Was born at Glasgow on 26
March 1852. Both parents were Scotch, his father, George Sutherland, a
carver of ship's figure-heads, married Jane Smith, a woman of character
and education. The family came to Australia in 1864 on account of the
father's health, and Alexander at 14 years of age became a pupil-teacher
with the education department at Sydney. Coming to Melbourne in 1870 he
first taught at Hawthorn Grammar School and then entered on the arts
course at the university. He maintained himself largely by scholarships
and graduated with honours in 1874. For two years he was a mathematical
master at Scotch College, Melbourne, and in 1877 founded Carlton College.
He was an excellent schoolmaster, and the school was so successful that 15
years later he felt himself able to retire and devote himself to
literature. The banking crisis of 1893, however, affected his position so
much, that he was obliged to do a great deal of journalism for the
Argus and Australasian. In 1897 he was a candidate for
parliament, but his methods were too guileless and straightforward to
ensure success. In 1898 he went to London as representative of the
South Australian Register, but found the climate oppressed him and
returned to Australia towards the end of 1899. He continued his
journalistic work in Melbourne, and in March 1901 was an unsuccessful
candidate for the southern Melbourne seat in the first federal parliament.
Soon afterwards he was appointed by the council of the university of
Melbourne to the position of registrar. The university was passing through
a difficult time after a period of slack administration, and Sutherland
had to work very hard. On the death of Professor Morris while away on
leave in Europe, Sutherland took over his lectures on English literature.
The burden of the extra work was too great for Sutherland who did not have
a strong constitution, and he died suddenly on 9 August 1902. His widow, a
son and three daughters survived him.
Sutherland did a large
amount of literary work. He was responsible for the first volume only of
Victoria and its Metropolis, published in 1888, an interesting
history of the first 50 years of the state of Victoria. In 1890 he
published Thirty Short Poems, the cultured verse of an experienced
literary man, but his most important book was The Origin and Growth of
the Moral Instinct, which appeared in 1898 in two volumes. Sutherland
had long brooded over this book and was greatly pleased at receiving the
commendation of some of the leaders of philosophic thought in England.
Generally the book was well received both in Europe and the United States.
With his brother, George Sutherland, he wrote a short History of
Australia, which attained a sale of 120,000 copies, and he
collaborated with Henry Gyles Turner (q.v.) in a useful volume, The
Development of Australian Literature (1898); Sutherland's biography of
Kendall in this volume, however, is misleading as it contains several
errors. His undoubted powers as a teacher gave value to his text book,
A New Geography, and other works of that kind. He contributed on
scientific subjects to the Nineteenth Century, and did a large
amount of lecturing on literature and science in Melbourne. As a man he
was modest and sincere, interested in all the arts and the discussions
that arise out of them. Of his brothers, William [Sutherland] is noticed
separately, George (1855-1905), was a well-known journalist and author of
miscellaneous works mostly historical or technical. He died at Adelaide in
December 1905. His daughter, Margaret Sutherland, became well known as a
musician and composer. Another brother, John Sutherland, wrote a
thoughtful book, The Bonds of Society, published in 1914.