association, at various times served as its honorary treasurer and president, and in 1906 he became first president of the Australian Board of Control for international cricket;  he was president in 1901-05 of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association.  In 1926 he was appointed C.M.G.  After several years of declining health from diabetes and liver disease, Adamson died of a gastric hemorrhage at Wesley on 14 December 1932, two days before his retirement was to have been announced, and was cremated.   No photo of Adamson could be found on the internet but a painting of him hangs in Adamson Hall at Wesley College,

I am indebted to the magnificent tribute of Adamson in the Australian Dictionary of Biography for provision of this extract.
 


 
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