A Visit to Queen’s Orphans School New Town (Tasmania) 1853 – In Four Letters

First published in The Courier (Hobart), 28 January 1853.

In obedience to your instructions, I yesterday visited the Queen’s Orphan School, and examined thoroughly the buildings, the rules and regulations under which it is conducted, and their practical effect upon the children at present pupils there. Before I detail at what conclusion I arrived from my inspection, both with regard to the wisdom of the regulations of the school and the manner in which they are carried out, I shall state briefly your reasons, as you detailed them to me, for choosing me for this service. You said, “As education is become one of the most important subjects for consideration in the colony, we wish a thorough examination to be made of the different Government schools, and a fair and impartial account given of them to the public: you, having but just arrived in the colony, without partialities or prejudices, knowing scarcely the names of the chief persons here, will be more likely to carry out our object than a longer resident; and your having given the subject of education much study, and observed the different systems in use in England, France, Prussia, and the other Australasian Colonies, will enable you to see clearly if our system is efficient, and likely to be of such benefit to the colony as its inhabitants require.”

All your readers may not be aware that there are but three systems of primary education now recognised in the United Kingdom; they are the Denominational, the British and Foreign, and the National or Irish. The first is that system which collects the children of each denomination, and gives them both a religious and secular education, each of these schools being under the especial patronage of a ministers of its own denomination. The second, or British and Foreign system, permits children of all sects to be educated together, but insists upon the Bible being read every day without comment of any kind; and the last, or National system, holds out secular instruction to children of all denominations, leaving that of religion to the ministers of each creed, who are encouraged to visit the school, and who are invited to take certain hours of the week for the purpose of imparting religious instruction. There are many objections to each of these systems. The Denominational, if at all, is only practicable in populous cities, where there are a large number of children belonging to each sect. In the Australasian colonies, where the population is scattered, such a system has been found to be perfectly useless. The British and Foreign is very objectionable to the Roman Catholics, — a very important and influential body in these colonies, permitting, as it does, the whole of the Bible to be read: it is likewise judged unwise, by most denominations, to put the Bible into the hands of young children, and give them no explanations by which they may comprehend its contents. The national, or Irish system, originated by the present Lord Derby, when Secretary for Ireland, is undoubtedly the only one at all adapted to communities where there are many sects, and where there is no State religion: it gives an excellent secular education, combined with a religious one, at certain hours, under the auspices of ministers of every creed which may have any followers in the school: it is plastic too in its nature, for should all the children be of one denomination (which sometimes happens), religion may be inculcated in school-hours. This system is famous for the excellent books which it has sent out into the world, and which are now used, not merely in national schools, but in seminaries professing to impart a much higher order of education than any government school does. Another, and not the least, excellence in the national system, is its bringing together in daily friendship children of different religions, and thus destroying, it is hoped, the worst of all unchristian feelings — those of bigotry.

These short explanations will probably bring before the minds of your readers the comparative merits of the systems of education patronised by different governments, and will make them comprehend the interesting debates upon this important subject which are at present taking up so much of the attention and time of the Legislative Councils of Sydney and of Melbourne. 

It is unnecessary for me to describe the healthy situation, or the beauty and picturesqueness, of the Queen’s Orphan Schools. The building is divided into three departments, and contains schools for males, females, and infants: in front are well cultivated gardens, at present containing an excellent stock of vegetables; behind the boys’ department is a large play-ground, with a full-rigged mast to teach the children gymnastics, and which, I am happy to learn, has as yet caused no accident. As health is, or ought to be, the first consideration, I asked to see the dormitories, and was shown three fine large rooms, — one for the Protestants, another for the Roman Catholics, and the third I understood for an emergency, such as the over-crowding of the other two. The sides of each of these rooms are divided by a rail into five compartments, each compartment containing eight hammocks, thus allowing eighty children to sleep in a dormitory. The room appeared to me to be about 50 feet long, 20 wide, and 20 high; thus giving, at a rough calculation, 12 square feet 6 inches of air to each child, hardly sufficient I think. One counteracting effect to the unhealthiness of so many children sleeping closely together is the excellent ventilation of the room, the greater part of the top being composed of windows which are kept open all day; in addition to these windows, there are two patent ventilators in each dormitory. Tho good effect of this thorough ventilation is assisted by the perfect cleanliness which characterises the whole building. It is an old boast among thrifty housewives, that you might eat your dinner off their floors; and I must do the Superintendent of the Orphan Schools the justice to say, that I have never seen tables whiter, or more beautifully clean, than every floor which I saw yesterday. The children sleep in hammocks, having for the use of each two blankets and a rug. At half-past 5 a.m. each child folds up his bedding, and lays them aside ready for the night. There are monitors or curators appointed, who are responsible for these wholesome regulations being well carried out. When the children leave the dormitories in the morning they are locked, and no one is admitted to enter them before night — a very wise measure, as they are thus always fresh by the sleeping time.

