Good People of Grammar

The year of 1919 was a new era at Launceston Church Grammar School. This was the year that Rev. John Walter Bethune took up the position of Headmaster of Launceston Church Grammar School, located in Elizabeth Street, Launceston.

To begin his headmastership, Rev. John Bethune’s wrote his first Headmaster’s Letter in the 1919 Launcestonian.

It read:

My Dear Boys,

I wish to thank you all for the welcome you have given me; as you know, I came straight to you from Camp life, having had no experience of school mastering; and to take charge of a school under these circumstances is not an easy task As I said to you on Speech Night, I shall no doubt make mistakes, probably I have made some already but I want you to bear with me if I do and I will ask you to believe that I always have your welfare at heart. While I am with you, I shall try to make our time together as happy and as useful as I can.

From you I shall expect obedience, for without that we can do very little, and I trust I shall also win your friendship and affection. The Grammar School has a great record and inspiring traditions, and I look to you to keep up the standard of Honour, Uprightness and Truthfulness that has been the glory of the past. If I can trust the boys under me to act honourably and speak truthfully at all times, I shall feel contented. We cannot all gain scholarships, but we can all aim at an ideal – and after all character is worth more than scholarship.

If we face the future with an earnest resolve to play the game and to be true to God and our fellow men, we should have no fear. I do not wish to preach you a sermon, but I think you will believe that the words I write are sincere and that I have a personal care and affection for each one of you. Your very sincere friend and Headmaster,


Rev. John Bethune’s his first headmaster’s letter, featured in the 1919 Launcestonian.


The Wellbeing theme that is threaded throughout this publication, and forms a cornerstone to the school’s future vision may appear to some as a new, modern concept to embrace. But the truth is, concern for the wellbeing of our students has been engrained in our history, and is so aptly displayed in this letter that Headmaster Rev. Bethune wrote to the boys at the school in 1919.

Wellbeing, in essence, was Rev. Bethune’s philosophy which he repeated frequently and on which he based his regime at Grammar. Many people utter such sentiments, but Rev. Bethune was absolutely sincere. He made every effort to implement his words and inspire every boy with his beliefs. According to Old Boys, he was remarkably successful.

He certainly invigorated the School at once, for the number of pupils grew each year. Although Rev. Bethune remained a bachelor all his life and had few, if any, family commitments, he was never a man of means.

During several years of his headmastership when the school was going through difficult financial years, Rev. Bethune accepted no salary at all. All he asked for was that the school’s Board, put what it was able to save into the pay envelopes of his masters. Sometime in the early 1920’s he came into a modest inheritance. A good slice of that found its way into the school coffers to help pay for the education of a number of boys whose parents could not otherwise afford it.

By now, the school in Elizabeth Street was outgrowing itself, so he proposed that a new school complex be built at Mowbray Heights. Four years later, the school moved from Elizabeth Street to the new Mowbray Heights site.

Early in 1923 Launceston Church Grammar School celebrated a great occasion – the laying of the foundation stone of the new School by the Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce. It was said that Rev. Bethune and his staff ‘have lifted the school to the high plane of one of the best secondary schools in Australia’. This will always be his legacy, for it was his enthusiasm, initiative and relentless energy that made it all possible. His magnificent communal efforts were rewarded as he was decorated as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

“Good People of Grammar” Written by John Brett – Archives Volunteer