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Burton, Leonard Samuel (1824–1895)

Leonard Burton, by Phillip Marchant, c.1894

Leonard Burton, by Phillip Marchant, c.1894

State Library of South Australia, B 11216

The late Mr. Leonard Samuel Burton was the eldest son of the late Mr. William Burton, of Dent, Yorkshire, and Chester, England, and was born at Chester, on January 8, 1824. Mr. Burton was educated at the King's school in his native town, and was afterwards engaged in business as a chemist and druggist. In 1849 Mr. Burton gave up his business and sailed in the 'Rajah' for South Australia, arriving here in April, 1850. In September of the same year the late gentleman entered Pulteney-street school as under-master, the Rev. E. K. Miller being the head-master. Mr. Burton afterwards had a school at Saddleworth under the old Education Board, but in June, 1853, he received the appointment of head-master of St. George's School, Gawler. From that time Mr. Burton resided in Gawler continuously until his death. He was therefore a resident of nearly 42 years.

St. George's School was established in 1850, as an adjunct of the Church of England. It was determined, however, that while the school should assert its identity with that church by the reading and teaching of its catechism, the establishment should be open to those of other denominations who wished to avail themselves of it. As a consequence, its scholars included Jews, Roman Catholics and others. Gawler was at that time an insignificant place, but its school did it credit. On Mr. Burton's apppointment, sectarian teaching had to be relinquished during the ordinary school hours in compliance with the regulations of the Education Board. In 1857 the school building, which stood on the north side of Orleana-square and was only demolished two or three years ago, had a separate room for girls added to it, and about 30 years ago the present St. George's Schoolroom was built. Mr. Burton's appointment was fully justified and popular, and successful as the school was prior to that, it became much more so after. Indeed it was regarded as one of the best educational institutions in the colony, and students were sent here from various parts of South Australia. It is impossible within the limits of this sketch to give anything like an adequate notice of St. George's School. It was one of the chief features of the town for many years, and the influence it exerted was important and far reaching. One cannot go into any important centre of Australia without encountering someone who is indebted to the instruction he received at St. George's. It has been a nursery from which the seedlings of intelligence, culture, business aptitude, and moral rectitude have been trans planted to all parts of this island-continent; and the maturity of these plant lings have been the most eloquent testimony to the faithfulness with which the duties of the nursery were carried out. The late Mr. Burton was of marked individuality, and the lines upon which he administered his school were well-defined. With a strictness of discipline which was a terror to youthful evil-doers, he combined a zeal in the cause of education, a painstaking carefulness in the training of each scholar, and a sympathetic interest in the desires and difficulties of his pupils, which inspired confidence on the part of parent and scholar alike. As years rolled by this developed into affection, and there are few men living for whom a warmer regard by an enormous circle of colonists is entertained than for our late townsman. His thorough conscientiousness, his unflagging energy, and his transparent unselfishness were characteristics which marked him strongly both as a teacher and a citizen.

St. George's School continued to flourish and add to its laurels until the adoption of the Education Act of 1875, when educational matters in the colony were revolutionised. The introduction of the public school system spelt death to many private establishments, and St. George's likewise suffered. How Mr. Burton received the appointment of head-master when the Gawler Model School was opened; how he retained it for two years and six months; how he subsequently re-opened St. George's School; how about eighteen months ago he removed the school to his own house; how he was the recipient of a handsomely illuminated address and purse of sovereigns in December, 1893, from his old scholars, are all matters of recent history.

The reflection that so many of his old boys occupied high positions and that they warmly appreciated his early services to them was very gratifying to him, and he was much touched when at the inception of the present municipal year, at a semi-official gathering in the Mayor's Parlor, reference was made to the fact that he had, as colleagues, at the civic board, two councillors, who had been educated by him, while the Town Clerk and the reporter were also old scholars.

But Mr. Burton has not only rendered great service to the town from an educational point of view, but in a number of other ways. He was a real live citizen. The duties of citizenship he regarded as sacred, and with the exception of the Hon. James Martin, perhaps, no one has rendered more all-round service. He filled a great variety of offices ranging from that of Mayor of the town to vice-president of the cricket and football clubs. He was a member of the Humbug Society and as long ago as 1860 held the office of treasurer to the Institute, a post which he occupied continuously until six years ago when he was elected one of the trustees. At the same time (1860) be held the office of hon. secretary to the Gawler Auxiliary to the British and Foreign Bible Society, and continued to hold it right up to the time of his decease. Mr. Burton also carried out the respective duties of hon. secretary and W.M., of the Lodge of Fidelity in the early days, and in the history of 1861 his name appears in conjunction with Mr. Warren's as an auditor of the Gawler Town and Suburban Building and Investment Society. Later on he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. St. George's Church also received the benefit of Mr. Burton's services and he filled various offices at different periods. At the time of his death he was a trustee of the Church. The Agricultural Society is also indebted to him for many hours hard work. As treasurer for many years he facilitated the work of the Society and did all he could to advance its interests. Mr. Burton was one of the original directors of the Gawler Permanent Building and Investment Society, and ten years ago when he was Mayor also held the following offices : — President of the Gawler Cricket Club, president of the Gawler Bicycle Club, President of the Gawler Chess Club, patron of the Gawler Comedy Company, and treasurer of the Gawler Political Science Association. The late Mr. Burton was one of the Corporation auditors for a number of years, but it was not till 1881 that he took a place at the civic board. He was in that year elected Councillor for North Ward. After three years in that capacity Mr. Burton was elected Mayor, which high office he held during 1884 and 1885. After a spell of two years Mr. Burton was again elected as Mayor, filling the post for the second time in 1888. The late Mr. Burton threw himself into his Mayoral duties with much zeal. He was out of office in the years 1889, '90 and '91, but in 1892 he was again elected to represent North Ward, and he was sitting for the fourth consecutive year when the sad accident which terminated his life took place. His long residence in the town and wide experience were specially valuable to his colleagues, and who recognised that his one desire was to advance the best interests of the town. He was one of the most prominent of the history makers of Gawler, and the record of long and useful service which he leaves should act as an inspiration to others to follow the excellent example which he has set them, Gawler will long venerate the memory of Leonard Samuel Burton.

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'Burton, Leonard Samuel (1824–1895)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/burton-leonard-samuel-23545/text32557, accessed 23 May 2019.

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