WEIGALL, Albert Bythesea (1840-1912)


WEIGALL, Albert Bythesea (1840-1912)
schoolmaster
the fourth son of the Rev. Edward Weigall by his wife, Cecelia Bythesea Brome, was born at Nantes, France, on 16 February 1840. His father, known as "the little fighting parson", ruled his home with kindliness and humour, and there was comparatively little of stern discipline and the conventions usually associated with Victorian home life. His son was educated at the grammar school at Macclesfield, where he obtained an excellent classical education tinder the Rev. Thomas Cornish, a man of sound judgment and kindness of heart. In 1858 Weigall went to Brasenose College, Oxford, with a scholarship. He obtained a first class in moderations in 1859 and won the Hulme exhibition in 1861. He worked under Conington and T. H. Green, who writing to him afterwards told him that he was "the first pupil I had who really interested me". Weigall graduated in 1862 with second-class honours in Literae Humaniores, intending to start on a diplomatic career. An illness led to a long sea voyage being recommended, and in 1863 he sailed for Australia to take up an appointment at Scotch College, Melbourne, under Alexander Morrison (q.v.). He stayed at Scotch College for three years and though young and quite inexperienced proved himself to be a good classical master. His attempts in emergencies to take classes in mathematics, however, led to some doubt arising in the boys' minds as to whether he was capable of correctly doing a sum in addition. He was fortunate in having a cousin, Theyre Weigall, in Melbourne, who was able to introduce him to congenial and comparatively influential friends, who were possibly able to help him when he applied for the position of headmaster of the Sydney Grammar School in June 1866. In spite of his youth he was appointed and began his duties in January 1867.
Weigall had no easy task. There had been some friction between the trustees and the previous headmaster, W. J. Stephens, afterwards professor of geology at Sydney university, and Stephens had resigned and taken some of his pupils with him to a new school which he founded. When Sydney Grammar School opened at the beginning of 1867, though there was a staff of nine, there were only 53 boys. Within 10 years the number was nearly 400, which increased to 696 in Weigall's last year of office. He lived for the school, and his life was henceforth bound up in it. In 1893, after 26 years of service, he was given a year's holiday, and after a break down in health in 1904 he was out of harness for another 12 months. In 1909 he was made C.M.G. and he died following an operation on 20 February 1912. He had married in 1868 Ada Frances Raymond, who survived him with four sons and four daughters.
Apart from being a member of the chapter of St Andrew's cathedral, Weigall appears to have had few outside interests and his chief recreation was walking. He knew every boy in his school by name and tried to make a friend of each; it has even been suggested that in the occasional clashes between boys and junior masters he was inclined to side with the boys. Though something of an autocrat, he succeeded in working amicably with his trustees, and though educated in the classical tradition he always realized the importance of mathematics, English and modern languages. But more than all he worked for the development of character and as part of this introduced the prefect system in 1878. He had an almost uncanny knowledge of boys and could lay bare their faults with an accuracy that astounded them, but his fault-finding was small compared with his encouragement, and when dealing with any offence he could always take into consideration the circumstances of the case. He believed in sport, but sport must not be the chief pre-occupation of the school. Personally he was a strange mixture of emotion and shrewdness, and with all his impulsiveness he could be wary and politic. His occasional bursts of temper, his bluntness and dogmatism, were all parts of a big man, as was also his common sense and his strong dislike of blowing his own trumpet. He believed that teaching was the greatest work in the world, and if he never spared his masters he certainly never spared himself. He practically created a great public school and had an immense influence on the characters of the boys who passed through his hands, many of whom afterwards attained great distinction.
M. W. MacCallum, In Memory of Albert Bythesea Weigall; The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 1912.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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