Department of English
English Literature has been offered as a subject since the University of Adelaide's foundation in 1874.
Walter Watson Hughes had specified that one of the two chairs to be founded at the new University of Adelaide with his gift of £20,000 should be in ‘English Language and Literature and Mental and Moral Philosophy'.
For the University of Adelaide’s first decades, professors of English were from Scotland and Ireland, reflecting the fact that, internationally, the discipline was strong in the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Dublin; there was no chair of English at Oxford until 1904 or Cambridge until 1911. Hughes stipulated that the English and Philosophy chair should be filled by the Reverend John Davidson, a Scottish Presbyterian minister who was lecturing on these topics at Union College, a multi-denominational theological institution founded in Adelaide in 1872.
English language and literature was a compulsory component of the BA, though it was initially only available at first-year level. To address, slightly, the lack of upper level classes, the first of the discipline’s scholarships was established — in memory of John Howard Clark, a newspaper proprietor active in the forerunner of the State Library. Awarded for the first time in 1882, it allowed a gifted student to continue studying English for two further years under the guidance of the professor. Davidson had died in the middle of 1881, and had been replaced by William Roby Fletcher, a Congregational minister, who acted in the chair for almost two years until he took up the post of Vice-Chancellor.
Edward Vaughan Boulger, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, arrived in September 1883 to be professor of English Language and Literature and Mental and Moral Philosophy. By now, enrolments were increasing and, in 1884, a class of more than twenty students attended English literature lectures.
In 1900, English was combined with the discipline of History, when William Mitchell (Engligh Professor since 1895) added Economics to his duties in Philosophy and relinquished his responsibilities in literature. Robert Langton Douglas became the first appointee to the new chair of Modern History and English Language and Literature.
Douglas’s successor to the new chair, George Cockburn Henderson arrived in Adelaide in June 1902 and was the first of the professors of English to have been born in Australia.
In 1921 Mrs Elizabeth Jury gave £12,000 to the University of Adelaide to fund the Jury chair of English Language and Literature, in honour of her husband, a wealthy merchant.
With the arrival of Archibald Strong as Jury professor in 1922, there was at last a specialist whose full attention could be devoted to teaching and research in English; the discipline had come of age at the University of Adelaide. In 1921, in preparation for the new professor, the Faculty of Arts had made English a three-year course; Strong immediately added an Honours course. Unlike some of his predecessors, he had proper expertise in English Language and it was he who introduced the serious study of Old and Middle English to the University of Adelaide.
As the discipline grew under Strong, the first non-professorial appointments were made: Robert Bald to an assistant lectureship in 1923 and, the following year, Albert Kirwood to a lectureship, and Marjorie Walker to a tutorship, which she held from 1924–26.
Archibald Strong suddenly died in 1930. In 1948, a prize was donated in his memory. When Strong died, the Depression was beginning to bite and the chair remained unfilled for a period, with Bald and Kirwood running the department.
John Innes Mackintosh Stewart was the next Jury Professor of English Language and Literature, having been interviewed and appointed by William Mitchell, now Vice-Chancellor, while in London. Stewart at the time was a twenty-eight-year-old lecturer from the University of Leeds, who had an MA from Oxford.
In 1946, Charles Jury agreed to take up the chair as Stewart's successor.
During 1950-51 the Jury chair was filled by an interim appointment, the eighteenth century scholar, David Nichol Smith.
Norman ‘Derry’ Jeffares took up the Jury chair in 1951, arriving at the age of thirty-one as a Yeats expert with a PhD from Trinity College, Dublin, a D Phil from Oxford.
Colin Horne’s appointment as the Jury professor in 1957 coincided with the release of the Murray Report into Australian universities, the results of which had a huge impact on his period of tenure, allowing him to build up a large department.
Sheila Smith was the first woman to hold a tenured lectureship in English — from 1961 to 1966, when she returned to England. Rosemary Sweetapple was appointed to a lectureship in 1965 and Vida Russell in 1970, but a decade later they remained the only women in substantive posts.
By 1964, the discipline had become large enough to warrant a second professor, and John Colmer — who had arrived three years earlier as a senior lecturer with an MA from Oxford and a PhD from London — was appointed to the new post.
During the 1970s, five members of the department were fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities, more than any other English department in the country. For students, the breadth of coverage of English language and literature was at its widest.
After Horne retired in 1977, Colmer was appointed to the Jury professorship and in 1980 Kenneth Ruthven was appointed to the second chair. Ruthven subsequently left for a chair at Melbourne in 1985 and Colmer retired in 1986.
Financial pressures resulting from the serious decline in the University’s federal funding from the late 1980s began to impact significantly on the operations of the discipline. A team of staff members established a course called ‘English for Professional Purposes’, both for native speakers and in an ESL version, thus contributing usefully to the wider institution while attracting large numbers of students — including international students — to the Faculty. On the other hand, the long emphasis on the scholarly study of the English language and of Old and Middle English literature was in decline. In recognition of this reality, it was agreed to adopt the shortened name, ‘Department of English’, a phrase that, internationally, now denoted the range of offerings and approaches seen at Adelaide. Soon, the University would abolish departments and locate English as a discipline within the School of Humanities.
