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A Short History of the Church of England in Victoria 1847-1947

By H. W. Nunn

Issued by the Editorial Committee of the Centenary Celebrations, Melboune Diocese, 1947.



ANOTHER major problem that Bishop Ferry had to face throughout the length of his episcopate, was the complicated one of education.

The early development of education in this country, first in New South Wales, and then in Victoria, cannot be understood without viewing it in the light of the contemporary English situation, for out of the eighteenth century political philosophy grew the spirit of liberalism which was to inspire so much of the legislation of the following century. The fundamental principle of this liberalism appears to have been the recognition that each individual is of equal worth in the eyes of the State. It was an attitude of mind that denied the idea of a "ruling caste," and defined a new social universe based on a recognition of the sanctity and unity of the human race.

Therefore, an important corollary of this new attitude of mind, this liberalism, was the creation of a system of education which would provide equal opportunities for the development of every member of the State, in effect a national system of education. Legislation having extended the vote, the education of people who were to take a part in the government of their country became an urgent matter; "we must educate our masters," said a contemporary. The destinies of national education and liberalism were inextricably interwoven. (25).

At first, the Established Church in England refused to accept any interference with what it regarded as its natural domain. At first, its attitude towards educational schemes which originated outside the Church became one of implacable hostility. In Australia, however, the spirit of liberalism was introduced by Sir Richard Bourke, governor of New South Wales (1831-1837), and he broached a scheme for National Education as early as 1833. Bishop Broughton fought indeed hard and long for the retention by the Church of England of its originally "established" [26/27] status and the monopoly of privilege which that status carried with it, particularly in the educational field, but the twine of the "religious question" with which ecclesiastical control bound educational reform was more easily severed in this new land during the organization of its democracy.

It was a conflict of this kind, of the spirit of liberalism and a concept of an "Established" Church, that Bishop Perry inherited and had to steer his way through during his long episcopate. Amongst all western nations, the work of education was, in the beginning, in the hands of, and the responsibility of the clergy. Not the least of many debts which civilization owes to the Church is the long, consistent and distinguished service rendered in the education of the young. Until 1848 in Australia, the history of education is chiefly- a record of the establishment of Church schools, of the granting of public funds for their support, of attempts made to introduce system into the distribution of such funds, and a long continued effort to maintain religious teaching in the schools. In New South Wales, Archdeacon Scott and Bishop Broughton rendered yeoman service. In Victoria, as early as 1836, while the attention of the colonists was focussed on their more material needs, the Church stepped in to do its part and give the community a less materialistic outlook. Church Schools were the outcome. Church effort developed into the Denominational System of 1848 (26), and life revolved around Denominational issues. In the year 1851 there came Separation, economic freedom and self-government for Victoria; and also a National Board of Education. The two bodies, the Denominational Board and the National Board, established a curious double system of control and competed with each other for the establishment of schools. They struggled under their increasing burden for 10 years, but the rivalry between them and general religious differences rendered the dual system of control ineffective. By 1855, there were 300 Denominational Schools and 60 National Schools. In 1862, the two systems were combined by the Common Schools Act, which established a Board of Education comprising of five laymen, all of different religious denominations. In 1872, an Education Act abolished this board, and declared for centralization through a State Department of Education presided over by a Minister [27/28] directly responsible to Parliament. Its policy was "free, secular and compulsory" education. In becoming a part of the machinery of government, education traded its artistic birthright for security. The national ideal has perhaps emerged, but its consummation still lies ahead.

The Act, of course, did not mean an end to private enterprise in education. In 1872, there were 590 private schools in Victoria, and the religious denominations have built up a system of schools similar to the preparatory and public schools in England. These have become successful and popular, and have built up a strong public school tradition forming a valuable part in the educational fabric of the country. They stand for valuable educational ideals, for good education with a religious and chivalric element.

The first Church of England school in Victoria dates from 1838, when St. James' Church was used as a School. The first master was Mr. J. A. Clarke, and as the school was a Church school it received assistance from the Sydney government towards its building fund. It was, however, soon closed, but re-opened under Mr. W. W. Abbott, in the same year and the Port Phillip Gazette of April 27th, 1838, notes that "we perceive it is intended to re-open in Melbourne the school in connection with the Church of England, under the management of Mr. Abbott, a gentleman recently arrived from London."

On August 2nd, 1842, Trustees were appointed to erect a Church of England School at Geelong, and to use the school as a temporary place of worship. In the same year, the Reverend A. C. Thomson opened a small stone building at Brighton that served as its first schoolroom and temporary church. The following year, the same progress was made in Portland by the Reverend J. Y. Wilson. St. Peter's School House in Melbourne, dates from 1848. The arrival of Bishop Perry in 1848, and also of the Roman Catholic Bishop later in the same year, supplied a stimulus to the sectarian schools. By 1850, there were 24 Church of England schools in the colony, out of a total of 54 Denominational Schools.

