MacFARLAND, Sir John Henry (1851-1935)


MacFARLAND, Sir John Henry (1851-1935)
chancellor of the university of Melbourne
son of John MacFarland, draper, and his wife, Margaret Jane, daughter of the Rev. Dr Henry, was born at Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland, on 19 April 1851. He was educated at the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, Queens College, Belfast, and St John's College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a first class in the mathematical tripos in 1876. He was a master at Repton school until 1880, when he was chosen to be the first master of Ormond College in the university of Melbourne. At the opening of the college on 18 March 1881, MacFarland in replying to a speech of welcome said that "while there would be a freedom from those petty rules which after a certain age cease to be beneficial and become only irksome, the students would enjoy—he hoped he might say enjoy—a healthy discipline". This was the keynote of his success as master. There was a legend that he saw and heard everything that went on in the building, but he seldom interfered, he never harassed the students, and there were few disciplinary difficulties. Before the end of the first year 27 students were in residence, and an enlargement of the building was begun in January 1884. A few years later the number of resident students rose to 90, making it the largest college of its kind in Australia. MacFarland could be very firm with a student when the occasion demanded it, but he could also be very kind, and though always careful to do nothing that would undermine a proper spirit of independence, there were many occasions when he was able to give help to students who needed it. In 1899 he was a valuable member of the royal commission on technical education, and in 1902, when serious defalcations were discovered in the university accounts, MacFarland, who had been a member of the council since 1886, was appointed chairman of the finance committee. He vigilantly supervised the accounts for some years until gradually the position was straightened, and the amounts lost had been repaid to the trust funds. In 1910 he was elected vice-chancellor of the university, and four years later resigned his mastership of Ormond. In 1918 he was elected chancellor, and until the appointment of a full-time paid vice-chancellor, less than a year before his death, he gave the greater part of his time to the work of the university. He was also able to do much work for the Presbyterian Church, for which he was chairman of the board of investment, and of the councils of the Scotch College, and the Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne. He was also a member of the Felton (q.v.) bequest committee, which decides on the spending of a large sum annually in charity, and in buying objects of art for the national gallery of Victoria. He became ill in 1934, and operations giving him little relief, he died at Melbourne on 22 July 1935. He was given the honorary degree of LL.D. by the Royal university of Ireland, Queen's university of Belfast, and the university of Adelaide. He was knighted in 1919. There is an excellent portrait of him by Longstaff (q.v.) at the university of Melbourne.
MacFarland was tall and spare, brisk of mind and body, and sparing of words. There is a story that he was asked to decide on one of three courses of action which were lettered A.B.C. and that his reply was Dear—, B. J.H.M. His quickness of speaking sometimes suggested brusqueness, but his disarming smile and evident good humour soon removed any impression of that kind. It has been said that his success with his students was based on the fact that he thought of them as boys, and treated them as men. He was an ideal chancellor who believed in and encouraged the self-government of the students whenever it was possible. To the staff he was a firm rock to lean against when required, wise in council when a decision had to be made. There was no room for petty jealousy at a university with MacFarland at its head, for it was assumed that whatever was being done was for the good of the whole institution. He left a tradition of wisdom, justice, and virtue, and distinguished old students of his college have carried on his tradition in many parts of the world.
MacFarland never married and so long as he could get some golf during the week, and a trout-fishing holiday in New Zealand during the long vacation, his wants and expenses were few. He was able to give away a good deal of money in an unostentatious way, including the cost of a swimming pool for the boys at Scotch College and £1000 to a university appeal. After his death it was disclosed that an anonymous gift of £8200 made to Ormond College in 1932 to found scholarships had come from its former master. His will was proved at over £60,000 of which about £20,000 was eventually destined to go to Ormond College, while most of the remainder will be devoted to educational and other institutions of the Presbyterian Church.
The Argus and The Age, 23 July 1935; The Ormond Chronicle, 1935; Sir Ernest Scott, A History of the University of Melbourne; Calendar of Ormond College, 1882; personal knowledge; private information.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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