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Littlejohn, William Still


Was the son of W. Littlejohn, watchmaker and jeweller He was born at Turriff, Scotland on 19 September 1859, and was educated first at the board schools at Alford and Peterhead, and then at the Aberdeen grammar school and King's College, Aberdeen university. He represented his university at Rugby football and graduated M.A. in 1879. He had partly maintained himself by winning bursaries and by coaching. His father and brother emigrated to New Zealand and in 1881 obtained nominated passages for the remainder of the family. In the interim William had qualified as a teacher, had been living in Edinburgh with his mother doing university coaching, and on two occasions had been a resident master at boarding schools.

Littlejohn arrived at Wellington about Christmas time 1881. He obtained the position of third master at Nelson College which then had a roll-call of about 150, and entered on his work early in 1882, a tall, burly, bearded, fair young man with a strong Aberdeen burr. He immediately began to be an influence in the school, playing football and cricket with the boys after school hours, and showing an immense interest in his teaching. His own training had been a classical one but having undertaken to teach an elementary class chemistry, he did so by studying it one lesson ahead of his class; and, finding there was no laboratory, persuaded the headmaster to convert a box-room into one. He was one of those men who could obtain a reasonable knowledge of a subject in a short time, and it was said of him in later years that he was capable of taking a form in any one of the 20 subjects of the intermediate public examinations. He not only took charge of the games, he commanded the cadet corps, And with his usual thoroughness gave up a holiday period, training at a camp for officers. At Christmas 1885 he was married to Jean Berry with whom he had had an understanding in Scotland. A change of principals took place at Nelson College, and in his twenty-eighth year Littlejohn became second master. He also took over the duties of house-master until the new principal, W. J. Ford, could arrive from England at the beginning of the second term. When he did arrive he was amazed at the extra duties carried out by his assistant. When he said so to Littlejohn the reply was that a man who is not brilliant has to do something to make up for it. It was about this time that Ernest, afterwards Lord, Rutherford became Littlejohn's pupil and obtained his first introduction to physics and chemistry. Littlejohn afterwards gave him special coaching for a university scholarship in which he was successful. In 1889 Mr Ford resigned and returned to England to become principal of Leamington College. An opportunity was lost in not appointing Littlejohn to the vacant position, and J. W. Joynt, a distinguished scholar but without teaching experience, was made principal. During his 10 years term New Zealand had a period of depression and the new principal had not the special qualities necessary to overcome his difficulties. When he resigned at the end of 1897 Littlejohn became principal, and during the next six years there was a very large increase in the number of day boys and the boarders increased from 27 to about 90. Organization and hard work had much to do with his success, but his realization of the fact that boys have minds that are better when developed than crammed was an important factor too. In 1903 he heard that a principal was wanted for Scotch College, Melbourne, and with some misgivings applied for the position. He was appointed and took charge of the school at the beginning of 1904.

Scotch College, the oldest secondary school in Victoria, had always held a leading place, but Littlejohn felt that the scope of its education must be widened. Boys should be made fit to accept responsibility so he brought in the prefect system, and he revived the cadet corps whose officers had to earn their positions. Sport should have its place in the life of the school, but it must be kept in its place. He found that there was some jealousy and ill-feeling among the public schools which manifested itself at school contests, and his influence with his own boys and with the headmasters of other schools helped to bring about a better feeling. He encouraged the founding of the school magazine, the Scotch Collegian, entirely written by the boys which became possibly the best school paper in Australia. Other outside interests were fostered, such as the literary, science and debating clubs, the dramatic society, the Australian student Christian movement, the school library, museum, natural history club, boy scouts. All these and other movements too were added gradually, and every boy had the opportunity of developing his particular interests. The school roll was getting larger and larger, for some years the increase averaged 100 each year. In 1911 Littlejohn found that he was threatened with blindness, but a year's rest in Europe and America averted this. The war period was a period of great sorrow with over 1200 old boys at the front of whom over 200 were killed. That the school furnished three generals including the commander-in-chief, General Sir John Monash (q.v.), and earned 184 distinctions was small comfort.

The school had out-grown its limits and it was decided that a move must be made. A site of 60 acres was found at Hawthorn and gradually the whole school was transferred beginning with the preparatory school. The move was completed in 1925. In providing the funds for the buildings much help was given by the old boys organized through the old Scotch Collegians Association. The school continued to increase and the separation of the preparatory school under a headmaster gave only a temporary relief. It is a question whether any principal should be expected to control so many as 900 senior boys. Littlejohn showed few signs of the strain he was under, but in August 1933 he became ill with bronchial influenza and died on 7 October 1933. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters.

Littlejohn was a great organizer and a great schoolmaster. He believed in discipline but his nickname among the boys, "The Boss", became not only a symbol of authority but a term of affection. When he died he was mourned by thousands of old and present boys. He was a religious man but he was more interested in the sincerity of a man's religion than its particular tenets. He was trained in the classical tradition and believed in scholarship, but to him the important thing was that a school should give a training for life.


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