Remembering the Past Australia

The First School House in Melbourne


As published in 'A history of state education in Victoria' by Victoria Education Dept; Long, Charles Richard; Smyth, John Publication date 1922.

The first school established in the Port Phillip District was one for the children of the aborigines in the vicinity of the little settlement.  It was established towards the end of 1836, by order of Governor Bourke, and was situated not far from the present site of the Botanical Gardens.  The first teacher in charge of this school was Mr George Langhorne, who was assisted for a time by Mr John Thomas Smith, afterwards Mayor of Melbourne.  At no time did its attendance number more than twenty-eight pupils.  When Bishop Broughton, head of the Anglican Church in New South Wales, came to Melbourne in April 1838, he visited the school, where he found that progress had been made by the young aborigines in reading and religious knowledge.  Unfortunately, some of the adult natives showed a marked animosity towards the little school.  Mr Langhorne sent one of the aboriginal boys into the bush to bring in a cow, while on his errand, the lad was seized by some of the hostile natives, murdered, and his body buried.  The career, however, of the first school in the Port Phillip District was not of long duration, and it was terminated in the year 1839.

The First School House In Melbourne 1837 8

The First School House in Melbourne 1837-8

In 1836 a few of the settlers held a public meeting in their little village.  A proposal was put forward at the gathering by Mr Geillibrand suggesting that the settlers should unite to erect a building, to be used for divine services on the Sabbath and for school purposes during the week.  The proposal was carried, and, in April 1837, a low-roofed wooden building, capable of holding about eighty people, rose near the corner of William-street and Little Collins-street.  This, the first public building erected in Melbourne, displaced a sheepfold used by John Batman for the flock which he grazed int he locality.  The cost of the building was met for the most part by the settlers themselves, irrespective of creed, the subscription list being headed with £50 by Batman.  When Governor Bourke came to Melbourne in the early part of 1837, he contributed a similar amount towards the expense of the building.  In front of the edifice was erected a rough wooden structure, supporting an old ship’s bell, which served to call the people of the settlement to their devotions on the Sabbath and to summon the children to their tasks on the week-days.  In November of 1837, a Quaker named Backhouse visited Melbourne, and, in the account which he wrote of the settlement, mentioned the schoolhouse.  The first public reference to the school was made in January 1838, when it was opened by Mr J. A. Clarke head-master, and his assistant, Mr W. M. Abbott.  Unfortunately, most of the records connected with this school were destroyed when it was pulled down. Bishop Broughton has left on record that a committee, with Captain Lonsdale as president, was acting for the school in 1838.  The schoolhouse was built on a block of land which had been granted to the Church of England.  Hence the building, which had been erected by the united efforts of the settlers, was claimed as and became the property of that Church.  But, from this time onwards, separated efforts to provide educational facilities for the children of Melbourne began to be made both by private individuals and by the different churches.

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