FITCHETT, William Henry (1842-1928)

FITCHETT, William Henry (1842-1928)
author and educationist
the son of a schoolmaster, was born in Lincolnshire, England, in 1842. He came with his parents to Australia in 1854 and his father died soon after. Fitchett first worked in a quarry near Geelong, then became a jackeroo on a station in Queensland, and largely self-educated, entered the Methodist ministry in 1866. His first charge was at Mortlake, Victoria, and for 16 years he was a circuit minister at Echuca, Bendigo, South Yarra and Hawthorn. He continued his studies after entering the ministry and in 1876 took the degree of B.A. at the university of Melbourne. In 1878 he moved and carried a resolution at the Methodist conference that a committee should be appointed to seriously consider the question of starting a secondary school which would do for girls what Wesley College was doing for boys. Nothing was done but in the following year he became secretary of a new committee which, after three years work, succeeded in starting the Methodist Ladies' College at Hawthorn. The financial difficulties were great but they were overcome, Fitchett became the first principal and held the position for 46 years. Under his guidance it developed into one of the largest and most successful girls' schools in Australia.
Fitchett at this period had already entered journalism having during the seventies, contributed a regular column to the Spectator, the Methodist church paper, signed XYZ. Some time later he became editor of the Southern Cross, a Sunday magazine for the home, and held this position until his death, a period of over 40 years. Articles by him appeared in its pages a month before he died. But what brought him really before the general public was a series of articles which were published in the Melbourne Argus under the title of Deeds that Won the Empire. They were collected and published in book form in Melbourne in 1896 and by Smith Elder and Company, London, in 1897. The book eventually ran into 35 editions and about 250,000 copies were sold. Similar volumes followed in steady succession, Wellington's Men (1900), The Tale of the Great Mutiny (1901), Nelson and his Captains (1902), Fights for the Flag (1909), How England Saved Europe, 4 vols. (1909), The Great Duke, 2 vols. (1911), The New World of the South (1913). Interspersed with these were three Volumes of fiction, The Commander of the Hirondelle (1904), Ithuriel's Spear (1906), A Pawn in the Game (1908), and four books with a religious interest, The Unrealized Logic of Religion (1905), Wesley and his Century (1906), The Beliefs of Unbelief (1908), Where the Higher Criticism Fails (1922). Other literary work included the editorships of the Australasian Review of Reviews, and of Life a popular magazine, the first number of which appeared in 1904.
These activities were not allowed to interfere with his life-work. First and foremost he was principal of a great school for girls steadily expanding, with problems continually arising which required his careful attention. His writing was done in the early hours of the day much of it before breakfast, and the Methodist Church as a whole called for much interest and thought. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it was split into five sections and many efforts were made to bring a union of them about. In 1895 Fitchett, as president of the conference of 1895, organized a public demonstration in favour of the union. The question came up again at successive yearly conferences, but it was difficult to obtain the requisite two-thirds majority. In 1898 union was decided upon, the necessary act of parliament was passed, and at the conference of 1902 the union was accomplished and Fitchett was elected the first president of the united church. Another of his interests was the public library of Victoria of which he was a trustee for 35 years. Working until the last month of his life, he died after a short illness on 25 May 1928. He married (1) in 1870 Clara Shaw who died in 1915 (2) the widow of the Rev. William Williams who survived him with five sons and one daughter of the first marriage. A brother, Dr Frederick Fitchett, C.M.G., was at one time attorney-general of New Zealand, and another brother, Dr Alfred Fitchett, was dean of Dunedin, New Zealand.
Fitchett's versatility was remarkable. He was an excellent debater and leader at church conferences, a preacher of extraordinary ability with a special appeal to young people, a successful administrator of a great girls' school from its inception to the time when it had a roll of over 700 pupils, a first-rate man of business, a capable editor of different types of magazines, and a competent writer of stories like the Commander of the Hirondelle. His books on religion are interesting though Where the Higher Criticism Fails, written away from his library, is one of his least worthy books, Wesley and his Century is, however, an able piece of work which became a textbook in the leading Methodist theological colleges in the United States of America. He had the faults of a man who writes too quickly, but he made a well-deserved reputation as a great man in his church, and in his own way he was an almost incomparable journalist and popular historian.
The Southern Cross, 8 June 1928; The Herald, Melbourne, 26 May 1928; The Argus, Melbourne, 26 May 1928; C. Irving Benson, A Century of Victorian Methodism; The Spectator, 30 May 1928; W. H. Fitchett, 40 Years at the Methodist Ladies' College.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • Methodist Ladies' College, Melbourne — For other schools of the same name, see Methodist Ladies College (disambiguation). Methodist Ladies College, Melbourne Latin: Deo Domuique ( For God and for Home ) …   Wikipedia

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