The Whitfeld family have an enduring connection with Grammar that dates back to
the very origins of the School in 1857 and has extended through six generations.


Edwin Whitfeld emigrated from England in 1857 to take up the post of Assistant Master in Classics and Mathematics at the newly founded Sydney Grammar School. He remained there for 32 years, and six generations of Whitfeld descendants have attended the School. Four of Edwin’s children were actually born at the School.

Edwin, the fifteenth child of Dr William Whitfeld of Ashford, Kent, UK went as a weekly boarder to Wye Grammar School and vowed that no child of his would ever be sent to a boarding school. He was happy at Cambridge and graduated from Trinity College with an MA in Classics and became a tutor. At university, tutors were not allowed to marry, so he and his sweetheart, Eleanor Cooke, married quietly in Cambridge and departed for Australia to teach at a new school.

Sydney Grammar School provided living quarters for staff at the School, and there was room for ducks, goats and fowls. Soon there were seven Whitfeld children - Lewis, Caroline, George, Jessie, Laura, Madeline and Hubert - and the family moved to roomier premises at ‘Sevington’ in Stanmore, later part of Newington College.

Pictured above are Edwin Whitfeld (middle row second from right) and Lewis Whitfeld (front row, left) with fellow Grammar masters 1882

George Whitfeld (OS 1876)

Hubert Whitfeld (OS 1893)

Leslie Whitfeld (OS 1910)

Eric Whitfeld (OS 1914)

As a teacher, Edwin was regarded as an eccentric rebel, who used inappropriate language. There were stern warnings from the Headmaster Stephens and the Trustees, and complaints from old boys. The next Headmaster, Albert Bythesea Weigall, was more sympathetic. Edwin died in 1907 but thankfully his charming, idiosyncratic diaries were stored in the State Library of NSW. A tribute published at his death in The Sydney Morning Herald ran as follows: ‘Edwin Whitfeld was the grand old man of the Sydney Grammar School; and there is not an old boy who would have had the sublime opportunity of doing 400 lines of the Georgics for him, who would not rise up and cheer at the mention of his name.’

Edwin’s first son Lewis became a prominent and well-respected barrister. He died suddenly while playing golf. His two sons Geoffrey and Ralph also attended Grammar. Geoffrey became an engineer in charge of the construction of the Winburndale Dam in Bathurst and Ralph was a GP in Nowra, dying at only 32.

Ralph Whitfeld (OS 1913)
(back row, first from left)
Grammar Shooting Team

Stan Whitfeld (OS 1913)
(front row, first from left)
Grammar Prefects 1913

It was Edwin’s youngest son Hubert who became very well known. Apart from writing the words of the University of Sydney’s famous unofficial song, ‘Grads and undergrads and fellows’, in 1897 he was the University Medallist in Classics. He taught for two years, then studied for a degree in engineering. He went to Western Australia and worked as a metallurgist and mining manager. The University of Western Australia opened in 1913 and Hubert was appointed foundation professor of mining and engineering. He had twice been Vice-Chancellor under the university’s rotary system, but in 1927 he was appointed as the first permanent Vice-Chancellor. Under his direction, the University flourished when it moved to its attractive site on the Swan River, where Hubert contributed ideas for landscaping. He had close connections with the American Carnegie Association, encouraging staff to take leave overseas, and he favoured adult education, always stressing the need for a close link between the humanities and the sciences.


Edwin’s daughter Eleanor Madeline (‘Madge’) married her university lecturer, Professor George Arnold Wood, in 1899. Wood, a graduate of Balliol College, came to Australia to become the first Challis Professor of History at the University of Sydney. He would meet with the Whitfelds at Servington on their weekend gatherings. Three of their five children became pupils at Grammar. Both Fred and Bill were awarded Rhodes Scholarships and went to study at the University of Sydney and then their father’s college at Oxford. Fred went on to become Professor of History at Victoria University College, Wellington New Zealand. Bill**, after becoming disillusioned with the plight of the working class, became an active member of the Communist Party and worked as a journalist for the Tribune. In later life, he studied librarianship and worked at Fisher Library. Their youngest son Alliott (‘Al’) or Alan became a journalist and war correspondent with the British Army in the Second World War and was parachuted into Arnhem in Holland where he reported from the front line. Later he lost a leg in Operation Varsity, an operation dropping troops over the Rhine in 1945. All keen sportsmen, especially cricket, they represented the school in various fields. Their daughter, Evanne, also married another Grammar old boy and Rhodes Scholar, David Garnsey, who went on to become Headmaster of Canberra Grammar and then Bishop of Gippsland. Their son George Garnsey has many happy memories of when he was teaching at Grammar for two years.

