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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Anderson, John Gerard (1836–1911)

by Rupert Goodman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

John Gerard Anderson, by Everitt E. Hibling, 1873-77

John Gerard Anderson, by Everitt E. Hibling, 1873-77

State Library of Victoria, H29535

John Gerard Anderson (1836-1911), educationist, was born on 12 February 1836 in the parish of Orphir, Orkney, Scotland, the sixth child of Rev. James Anderson (1773-1845) and his wife Susan, née Gerard. The Anderson family in the seventeenth century had made notable contribution to the church and education in Scotland; his father had graduated from Marischal College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1794) and was a master of Kirkwall Grammar School before his ordination in 1807. His mother's family was also distinguished for work in the church: her father, Rev. John Gerard, educated at King's College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1781), taught in parish schools before his ordination in 1806 and later won repute as minister of South Ronaldsay.  

Anderson also attended King's College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1854). For some years he was headmaster of Spencer's School, Newcastle, and in 1862 he accepted a position with the Board of General Education, Queensland. With his qualifications and experience he moved rapidly to the front in the colony's education system. He became the first district inspector of schools in 1863, senior inspector in 1869, acting general inspector in 1874, general inspector in 1876 and under-secretary in 1878. As head of the Department of Public Instruction in 1878-1904 he was associated with, but never initiated, major developments in the foundation of education in Queensland, such as the introduction of free, compulsory and secular education and the movement to establish the university, for which he was a member of the 1891 royal commission. A well-meaning Christian gentleman, he was ill suited for the tough struggle with his contemporaries in church and state. Confronted by demands for change, he became cautious, conservative and autocratic. In many matters he was unduly influenced by his general inspector, the strong-willed, bureaucratic David Ewart. They were both severely criticized in the report of the royal commission on the civil service in 1887, as 'unsuccessful administrators' who ran the department in an 'arbitrary, capricious, and often unfeeling manner'. By the turn of the century Anderson faced strong demands for reform in primary and secondary education, in the training of teachers and in the overall administration of education. Before any of these problems could be solved he retired, his long and meritorious service duly recognized and 'appropriately rewarded' by the Imperial Service Order.

On 17 April 1873 Anderson married Edith Sarah, daughter of William Wood, reader at the Government Printing Office, Brisbane; they had two sons and three daughters. His eldest daughter, Maud, married John Ashton, bishop of Grafton (1921-38). Anderson died on 23 August 1911 at his home in South Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • The New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol 15 (Edinburgh, 1860)
  • J. Smith, Genealogies of an Aberdeen Family, 1540-1913 (Aberdeen, 1913)
  • H. Scott et al (eds), Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, vol 7 (Edinburgh, 1928)
  • Royal Commission on Education, Report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1875, 2
  • Royal Commission on the Civil Service, First report, Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1888, 1
  • Orcadian, 28 Oct 1911
  • Marischal College records (University of Aberdeen).

Citation details

Rupert Goodman, 'Anderson, John Gerard (1836–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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