Mr. R. H. Budd, an old pupil of Dr. Arnold of Rugby, had opened a private school in Victoria Parade, near St. Peter's in 1847, but Bishop Perry conceived the idea of a Diocesan Grammar School, and in 1848 a school was built [28/29] on St. Peter's Church land and Mr. Budd transferred his pupils to the new school. It was Bishop Perry's desire "to introduce a system corresponding to the improved system of our great public schools in England," to which he was strongly attached. (27). Everything went well until 1854, when it was closed not from lack of support, but from lack of accommodation, difficulties encountered through the gold rush of 1851, 1852 and 1853. They were not the only sufferers during those years, for 82 private schools also closed their doors. Mr. Budd, however, had urged that the school be put on a more permanent basis, and at a meeting in the schoolroom it was resolved that "a Collegiate institution in connection with a Grammar School should be established in this city with a view to the affiliation of the former with the Melbourne University." Bishop Perry headed a committee to see what could be done, and as a result, in 1858, new buildings were opened in St. Kilda Road, on land granted by the Crown at the Bishop's instance, and Melbourne Church of England Grammar School's life began. The first stone was laid in 1856, and when Dr. Bromby of St. John's College, Cambridge, became headmaster in 1858, Perry's fixed belief in the system of English Universities and Public Schools became a reality.

Perry also pressed for a Diocesan Grammar School at Geelong. A school had begun there in 1855 in a small home under the guidance of the Reverend C. O. Vance of Lincoln College, Oxford. It soon went to a larger home, and finally the public school was opened in June, 1858. The new buildings had cost £13,500, of which the Government had contributed £7,000. The first eighteen years, however, were years of struggle and slow development, and financial obligations fell heavily on Bishop Perry, and he was the recipient of many pin-pricks, including being sued for £200 for meat supplied to the College by the local butchers. By the time his episcopate had concluded, however, the school had rapidly grown and had been consolidated.

There were of course, other Church Grammar Schools in Melbourne during Perry's episcopate, such as St. James', St. Paul's and All Saints' Grammar School (1861). They trained their boys chiefly for the commercial life. Williamstown had its Trinity Church of England School opened in 1847, and it served a useful mission up till 1874. The same could be said of an Anglican day school opened in [29/30] North Melbourne in 1853, and one in Kew in 1856. Also, in St. Kilda, in Acland Street, the schoolroom there, was in 1853 used as a church on Sunday. A portion of the old building forms part of the present Christ Church Sunday School. One of the earliest country foundations was the Queen's Church of England Grammar School at Ballarat in 1856. Kyneton was not far behind with a school in 1857.

With reference to Church schools it could perhaps be said that schools have been more truly the founders of Churches than Churches of schools. A hundred souls in town or country, agreeing to build a schoolhouse, could, in the early days in Victoria, claim from the Government a land grant, a building grant, a school grant, a stipend grant and then ask for a resident clergyman. Many of the parishes originally arose from the schools. In 1867, there were 70 of them in Melbourne and suburbs with 10,600 scholars, and practically a Church school in every centre. The centre of Christian worship in the Diocese, the Cathedral, was once the site of an old school, St. Paul's School, later removed stone by stone to the grounds of St. James' Old Cathedral, to make room for the new St. Paul's Cathedral.

The Crown of the Victorian educational edifice and the "top of the ladder," is the Melbourne University, and in that body Perry played his part. He was a member of the first Council of the University in 1853, but he is chiefly remembered for his vision in the founding of Trinity College. A grant of 40 acres of land within the University grounds was made by the State under the University Act of 1853, for the erection of University Colleges for each of the four leading denominations; the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Roman Catholics. Although Perry had had it in mind as early as 1853, it was not until late in his episcopate that he was able to go ahead with his ideal of a college after the model of the English Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, so that undergraduates might reside under collegiate rules and supervision, and yet obtain that religious instruction and moral discipline which the university, by its secular nature, could not supply. The Bishop, in association with prominent members of the Church, notably Professor Wilson, had plans for building prepared in 1869, the first stone was laid in 1870, and when the [30/32] College was available for students in 1872, it was the first University College in Victoria. It was affiliated with the University in 1876, with Bishop Perry, the Chief Justice (Stawell), Dean Macartney, Mr. Justice Wilberforce Stephen and Professor Wilson as Trustees. The Reverend G. W. Torrance was appointed Acting Head in 1872, but in 1876, Dr. Alexander Leeper, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, and a noted classical scholar was appointed Principal. Later on, he became known as Warden of Trinity, and held that position until his retirement in 1918. It was the original intention of the founders that the college should be incorporated under the government of a Provost and Fellows, but until proper endowment was forthcoming for such an establishment, the management was entrusted to a Council, which at present governs the College. Dr. J. C. V. Behan, the first Victorian Rhodes Scholar and a Fellow of University College, Oxford, succeeded Dr. Leeper, and under these two men a scholastic tradition of the highest order has been established. The present warden Mr. R. W. T. Cowan, a graduate of Oxford University, succeeded Dr. Behan in 1946.

St. Paul's Church, Swanson St., Melbourne, 1857.

In retrospect, Bishop Perry, unable to stem the onrush of national education with its life-force of liberalism, was nevertheless able to preserve and lay the foundations of a system of public schools and University Collegiate education of a distinctively Anglican pattern, and in the highest tradition of the country where he had been born; and his own high scholarship gave him much influence in moulding the educational life in Victoria. He regretted, on his retirement, the establishment of a system of public education by the State, for "the schools are entirely under the control of the Ministry . . . and thus constitute a Government monopoly, which according to the principles of political economy is most objectionable"; and he feared for the results of "atheistic religion" when "the law . . . forbids not only religious instruction, but recognition of such a being as God, and such a thing as religious obligation." (28).

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