**Bill’s step-granddaughter, Charlotte McColl, now works in the Archives Department at Grammar.

Left: John Whitfeld (OS 1943) (back row, first from left) Grammar Tennis GPS Premiers 1941

Bill Wood (OS 1929) (back row, fourth from left) Grammar Prefects 1929

Alliott (Al) Wood (OS 1931) in the trenches during WWII

Madeleine’s other brother George, who was a surveyor and Civil Servant, had four sons at Grammar – Leslie, Stan, Eric and Lawrence. Stan was a GP and surgeon in Mudgee for more than 30 years. His two sons, John and Richard (Dick), were boarders at the Randwick establishment, going to school each day by tram. John became a doctor, and Dick had a pioneering and creative role in the new computer industry. He had won the Wigram Allen prize for Mathematics at College Street and graduated in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Sydney. He undertook the university’s first computer course, gaining a Diploma of Numerical Analysis and Automatic Computing. Hooked on IT, he worked as a Systems Analyst in England and Australia on major projects for banks and mining companies, defence aircraft and nuclear reactors. His two sons, Christopher and Patrick, both attended Grammar, as did Christopher’s son, Nicholas. Christopher has a PhD in Audiology and Nicholas uses his legal skills working for the Ombudsman. Patrick graduated in electrical engineering and works with agricultural machinery in Adelaide.

Stan’s daughter Margaret, married to Peter Beale, had three sons David, Philip and Tom, who all attended Grammar in the late sixties and early seventies. Tom, who played clarinet, won the Music Prize, and owes his profound love and knowledge of music to the way the late Peter Seymour and Headmaster Alistair Mackerras invigorated and transformed the teaching and performance of music. Philip and David both played cricket in the First XI and represented the School in GPS Athletics. Philip was part of the 1975 premiership winning team under Michael Leete and won the Ros Kelly Trophy for best cricketer of that year. Both David and Tom have had successful careers as solicitors at Beale Lawyers and Philip is now an oncologist working at Concord and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse. All three have represented the Old Sydneians’ Cricket Club from 1973 to 2013 and they even played with Philip’s son, Alexander (OS 2006), who is the current club organiser. Alexander also played in the successful First XV of 2005 and 2006 but had to play Kurtley Beale all through high school. He became a solicitor and works for Minter Ellison in Environmental and Planning law.

L-R: Tom Beale (OS 1978), Philip Beale (OS 1975) and David Beale (OS 1972)

Richard (Dick) Whitfeld (OS 1953)

George’s son Leslie went to England and joined the RAF in World War I. He later did law at Oxford, but eventually took up school teaching in England. His brother Eric (‘Cos’) joined the Australian Expeditionary Force in 1917 and fought in France. He too became a schoolteacher and was for many years on the staff of The Armidale School, and later Deputy Head. His grandsons John and James also attended Grammar. One of John’s first memories in Big School was that ‘there were more Whitfelds on the War Memorial Boards than in the white pages.’ John went on to study engineering before going into IT to support small companies. He has become a keen sailor, having raced in 27 Sydney-Hobart races. James was a fine rugby player at school and was selected in the GPS Seconds. He later studied veterinary science in New Zealand, and he is currently a partner of REC Equine Specialists.

Finally, Stan’s daughter Jill, married to Dr John Beith, had two grandsons, Robert and Cameron McLean at Grammar. Both boys were awarded the Old Sydneian’s Union Prize for General Achievement. Cameron was Captain of the First XI 2003-4, and won the Albert Tibby Cotter Trophy for the most outstanding cricketer in the First XI. He was the last of his generation. Grammar awaits Edwin’s great-great-great grandson.

James Whitfeld CROP(OS 1986).jpg

James Whitfeld (OS 1986)

Sail CROP.jpg

John Whitfeld (OS 1983) sailing at Storm Bay

Thank you to Margaret Beale and all the extended Whitfeld Family