Labour Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

William Matthews (1833–1890)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

William Matthews (1833-1890), schoolteacher, was born in November 1833 in Devon, England, son of William Veale Matthews and his wife Margaret, née Kiddle. He arrived in Sydney about 1855 and married Margaret McLeod at Carcoar in 1856. In 1860 he began teaching under the Board of National Education and by 1864 was in the Hunter Valley as headmaster of the Maitland Model School.

In the 1860s and 1870s Matthews was prominent in short-lived teachers' organizations to which the board gave limited tolerance and encouragement. In 1864-65 he was secretary of the Hunter River National Teachers' Mutual Improvement Society and in 1874 secretary of the new Teachers' Association of New South Wales, the most vigorous of the teachers' associations before the late 1890s. The association's journal published unsubstantiated charges of prejudice and injustice against inspectors, and the Council of Education decided to punish four teachers: the president, Frederick Bridges; the vice-president; the author of the charges; and Matthews who was to be suspended for three months and transferred to a country school. The punishments were reduced to three-week suspensions after abject apologies were made. The association soon disappeared, partly because teachers were frightened of official displeasure but mainly because they would not accept the official definition of their role and were only encouraged to discuss scholastic matters but not salaries and conditions of work.

Matthews was not cowed by this experience and after a few months as headmaster at Glebe explained to Wilkins that he could not hold the usual school exhibition because he did not have the money. His salary of £150 was supplemented by over £200 from pupils' fees but changes in regulations and the scale of fees had reduced his total income by almost £150. In March 1875 he was forced to sequestrate his estate which was not released until 1889. For a time he was less prominent in teachers' affairs but became secretary to a large meeting of teachers called in 1883 to protest about new regulations under the 1880 Public Instruction Act.

Although the Act stabilized and increased teachers' incomes, they remained unprotected against administrative authority, and in 1887 Matthews was blamed for the falling attendance at his school. The inspectors alleged that he was an unpopular and inefficient teacher, but he asserted that reductions were caused by the opening of new schools, departure of Catholic pupils, bad weather and economic recessions. He pleaded against demotion to a smaller school: he had a good record, was in bad health, had sunk his savings in a property at Fairfield and had not received a fair hearing in the dispute. He found that the 1884 Civil Service Act did not apply to teachers, but in September 1887 he was moved to Macquarie Street South with his salary reduced from £400 to £336 a year. His health deteriorated and next year he was granted early retirement. A Freemason, he died on 28 December 1890 and was buried in the Anglican section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two daughters and five of their seven sons. His estate was valued at £967.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Journal of Education, 1868-70
  • Journal of Primary Education, 1871-73
  • Teachers' Assn of New South Wales, Journal of Primary Education, 1873-74
  • B. Mitchell, A History of Public School Teachers' Organisations in New South Wales, 1855 to 1945 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1969)
  • Council of Education, minute book and out-letter book, 1874 (State Records New South Wales)
  • William Street School files, 1887 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Matthews, William (1833–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 June 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


November, 1833
Devon, England


18 December, 1890 (aged 57)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.