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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robinson, James Alexander (1888–1971)

by Noeline J. Kyle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

James Alexander Robinson (1888-1971), educationist, was born on 20 January 1888 at Nudgee, Brisbane, second child of Henry Walton Robinson, a Queensland-born farmer, and his wife Esther, née Adams, who came from Ireland. James was sent to New Farm State School, where he became a pupil-teacher in 1901 and an assistant-teacher in 1909. Taking leave in 1913, he entered King's College, University of Queensland (B.A., 1915), as a founding student. He attended evening-classes at university, taught day-classes at the new (Queensland Teachers') Training College, Gardens Point, and tutored in mathematics at King's College. President of the university sports union and of King's College students' club, he captained the university's first XI and won Blues (1913) for cricket and tennis.

On 15 May 1915 Robinson was appointed lieutenant in the Australian Imperial Force. Embarking with the 26th Battalion, he served on Gallipoli (from September) and accompanied the unit to France in March 1916. While serving on the Western Front he was promoted major, awarded the Distinguished Service Order and thrice mentioned in dispatches. In August 1918 'Old Uniformity' (as he was nicknamed) was given command of the battalion as temporary lieutenant colonel. He was severely wounded in October and evacuated to England. After briefly rejoining his unit in France, he sailed for Australia in March 1919 and his appointment terminated on 27 July. He had supervised the salvage (June 1918) of a German tank named Mephisto, which was brought to Brisbane as a war relic and housed in the Queensland Museum.

Back at the training college, Robinson lectured in mathematics, perspective and model drawing, and drill. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Indooroopilly, on 23 April 1921 he married Alice Clinton, daughter of Sir Arthur Morgan. He was principal of Rockhampton State High School and Technical College from 1925 before returning to the training college in 1935 as its principal. Guiding the college through the years of World War II and the attendant emergency measures, he oversaw Q.T.T.C.'s expansion and relocation (1942) at Kelvin Grove. A one-year diploma of education was introduced (1937), establishing an important link with the university, entry standards were raised, and teacher-training methods improved. After retiring as principal in 1954, he continued to appraise and advise trainee-teachers until he was 68.

Robinson was a man of conservative values and 'ramrod bearing'. Known as 'Rocks' to his students, he was sometimes eccentric and idiosyncratic in manner, but always energetic, fair and broad-minded. He served on the Queensland Institute for Educational Research, the senate of the University of Queensland (1953-60) and the Board of Adult Education (1957-60). In addition, he taught immigrants by correspondence, and English and mathematics to inmates of Boggo Road gaol until he was in his eighties. In 1966 he was appointed M.B.E.

Survived by his wife, son and four daughters, Robinson died on 14 July 1971 in his home at Chelmer and was cremated with Methodist forms. A likeness (1981), sculpted in sandstone by Rhyl Hinwood, is fixed to the library wall at the Kelvin Grove campus of the Queensland University of Technology.

Select Bibliography

  • N. R. Anderson, Kelvin Grove, Forty Years 1942-1981 (Brisb, 1981)
  • M. Whitmore, Mephisto (Brisb, 1989)
  • N. Kyle et al, A Class of Its Own (Syd, 1999)
  • Department of Public Instruction (Queensland), Annual Report, 1935-54
  • Robinson file, History Unit (Education Dept, Brisbane)
  • Teachers' College records, A/23132 (Queensland State Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Noeline J. Kyle, 'Robinson, James Alexander (1888–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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