Dr John Marden

Dr John Marden 1888 - 1919 

It was Dr John Marden, PLC Sydney’s first Principal, who established the foundation on which the College has grown and flourished for more than 130 years.

John Marden (1855-1924) was born in Melbourne and received his BA, MA and LLB degrees from the University of Melbourne and his LLD from the University of Sydney. He taught at Geelong College and the Methodist Ladies’ College, Melbourne before moving to Sydney in 1887 to become the founding Principal of our College.

PLC Sydney opened its doors in January 1888 in temporary premises at Fernlea, a gentleman’s residence in Ashfield. By August of that year there were 52 names on the roll, many of them boarders. 1

The curriculum was rigorous from the start and included English, History, Languages, Mathematics, Science, Arts, Scripture and Scripture History as well as gymnastics and regular outdoor exercise. The day opened and closed with prayer.2

Marden believed in the importance of education for young women: “Boy and girl are, for the purposes of education, synonymous terms. . . I am. . . out of sympathy with the cry that education is unnecessary for girls, and that all they require is a few accomplishments.  Women have also to live their life – in most cases a harder one than men have. This notion of accomplishments being sufficient for girls is surely a remnant of those barbarous days when women were looked on as the plaything of men” he wrote 3.

Those who knew Dr Marden admired his ability to combine firm discipline with kindness, understanding and generosity. Because of his interests in numismatics and Egyptology the Archives holds his collections of coins and Egyptian artefacts. We also enjoy the legacy of his interest in horticulture, for it was Dr Marden who first laid out the gardens.

During his time the crest (a modification of the crest of the Presbyterian Church of NSW), the motto (Sancte Sapienter), and the badge (with the words All’ultimo lavoro) were all determined.

In 1919, when the “Doctor” retired, there were 215 pupils,(4) and the physical plant had grown to accommodate the increased numbers. There was the move to Shubra Hall, the former property of Anthony Horden III (of department store fame), in Croydon in 1891. With the exception of several years during World War II, this has remained the College’s home. The dining room, boarding house and assembly room (College Hall) were added before the official opening in 1891. In 1904 the West Wing (classrooms 6, 7 and 8) was added. Two years later, in 1906, Rugby House (the Red House) was purchased in Meta Street. It became the Vice Principal’s home in 1916 and was demolished in 1963 to make way for the Junior School which in turn was demolished to make way for the Gateway building opened in 2018.

But the most significant growth was the purchase of twenty hectares of land in Pymble where a branch college was opened in 1916. For the last three years of his tenure Dr Marden was the Principal of both schools, which were administered by a single Council.

Dr Marden devoted more than three decades of his life to the College. He and his wife and family lived in Shubra Hall. Consequently he was nearly always “on duty”, perhaps to the detriment of his health. The obituary in The Scottish Australasian states that “His own example of tireless devotion to his work inspired both his pupils and those who taught them under his direction” and that “His grave dignity, his quiet, kindly speech, his chivalrous courtesy, as well to the youngest as to the oldest scholar, wrought in the pupils a great reverence and admiration united with respect for his scholarship and loyalty to his leadership”.5

  • Marden Heritage Centre (formerly Marden Memorial Library), built in 1927, honours PLC Sydney’s first Principal.
  • Joseph Arthur Bennett (1853-1929), was the Art teacher at PLC Sydney from 1888 – 1926. He designed the PLC Medallion. Born in England, he studied and worked in London, Paris and Italy before coming to Australia in 1882. He was elected Vice-President of the Royal Art Society and was one of the founders of the Australian Water Colour Institute. He was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 1928.

1 Series 1 College Council & Committees, Minutes of College Council, 9 August 1888.
2 Series 3 Prospectus, Prospectus 1888.
3 The Australian Teacher, March 1896, p. 2.
4 The Golden Hope Presbyterian Ladies’ College 1888-1988, John McFarlane, 1988, p. 23.
5 The Scottish Australasian, November 21, 1924, p. 231.



Dr John Marden
Portrait by J.A. Bennett, 1888