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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Archer, Francis Henry Joseph (1886–1958)

by E. L. French

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Francis Henry Joseph Archer (1886-1958), schoolmaster, was born on 18 March 1886 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest of four children of Henry Archer, hairdresser, formerly of London, and his wife Emma Olivia Josephine, née Whitten, whose parents were Irish immigrants. He went to Urquhart Street State School and in 1900 won a scholarship to Grenville College, whose headmaster, A. A. Buley, insisted he take eight subjects at matriculation and physics at the Ballarat School of Mines. He was dux in 1902, did a third matriculation year and then in 1904 began teaching at Ballarat Church of England Grammar School. Obliged to support himself at the University of Melbourne, he became a resident master at Caulfield Grammar School in 1907, and attended evening lectures (B.A., 1911; M.A. and Dip.Ed., 1913). Archer considered a post in 1912 at the Royal Australian Naval College, studied in 1914 for M.A. honours in the university's French department, which held him to be of professorial calibre, and completed the second part of the Australian College of Theology's licentiate in theology. He chose a teaching career for its pastoral opportunities. In 1913 he was recommended for an exchange teaching post in England under a scheme of the League of Empire, but the outbreak of war prevented him taking it up. On 6 January 1915 he married Lillie Verran Morcom, an accomplished Ballarat pianist.

Highly regarded as teacher, churchman and sportsman (he played for Ballarat against the South African cricketers in 1911), Archer was appointed in 1917 headmaster of Trinity Grammar School, Sydney, founded four years earlier and controlled by the parish of Holy Trinity, Dulwich Hill. An Evangelical, he fitted easily into the archdiocese, which supported his efforts to make Trinity a modern public school, and he coped patiently with the difficulties of parochial control. By 1921 the enrolment had risen from 121 pupils to 186. Fearing a possible collapse of the school as a result of the measles and influenza epidemics of 1918-19 he moved the boarders to Austinmer near Wollongong, organizing studies at home for day-boys.

In 1923 Archer returned to Melbourne to Caulfield Grammar School as headmaster, at the invitation of its owner-principal W. M. Buntine. On Buntine's retirement in 1932 when control passed to a council, Archer was appointed headmaster. Aiming to give 'opportunity to the individual pupil to reveal the possibilities dormant in him' he diversified the curriculum, extended extracurricular activities, and gave pupils a share in managing the school. Distrustful of urban values and impressed by the successful experiment at Austinmer, he was at no pains to build a 'great brick fortress' at Caulfield. Instead, he established at Yarra Junction the first rural education centre for an Australian suburban school. The enrolment increased from 525 in 1932 to 852 in 1954, when he resigned. His savings were depleted by inflation, and for two years until his retirement in 1957 he took a part-time post at Brighton Grammar School. He had made his only visit to Britain and Europe in 1951.

Archer had deep religious convictions and broad human sympathies. Religious affiliations or ethnic origins had no place in his judgment of staff or pupils, and he regarded as unscriptural and insulting the doctrine that non-episcopal ordinations were invalid. He chaired a committee of the Victorian Council for Christian Education in Schools appointed to construct a syllabus for secondary schools, and contributed to the first of its series of booklets, Sizing Things Up (Melbourne, 1944), edited by R. Mathias. He was a councillor of Ridley College in 1934-56, a warden of the vestry of St Mary's, Caulfield, active in the Church of England Men's Society, and chairman of the Caulfield branch of the Missionary Service League. In 1938 he was appointed to the board for electing the archbishop of Melbourne, and in 1943 became a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral.

Archer died on 20 February 1958 of coronary vascular disease and was survived by his wife and three sons. A portrait by Margery Withers is at Trinity Grammar School and one by Rollo Thompson is at Caulfield Grammar School. Memorial windows are in the chapel of Trinity Grammar and in St Mary's Church.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. Latham and A. Nichols, Trinity Grammar School (Summer Hill, 1974)
  • Trinity Grammar School, Triangle, Dec 1975
  • Advisory Council minutes 1913-24 (Trinity Grammar School, Summer Hill)
  • F. H. J. Archer papers and newscuttings (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

E. L. French, 'Archer, Francis Henry Joseph (1886–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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