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Alanson, Alfred Godwin (1863–1943)

by Bruce Mitchell

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Alfred Godwin Alanson (1863-1943), educationist, journalist and author, was born on 19 November 1863 at Hargraves, New South Wales, son of Richard Chapman and his wife Sarah, née Chapman. His father was born Roger Godwin Alanson at Liverpool, England, and had changed his name to Richard Chapman soon after his marriage in Melbourne in 1858, allegedly in response to an advertisement seeking an heir to money left to relations of his wife. As Chapman he was an untrained teacher in New South Wales country schools in 1861-65 and 1869-83.

Alfred Godwin Chapman was a pupil-teacher at Redfern in 1878-81 and, after six months training, in 1882 became teacher in charge at Frogmore near Young, on £216 a year. In 1884-99 he taught at Woonona, and on 22 December 1885 at Bulli married Sarah Crane, a sewing mistress at the school. A very successful teacher, he was rated in 1895 by the local inspector as the best and most popular in the district. As secretary, manager and player in the district team in 1893-95, he helped to establish country matches for the Southern Districts (Illawarra) Cricket Association. After his father's death in 1897 his mother arranged next year for all the family to revert to the name Alanson.

After years asking to transfer, in 1900 Alanson opened a new school in the fast-growing Sydney suburb of Kensington. His salary was lower than in 1882 because of depression salary cuts. In 1907 he moved to Randwick Public School where he stayed as it grew to become a superior public school with a boys' intermediate high school and a girls' domestic department. He retired in 1929, having made 'Alanson's School' famous. He was respected and well loved by former pupils who regularly called at his home at Randwick. For years he was a vice-president of the Randwick District Cricket Club and a trustee of Queens Park.

Alanson was active in the New South Wales Public School Teachers' Association, formed in 1899 to represent the industrial and professional interests of state school teachers. He was first elected to its executive in 1904 and was president in 1909-10. A tall well-built man, he had a fine presence and became well known as an orator. He led the association's resistance to the formation in 1911 of a Labor-inspired teachers' union, was elected the teachers' advocate before the 1917 royal commission into the public service, and moved the main resolutions at important meetings in 1918. He ably expressed the resentment of teachers after years of unimproved salaries during wartime inflation, and their determination to become a professional force and a well-organized trade union under the arbitration system. Alanson was also active in the Australian Teachers' Federation formed in 1921, of which he was president in 1923-24, and in the Federated State School Teachers' Association of Australia formed in 1924. He was its general secretary in 1929 when it appeared in the High Court, unsuccessfully seeking registration as a Federal trade union. In 1932 as a political lobbyist he secured rapid amending legislation to enable State superannuation cheques to be honoured during the feud between the Commonwealth and J. T. Lang's governments.

Alanson had considerable experience in writing and journalism. As Chapman he published Notes on Practical Lessons in Grammar (1896) and then wrote three adventure books for boys. From May 1908 to August 1914 he contributed an unsigned weekly column on education to the Sydney Morning Herald. In 1919-39 he edited Education, the monthly journal of the New South Wales Teachers' Federation, and established a nice balance between details of its meetings, membership and campaigns, and articles on teaching techniques, syllabuses, and general cultural and political topics.

Before World War I Alanson's Australian patriotism was overshadowed by his admiration of the British Empire, and he rejected trade unionism and arbitration for teachers and public servants. During the war he launched a campaign for citizenship training to strengthen national life and to teach children that Germany could never be trusted again. In the 1920s he emphasized Australian history and literature, and was prominent in the movement which resulted in the building of Henry Lawson's statue in Sydney. At the same time he preached internationalism and the virtues of the League of Nations. His last book was Kurnell; the Birthplace of Australia (1933). An Anglican, he maintained a family pew, although he attended church seldom. He loved going to the races, gambling and drinking beer. A persistent but unconfirmed rumour says that he made money from selling the Bulli soil with which the Sydney Cricket Ground pitch was made.

Alanson died on 1 August 1943 at his home at Randwick of coronary occlusion and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife and three sons.

Select Bibliography

  • B. A. Mitchell, Teachers, Education, and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Australian Journal of Education, 1903-12
  • Education (Sydney), 1919-39, 20 Sept 1943
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Nov 1928
  • school files (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Alanson, Alfred Godwin (1863–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/alanson-alfred-godwin-4986/text8283, accessed 20 September 2017.

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