In 1990, four years after Colmer’s retirement, the Jury chair was finally filled by Penny Boumelha (who also became Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Deputy Vice-Chancellor), and a series of female appointments meant that by the end of the decade, women were in a substantial majority. The Jury chair has not been filled since she left in 2009 for a DVC post at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.
The most significant development in the last twenty years has been the introduction of creative writing as an official part of the discipline’s work. After an approach from ArtsSA’s Penelope Curtin, offering financial assistance, the University established the first chair in creative writing in Australia. The poet and novelist Tom Shapcott was appointed in 1997, and he began what was immediately a thriving MA program. By 2000, the first students were enrolling in a PhD consisting of a major creative work plus a 20,000 word critical essay.
Throughout Australia there has been a slow decline in traditional research PhDs in English but, at the University of Adelaide, the drop has been more than matched by the substantial enrolments in creative writing PhDs. In 2012, for the first time, the Faculty offered a major in creative writing as part of the Bachelor of Arts. To reflect the fact that staff and students in this area now make up a significant proportion of the discipline, its name was revised to Discipline of English and Creative Writing.
Taken from A History of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Adelaide. University of Adelaide Press. Chapter 5, "English and Creative Writing: the abode of literature; the home of poetry and fiction". Philip Butterss.
Professor of English Language and Literature and Mental and Moral Philosophy
- Reverend John Davidson, 1874-1881
- Reverend Professor William Roby Fletcher, MA, 1879, 1881-1883
- Professor Edward Vaughan Boulger, MA, Dlitt (Dublin), 1883-1894
- Professor Sir William Mitchell, MA (Edin), 1895-1922 (Emeritus Professor 1922)
Professor of English Language and Literature
- Professor Sir Archibald Thomas Strong, MA (Oxf and Liv), LittD (Melb), 1922-1930
- Professor John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, MA (Oxf), 1935-1945
- Professor Charles Rischbieth Jury, MA (Oxf), 1946-1949
- Professor David Nichol Smith, Dlitt (Camb and Durham), LLD (Glas and Edin), FBA, 1950-1951
- Professor Alexander Norman Jeffares, PhD (Dublin), DPhil (Oxf), 1951-1956
- Professor Colin James Horne, AM, MA (Melb and Oxf), MLitt (Oxf), DipEd (Melb), FAHA, 1957-1977 (Emeritus Professor 1978)
- Professor Kenneth Knowles Ruthven, MA, PhD (Manc), 1980-1985
- Professor John Anthony Colmer, MA (Oxf), PhD (Lond), FAHA, 1961-1986 (Emeritus Professor 1987)
- Professor Penny Boumelha, 1990-2009
- Professor Thomas Lingen Burton, BA (Hons) (Bristol), DipEd (East Africa), PhD (Bristol), 2010-2013 (Emeritus Professor 2013)
Professor of Creative Writing
- Professor Thomas William Shapcott AO, BA (Qld), HonDLitt (Macq), FCPA, 1997-2005 (Emeritus Professor 2005)
Alfred Howard Hansford - Melbourne - Application position Professorship of Modern History and English Language and Literature
P Ansell Robin - Melbourne - Particulars Chair of Modern History and English Language and Literature
The Agent General for SA - London - Appointment of Professor of Modern History and English and Teacher of Pianoforte for Elder Conservatorium
Alfred Charles Weaver - Pirie Street City - Permission to sit for English Language and Literature in March 1899
P F Rowland - Sydney - Application for the Chair of Modern History and English Language and Literature
Professor Archibald Liversidge - University of Sydney - To Chancellor regarding appointing lecture for Chair of Modern History and English Language and Literature
Professor Archibald Liversidge - University of Sydney - Contemplated lecture for Chair of English Literature and Language and Modern History
Professor Archibald Liversidge - University of Sydney - Requesting particulars duties etc of the Chair of English Literature and Language and Modern History
Alexander Sutherland - Registrar - University of Melbourne - Requesting particulars of the Chair of English Language and Literature
Percy Ansell Robin - Melbourne - Application for Locum tenens to Chair of English History and Literature
S Charles Kaines Smith - Cambridge - Application for Chair of Modern History and English Language and Literature
John Cockburn - The Agent General for SA - London - Concerning appointment of Professor of Modern History and English Language and Literature
Henry Salom - Honorary Secretary - Whinham College Old Scholars Association - Offering to Provide an Annual Prize of £10-10-0 for English
Arthur Blyth - Office of the Agent General for South Australia - London - Receipt of Draft for £100 - Advertising for English Professorship Address of Dr Bridge