Fremantle Stuff > People > Henry Briggs
Henry Briggs, 1844-1919, was the Headmaster of the Fremantle Grammar School from 1882 to 1897 — when it closed because Briggs was too busy doing other things to continue to run it effectively. The Anglican Fremantle Grammar School was originally in a building on the corner of Queen and High St which had been the Rose and Crown Hotel, among other things. A new building was built in 1885 up the hill, at 200 High St. The complex included a house for the unmarried Briggs next to the School room. The status of the School changed in 1889 when Briggs resigned from the Church school and then bought it, when almost all of the boys followed him into his Fremantle Grammar School. He was interested in much more than the School, and was Secretary to the Chamber of Commerce, a JP, a Trustee of the Library and Art Gallery, a member of the Commission which established UWA, President of the Legislative Council, Delegate to the Federation Convention, and President of the Commonwealth Legal Council. He was knighted in 1916.
He built a house at what is now 28 Fothergill St, and lived there from 1901 until his death. (It was previously known as 64 John St.)
Henry Briggs was the son of a British shoemaker. After training at St Mark’s College, Chelsea, and a distinguished career as a schoolmaster in the UK, he was appointed founding headmaster of the Fremantle Grammar School in 1882. Here he broadened the traditional English approach to education to make it more relevant to the needs of the colony. Soon the Fremantle elite no longer felt they had to send their children to Britain for an education.
In 1896 Briggs entered politics by winning the seat of West Province. He advocated a humanitarian approach in the controversial area of industrial relations. He followed George Shenton as President of the Legislative Council in 1906, and was knighted for this work in 1916. Briggs died a bachelor and half his substantial estate went to the Home of Peace in Subiaco. MCB.
What follows is the biographical entry for Henry Briggs from Kimberly's 1897 History: 46-47.
ACCORDING to Carlyle, a dominant force in every civilisation is the teaching class—priests and schoolmasters. The great mass of people in a nation must be taught those useful lessons which stimulate reason, and separate modern individuals from the primitive and hazy understanding of old time worshippers of mythology. The latter wandered idly over the face of the country, and knew not of the natural laws which caused the sky to cloud and open in great peals of thunder and dazzling lines of instantaneous light. They observed streams flow from the mountain sides, cereals spring into beneficent fruit, a great ball daily rise in the light east and set some hours later in the dark west, floods roar in resistless anger; and unseen winds passed them from the distant unknown, going to their homes in the equally dim yon, making trees to groan and creak, catching up rustling leaves, and tearing, and rolling, and lifting them hither and thither into the unseen. All these things betokened in their sight voices of the gods, some of divine anger, some of omnipotent approval. They were ignorant of all nature's eternal forces, and hence imputed them to greater beings or spirits which, inhabiting the air about them, constantly watched their every action. Did they pray for propitiation of their chief god, sometimes he acquiesced, and sometimes "their unavailing prayer great Jove refused, and tossed in empty air. The "red comet,"
"A fatal sign to armies on the plain,
Or trembling sailors on the wintry main;
With sweeping glories glides along in air,
And shakes the sparkles from its blazing hair."
was to them an indication of retribution which gods in council had decided to mete out to their poor ignorant selves.
Even now, when we consider ourselves so widely wise, "we wretched mortals! lest in doubts below, but guess by rumour, and but boast we know," and therefore are as little children entering into youth with everything to learn. But our ancestors have learnt something, and our priests and schoolmasters impart that little to us. They prepare us with the information which places us on some equality with our fellows, and enables us to do battle with them in our daily routine.
Western Australia during its short history has felt the influence of the teaching class. Her sons, judging by their success in public affairs, have learnt lessons of wisdom from their masters, which have fitted them to cope with the general requirements of civilisation. Priests and schoolmasters have formed no inconsiderable force in her peoples, and their insinuating influence has been ever present. Mr. Henry Briggs, J.P., M.L.C., has for many years been quietly and effectively engaged in this colony in impressing on the receptive, mobile brain of youth sweet incipient knowledge. Recently he carried his useful work farther into the heart of the colony's interests in that gathering of senators—the Legislative Council.
Henry Briggs is a native of Kettering, Northamptonshire, England, and was born in 1844. His youthful studies were carried on at Leicester, under Canon Fry, and at the age of nineteen years he gained the Queen's Scholarship which entitled him to go to St. Mark's College, Chelsea. Graduating from the pupil stage he became head master of the College of Model Schools, and conducted those duties for three years. Thereupon he removed to that old endowed school, the Mottram Grammar School, of which he was head master for twelve years. For some time also he was a science lecturer in mathematics and theoretical mechanics at South Kensington.
When in the prime of manhood, in 1882, he came to Western Australia and established at Fremantle the Fremantle Grammar School, since become one o the chief educational institutions the colony possesses. His original complement of scholars numbered 29, but at present he has 120 under him, including 25 boarders. There he has been enabled to tutor many promising young colonials, and his curriculum falls little short of that at the best schools in England. By this means our youth have the undoubted advantage of an education similar to that given to their cousins in the old country. The experience gained by Mr. Briggs in the different and onerous positions he held previous to taking up his residence here makes him a citizen of uncommon recommendations.