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I next visited the school-rooms. They are under the dormitories, and of precisely the same size. The middle of the room contains about twenty long desks. At the end of the room is a dais 2 feet in height. Upon this dais are the two master’s desks and a large black board: the room is hung round with maps, and there are rows of green baize dropping from the ceiling, I presume to concentrate sound. The chief characteristic of this apartment, like all the others, is cleanliness and neatness. I could suggest but one improvement, which was, that the floor ought to have been raised upon a gently inclined plane; then the master would be better able to see any improper conduct or want of attention on the part of the scholars, and the latter would be better able to see the masters when receiving lessons from them.

Adjoining the large school-room is a small classroom, in which the more advanced boys are taught higher subjects: the sides of this room are hung round with plans and pictures, explanatory of easy rules in natural philosophy. In the school-room, I inspected some copy-books which were lying by chance on one of the desks, and I must say, if they are fair specimens of the writing class, considering the age of the children, they do great credit to the institution.

I next inspected the dining room, a fine apartment, about which I shall say nothing, except that it was as clean and orderly as could have been wished. From thence I made my way to the kitchen, and tasted the bread, made on the premises, from the flour commonly known as 20 per cent, flour, that is, I understand, flour adulterated 20 per cent. The bread is certainly much better than most working people at home can afford to buy, and good enough for any person. The meat, which I saw, was not so good; the mutton was tolerable, the beef decidedly innutritious. In leaving the kitchen, I passed through the lavatories. The water is brought into the apartment, and continually flows into a kind of wooden tank lined with zinc, something in the shape of a long horse trough, and the children come every morning to wash. Round the lavatory hang numerous jack-towels.

I have now minutely and correctly described every thing that I saw, and you may depend upon the accuracy of the description, with the slight exceptions I have mentioned, I considered the school a great credit to its founder, patrons, and superintendents.

I will now state what I could learn of the management and general habits of the school. First, as to the observances of religion, it seems that the school recognises but two religions in its pupils, namely, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic. There are, accordingly, two chaplains, — one a clergy-man of the Church of England, the other a Roman Catholic priest, who attend to the spiritual wants of the children. There are also two masters and two mistresses, the higher ones being Protestants and the assistants being Roman Catholics. At 8.30 A.M. the Protestant children proceed to the chapel where prayers are read by the clergyman, who attends daily for that purpose; the Roman Catholics are assembled in one of the school-rooms, and their morning worship is performed by the Roman Catholic master. On Wednesday each week the whole day is given up to religious instruction, each creed being taught in different rooms by its own particular minister. 

As the aim of the institution is to make good and useful citizens of its young inmates, there is an industrial school attached. At certain hours of the day every child is obliged to practise some trade or calling. This plan serves a double purpose — it teaches children a useful and remunerative calling, and at the same time enables them to make and repair their own clothes and grow their own produce. To each of the agriculturists, who are deserving, a small piece of ground is allotted, which they are permitted to cultivate, and to sell what they can produce from it. The Industrial master keeps their accounts for them, giving them every now and then a little pocket money, and he buys them seed, &c.; many of the boys make £3 per annum by their industry. 

The diet of the children per diem is 1lb of flour, ¼lb meat, soup, vegetables, and on every Sunday a pudding; this is of course is apportioned out differently to children of different ages. Each child has two perfect suits of clothes and four pairs of excellent boots per annum. The daily routine of the work of the boys is as follows:- The bell rings at 5.40 a.m., when each child folds up its bedding; they then descend to the lavatory, and at 7 a.m. are inspected by the master and matron, to see if they are properly dressed and cleaned; at 7.30 breakfast, consisting of bread and tea; at 8.30 prayers; 9 recreation; 9.30 they are told off by the Industrial master to their various employments; 11.30 school; 12.45 dinner; 2 school again; 4 recreation; 5 supper, the same as breakfast; then they are left to make their beds; afterwards recreation till bedtime. 

The Government very liberally supplies the the children with bats and balls, to amuse themselves during their hours of recreation. I believe each child costs twenty pounds per annnm. I must say I derived great pleasure from my visit to the Queen’s Orphan school, and was most favourably impressed with the order and neatness which prevailed. About the scholastic system and method of teaching I can say nothing, not having had an opportunity of seeing the boys in school; but I shall take an early opportunity of doing so, and of giving you the result of my visit. To-morrow the prizes will be awarded by Sir William and Lady Denison; it will be an interesting ceremony, which I shall take care to furnish, with the statistics of the school, for your journal.

Source: A VISIT TO THE QUEEN’S ORPHAN SCHOOL. (1853, January 28). The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 – 1859), p. 3. 

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