ADAMSON, Lawrence Arthur (1860-1932)


ADAMSON, Lawrence Arthur (1860-1932)
schoolmaster
was born at Douglas, Isle of Man, on 20 April 1860, the son of Lawrence William Adamson, LL.D., grand seneschal of the island and his wife Annie Jane, a daughter of Captain J. T . E. Flint. In 1866 the family went to Newcastle-on-Tyne where the father became high sheriff of Northumberland. At 14 years of age L. A. Adamson was sent to Rugby, was well ,trained in the classics, and played in the school football team. At Oxford he studied classics and law, took his M.A. degree, and was called to the bar in December 1885. After a bad attack of pleurisy he was advised to live in a warmer climate and on 20 December 1885 left for Australia, intending to practise at the bar in Sydney. But the moist heat of midsummer did not suit his health and he went to Melbourne. While waiting for admission to the bar he occupied himself with coaching and in January 1887 was appointed senior resident master at Wesley College under A. S. Way (q.v.). There he added to his duties the functions of sports master and chairman of the games committee, and, with J. L. Cuthbertson (q.v.) of Geelong Grammar School, helped to frame a code of rules for inter-school athletics. In 1892 he became second master and was also resident tutor and lecturer at Trinity College, Melbourne university. In 1898 he joined O. Krome as joint-headmaster of the University high school. Four years later he was appointed headmaster of Wesley College.
For many years Melbourne had been slowly recovering from the effects of a land boom and all the public schools had suffered. But Wesley's troubles had been greater than any of the others, and when Adamson took charge he found that only 100 boys of the previous year had returned to school. By the end of the year 243 were on the roll and the attendance gradually rose until it reached 600 in 1930. Adamson wanted no more as he did not believe in large public schools, and always held that it was impossible for the head to know the boys in a school whose numbers were much over 500. While in no way neglecting scholarship, Adamson encouraged athletics at Wesley and quickly set up an ideal of sportsmanship of which the keynote was that boys should learn to win decently and lose decently. He advocated good manners with pithy illustrations on the effect of them, he inculcated a sense of honour, he believed in hero-worship, but all the while he was mindful of practical things. His school was the first to have medical examinations for all the boys, and the knowledge of a boy's physical condition was applied to his work in class. Justice was the basis of all his work, and he became not only efficient as a headmaster but thoroughly popular with the boys. There was no want of respect in his nickname "Dicky" and there was a really genuine affection.
Adamson made his influence felt outside his school. He was active during the early years of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association and was its president from 1901 to 1905. For no fewer than 37 years he was president of the Victorian Amateur Football Association and he did good work for the Victorian Cricket Association during difficult times as delegate, honorary treasurer and president. In education he was not merely the headmaster of a public school. As early as 1892 he was one of the founders of the Victorian Institute of Schoolmasters, and his continual interest in the whole question of education enabled him to do valuable work, before and after the passing of the registration of schools act in 1905, as a member of the registration board, the council of public education, the faculty of arts at the university, and the university council. This by no means exhausts the list of committees on which he served but none of these interfered with his work as headmaster, which went steadily on until a long illness led to his retirement in October 1932. He died a few weeks later on 14 December.
Adamson was 42 years of age when he became headmaster of Wesley, a quiet, somewhat portly man of medium height. He made no special claim to scholarship, he was far too busy to be able to give much time to studies, but he liked to take a class and he got to know the many generations of boys who passed through his hands. He was fond of poetry, he wrote the words and music of some of the school songs, and he collected and appreciated old silver, china and furniture. Possibly part of his success as a schoolmaster came from the fact that he was able to retain much of his boyish outlook. He could still delight in stories like Treasure Island and A Gentleman of France, and he could read Kipling's Stalky and Co. with an appreciation granted to few schoolmasters. He was a lay canon of St Paul's cathedral and a practical Christian of the kind that boys could understand. To read so moving an address as that given to the boys after the close of the war enables one to realize his power over them. He never married, the school took the place of wife and children for him, and his name will continue to be an inspiration and a tradition for generations of Wesley boys to come. His portrait by W. B. McInnes is at Wesley College.
Ed. by Felix Meyer, Adamson of Wesley; Cyclopaedia of Victoria, 1903; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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