Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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MacFARLAND, Sir John Henry (1851-1935)

MacFARLAND, Sir John Henry (1851-1935)

Educationist, Churchman, Donor and Council Member, Sir John McFarland was a foundation member of the College Council from 1908 to 1935. He was widely known as Master of Ormond College and Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. John MacFarland originated from a very religious family. He was the eldest son of John MacFarland, a draper in Omagh, County Tyrone, Ireland and his wife Margaret Jane Henry. Her father William Henry was a renowned minister of a dissenting church. John was educated at the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast before moving to Queen’s College from which he graduated with an MA in 1872. He proceeded to Cambridge, graduating MA in mathematics in 1879. He took up teaching and was appointed to the Repton School in Foremark, Derbyshire - a school originally established in 1557. At Repton, he demonstrated the innovative teaching skills and charming oratory which were later to create his reputation in Melbourne.

Sir John McFarland.

Sir John McFarland.

In 1881, he took up the position of Master of Ormond College supported by such Presbyterian luminaries of the time as Francis Ormond and Dr Alexander Morrison of Scotch College, Melbourne. In 1886 he was appointed to the University Council and began an influential career leading the direction and development of the university and building contacts with a network of leading educationists many of whom had associations with the Geelong College. These included Theodore Fink who chaired the royal commission into technical education from 1899 to1891 and Frank Tate, who eventually became the first Director of State Education. In 1910, MacFarland became University Vice-Chancellor and several years after, resigned in 1913 as Master of Ormond College.

During this period he was intensively involved with the Presbyterian Church. He was manager of Scots Church from 1892, a member of the Councils of Scotch College, Melbourne and the Presbyterian Ladies College and took a leading role as a layman in church affairs. In 1908, he became a foundation member of the newly formed Geelong College Council, a position he held until his death in 1935. In 1918 MacFarland became University Chancellor presiding over a considerable expansion of the University. His financial astuteness and administrative capacity won him many supporters and, in later life, he also became chairman of the National Mutual Life Association and a director of the Trustees Executors & Agency Co Ltd. In 1921, he opened the Geelong College Preparatory School.

MacFarland was a benevolent distributor of his own money during his life and on his death, left the bulk of his estate to the Presbyterian Church. It was in 1935, as a direct response to MacFarland’s bequest, that the southern wing of the School and the first stage of the cloisters were constructed. A plaque near the Staff Common Room marks his bequest. John MacFarland’s brother R A H MacFarland was, in 1914, the head of Campbell College, Belfast and the association between the two schools which led to exchanging of flags in 1914 and the gift of the leadlight windows of the Dining Hall emerged from the MacFarland relationship.

Sources: Pegasus September 1935 pp 7-9.
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