In June, 1896, a writ was issued to fill a vacancy in the West Province of the Legislative Council caused by the resignation of Mr. E. W. Davies. A well-contested election was held on the 30th June, when prominent local candidates opposed each other. Mr. Briggs was among the number, and his election speeches made a strong impression on electors, as well for the common sense ideas he enunciated as their apparent suitability to the general requirements of the colony. On polling day Mr. Briggs was found to have a majority of 200 votes over the second candidate. At the 1896 session of Parliament, Mr. Briggs opened his Parliamentary career by moving the address in reply to the Governor's Speech, and has since, quietly but sedulously, made his influence felt on all momentous questions, and something is anticipated from his political career. Mr. Briggs was created a Justice of the Peace in 1895. He is a member of the Examining Board of the Education Department; and when the Chamber of Commerce was resuscitated in 1883 he became its first secretary. He occupied that important position until 1895. With Freemasonry Mr. Briggs has had an extended connection, He is a P.M. and P.Z. of the Fremantle Lodge 1033, E.C., and about 1885 took the preliminary steps in the creation of the Royal Arch Chapter of Freemasonry in Western Australia.
The foregoing is sufficient to show what position Mr. H. Briggs, M.L.C., holds among the teaching class of this colony. That he has made his individuality strongly felt in Western Australia goes without saying, and throughout Fremantle, where he is best known, he holds the confidence of all citizens. Light-hearted, and yet didactic, by nature, and of a generous temperament, he has the qualities which tend to make a man popular.
Battye, James Sykes 1912-13, The Cyclopedia of Western Australia, Cyclopedia Co., Perth.
Davidson, Ron 2007, Fremantle Impressions, FACP: 206, 209.
Kimberly, WB 1897, History of West Australia: A Narrative Of Her Past Together With Biographies Of Her Leading Men, Niven, Melbourne: 46-47. Available online from Wikisource. Second photo above by Nixon & Merilees from this book.
Seddon, George 2000, Looking at an Old Suburb: A Walking Guide to Four Blocks of Fremantle, UWAP: 44-45, 82.
Manford, Toby 1979, entry in the ADB, from which the first photo, above, comes
Briggs's 1885 Report
FREMANTLE GRAMMAR SCHOOL. Wednesday last was speech day at the Fremantle Grammar School, in connection with which His Excellency the Governor was in attendance, for tbe purpose of addressing the scholars and presenting to them their annual prizes. The following Report of the Head Master was read, and was listened to by those present with much interest : — GENTLEMEN, — I herewith submit my fourth annual report. During the past year 69 boys have been under my charge, averaging 50 each quarter. The winners of thirteen school prizes last December have now entered on their work in life, and of the present pupils more than one third have been with me less than twelve months. This exodus from the top of the school and influx into the middle and bottom may well be borne in mind when the report of the examiner is received. That the school still provides for other than local wants is evident from noticing the homes of some of our pupils: Albany, Bunbury, Greenough, Northam, Perth, Sharks' Bay, Yarragadee, Yatheroo, and York. The amount of school fees— our only source of income — has steadily increased since the establishment of the school; in 1884 it was £484; this year £520. The general scope of the school teaching has been on the lines of that of former years, with these additions :— Trigonometry, so necessary in land-surveying, has received attention, and is a popular subject with the boys. I shall include Euclid, and have also hopes of starting a class in navigation next year. A teacher of French was appointed in September, but the failure of the builder to complete his contract disarranged my plans. Somewhat undue prominence has since been given to French, to the neglect of Latin and some other subjects, but next year this will be remedied, and Latin, that key of liberal learning, will receive the attention its importance demands. Science has not been forgotten. As the Rev. C. G. Nicolay was on the Colonial Exhibition Committee, our geology lessons have been temporarily discontinued. Recognising the future destination of many of our boys, I gave a course of lessons on ' Agricultural Chemistry,' following the text of Professor Tanner. I here acknowledge the kindness of Mr. Nicholay in placing the museum laboratory at our disposal. I have again to commend the zeal of Mr. Hancock, my morning assistant, and of Sergt. Litton, our Drill-instructor, whose report I append. I am glad to learn that the necessity is recognised of securing the appointment of a second master, who will take an active interest in the sports of the boys. My expression of the desirability of establishing a school Library was applauded last December—nothing, however, has yet been done in this direction, and the same want exists. You will be pleased to hear of the close bond of union which exists between our old boys and the school. My four years' experience of Western Australian boys proves that they are as loyal to their school, as their elders are to this country in which they live, and to those who rule it in Her Majesty's name. Before concluding. I will take this opportunity of acknowledging the act of justice performed by the Legislative Council last session, in throwing open to all colonial youths the University Exhibition. — I am, yours obediently,
The Inquirer and Commercial News, Wednesday 23 December 1885, page 3
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