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Penal colony to Board of General Education 1826-1860

In 1826 the first primary school was conducted in the Moreton Bay settlement of NSW by Mrs Esther Roberts, a soldier's wife. Although her stipend of £10 was drawn from the funds of the colonial government, her school was actually administered by the Anglican Church because in those days it was generally believed that it was the duty of the Church to conduct schools. After a succession of teachers, mostly soldiers, the school was closed in 1842.

Almost all of the schools following this parochial school were short-lived. Many were private establishments in front parlours, with a few boarders and day students. Fees and pretensions to gentility were high; standards seem to have been low. In 1845 the first Roman Catholic school was opened by Michael Bourke, thus beginning a pattern of small, denominational schools which provided education of a sort for almost 20 years in Brisbane. Many children in the Moreton Bay District, however, went without any formal education.

In 1848 Governor Fitzroy appointed a Board of National Education to undertake the task of creating government schools similar to the National Schools in Ireland. This was a response to the problem of providing an efficient system of elementary education for a scattered population of different religious denominations, without seriously antagonising those denominations. As a compromise, the NSW National Schools offered secular subjects and non-denominational scripture lessons and allowed visiting clergy to provide religious instruction during school hours to the children of those parents who desired it. A Denominational Board, appointed a day after the National Board, did not exercise much supervisory power. Its major function was to distribute funds to the four existing systems of church schools.

The National Board established and administered schools where parents contributed a third of the total building costs and guaranteed an average attendance of at least 30 pupils. The parents also had to pay school fees which formed part of the teacher's salary paid by the Board. The curriculum consisted of reading, writing, grammar, geography, object lessons (including biography, nature studies and elementary mechanics), scripture lessons and, in the final year, mathematics (algebra and geometry) or Latin. The reading books were the Irish National Readers which had no Australian content.

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Last reviewed
20 February 2013
Last updated
20 February 2013