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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Carmichael, Henry (?–1862)

by George Nadel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Henry Carmichael (d.1862), schoolmaster and educational theorist, matriculated in 1814 at St Andrew's University, Scotland (M.A., 1820). He worked in London as a private tutor, and in 1830 John Dunmore Lang engaged him as a teacher for the Australian College in Sydney. Lang, Carmichael and three other licentiates of the Church of Scotland opened the college soon after their arrival in the Stirling Castle in October 1831. Carmichael, when his contract expired, set up his own school in Sydney, the Normal Institution (1834-38). Lang had intended Carmichael to be editor of the Colonist, but now broke off relations with him; Carmichael himself appears to have turned down the editorship of the Sydney Monitor and in turn failed to obtain the secretaryship of the Australian Patriotic Association, whose cause he strongly supported. He published Hints Relating to Emigrants and Emigration (London, 1834), which ran to three editions. At the suggestion of Governor (Sir) Richard Bourke, Carmichael in 1833 founded the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, the first of its kind in the colony, and was vice-president for its first five years. He advertised Lyceum classes with accommodation for four boarders in 1844.

Carmichael left Sydney on his appointment as assistant surveyor in the Hunter River district, and established himself at Porphyry Point, Seaham, on the Williams River, where he became a pioneer in viticulture. In April 1847 he was given permission to bring out three vine-dressers from Europe and was a member of an association seeking permission to import coolie labour from India. He surveyed a road between Paterson and Gresford in August 1850, but complaints of his neglect of duty were made by settlers in the Manning River district in 1851. On his return to Sydney he opened his house to student boarders whom he proposed to teach according to the Fellenberg system, combining agricultural training with scholarship. Later he returned to the country again. Travelling to England in the ship Light of the Age, he died at sea on 28 June 1862. He left three sons: Gavin Thomas and Jeremy Bentham, vinegrowers in the colony, and George Graham, who had returned to Scotland.

Carmichael's principal achievement lay in the dissemination of advanced educational ideas, which he expounded in three long discourses at Mechanics' Institutes (1833, 1844, and 1857). He was also author of a Compendious Latin Grammar, for the Use of the Australian College, Sydney (1832). His university awarded him an honorary LL.D. in 1860. A liberal and progressive thinker in politics, a tireless champion of the twin causes of adult education and secular moral training, distilled from the writings of Bentham, Combe and Pestalozzi, his utterances were strongly anti-clerical. In England he had been an acquaintance and correspondent of Jeremy Bentham; in the colony he supported Governor Bourke's attempt to establish the Irish National system of education and Henry Parkes's liberalism. He was the leading exponent of Benthamite educational ideas in early Australia. In his Reply to Certain Calumnies and Misrepresentations … (Sydney, 1836), he denounced Lang and other like-minded educationalists, declaring that if they had their way 'the seeds of Sectarianism, and hateful bigotry will be engendered with the embryo of its national character'. To Carmichael education was the great moral panacea, by which all man's affections, social and moral, could be developed. The cultivation of the intellectual and hence the moral facilities would aid the true understanding of any religious problem, and thus foster all aspects of morality rather than narrow doctrinal opinions.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 19, 26
  • G. Nadel, Australia's Colonial Culture (Melb, 1957)
  • Lang papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

George Nadel, 'Carmichael, Henry (?–1862)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]


28 June 1862
at sea

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence