Roberts, A.S., 1980. Australia’s First Hundred Years. The Era of Christian Schools. The Australian College of Christian Education. Baulkham Hills, N.S.W.. Extracts.

Preliminary comment regarding a remarkable fact in this book. On page 6, we read of an educational development in Britain: “Monitorial schools utilised the idea that the teacher teaches the older more competent students who in turn teach the lower grades. Using this approach the originators claimed it was possible to establish a ratio of one teacher to every five hundred children.”To explain this seeming impossibility we may note:

    1. School was not compulsory – and the user (if possible)  paid. Directly. Rather than through taxes.
    2. People were yet literally in danger of starving – little mechanization, school hours short, work hours long.
    3. Many potentially special needs people given medical science at the time presumably died at birth or soon after?
    4. Divorce was rare compared to modern times.
    5. There being little mechanization, a parent or some sort of guardian was likely to be home.
    6. Corporal and capital correctional measures were backed by society at large and the moral/religious leanings of the day.
    7. Colonial Australia on its part was a benevolent semi-dictatorship without television or the internet, with a (hopeful) requirement of public decency.

 

Preface: It is not widely known that education in Australia was first established not by the government, but by the Christian church. …. The survey reveals that the bible-based church-related school of early colonial times was remarkably successful in meeting the academic and spiritual/moral needs of the younger generation of that day. It also shows that when certain principles undergirding this christian school movement were disregarded, Australian education began to lose its dynamic. …

P.1. …. It is not widely known that the majority of schools established in the infant colony were started by clergymen and supported by small grants from religious bodies and missionary societies. …

P.3 & 4. … The Rev. Richard Johnson, first chaplain to the Australian colony, was deeply concerned about the moral state of the convict population … By 1793 … Johnson had established the colony’s first … school … and by the end of the following year was able confidently to write … , “If any hopes are to be formed of any reformation being affected in this colony, I believe it must begin amongst those of the rising generation.” …. The belief that education of the young was of the highest priority, was later echoed by the Rev. Samuel Marsden in a letter addressed to the Bishop of London: “The future hopes of this colony depend upon the rising generation – little can be expected from the convicts who are grown old in vice, but much may be done for their children under proper instructions.” …

It was not only the clergy who stressed the need for some kind of values for education for the younger generation  …. as this  excerpt from a speech by the Rt. Hon. Spencer Percival, Chancellor of the Exchequer, clearly indicates:  “Schools, or some system at least of regulated education in which industry and morals are more attended to than is learning, should be co-extensive with the youth of the settlement.”    Governor King was also deeply concerned about the matter and encouraged the establishing of schools.  He was largely responsible for setting up and even financing from his own private funds orphanages for the illegitimate offspring of convicts. Attached to these institutions were schools in which the inmates were taught tailoring, shoemaking and agriculture up to the age of fifteen years. …

There is abundant evidence to suggest that many in positions of authority in Australia … saw in the moral state of the colony the imminent threat of widespread and irreversible delinquency among the rising generation. …

As late as 1830 Bishop Broughton was still able to write  to Governor Darling that the only viable solution to the problem of moral degeneracy lay in religious instruction: “The degraded state of morals which unhappily characterises too great a proportion of the inhabitants of this town, has unquestionably forced itself frequently upon the attention of Your Excellency, as it must upon that of every observant person. Nor have I any greater doubt of your entertaining a persuasion that effectual amendment can be expected only from an increase of religious principle, which we cannot hope to witness without adequate provision of the means of religious instruction.” …

Of course, the protestant churches of early Australia saw education not only as a direct means of inculcating Christian ethics and doctrine, but as a means also of developing widespread literacy, which … was considered to be fundamental to protestantism itself. …. [keep in mind, here, Roman Catholicism was yet employing latin to a significant degree] .

P.6 & 7. … There were understandable difficulties in securing suitable schoolmasters during this early phase which occasionally led to the appointment of less than ideal personnel. (Rev. Johnson for example found it necessary to employ the services of two convict women.) However, in appointments made, great care was taken and every effort made to ensure that those given the responsibility of the spiritual and moral education of the young were themselves sincerely committed to the kind of christian position deemed appropriate for the task. …

What kinds of curricula were employed in early colonial church schools? Since there was during this phase a very real conviction that the essential task of education was a spiritual and moral one, there was an understandable emphasis upon this task in school curricula. In fact, much of the evidence available indicates that the biblical truths and teaching which embodied the christian doctrines of these schools were given a position of centrality in the curricula. … The school in the daub and wattle church in Sydney’s Hyde Park being [described as], “conceived in the protestant vernacular tradition expounded by Luther and Calvin” …

Towards the end of the second decade of the nineteenth century, Australian church education began to reflect the influence of the monitorial system which had become very popular in Britain by that time. … the teacher teaches the older more competent students who in turn teach the lower grades. Using this approach the originators claimed it was possible to establish a ratio of one teacher to every five hundred children. In Britain, by 1820, some quarter of a million school children were enrolled in monitorial schools. … This system .. had the advantage of being conceived and developed by christian men whose aims coincided with the aims of those at work in Australia. .. [Quoting the Anglican monitorial school pioneer Dr. Bell]: “.. to imbue the minds of my pupils with the principles of morality and of our holy religion and infuse a spirit and habit of diligence and industry, so as at once to supply the necessities of the community and promote the welfare of the individual, two objects indissolubly united in every well regulated State.”

P. 8 & 9. … How successful was this early form of church-based education? The assessment of even a currently operating system of education is fraught with difficulties.  However, to assess meaningfully the effectiveness of a number of schools which functioned over a century and a half ago is extremely difficult indeed. Records are never as plentiful or as appropriate as one would desire and there is always the danger that one will tend to generalise too widely from what is available. In spite of these problems, it would seem that a somewhat cautious attempt ought to be made to evaluate certain aspects of the work of church schools in their attempts to educate the native born.  Two areas of achievement will be examined.  The first of these is the area of literacy development and the second that of moral behaviour. Concerning literacy, it is of course not possible to estimate accurately the extent to which schooling of the kind discussed above resulted in a rise in literacy levels in the colony. However …. it is quite probable that the changes in literacy levels which do appear to have occurred in New South Wales [as the focus of settlement was then named] in the early years can be attributed in part to the schooling received by several hundred youngsters from 1792 onwards.

Mr. V. Goodin who made a count of the marriage registers still extant in a number of the early colonial churches at Sydney, Parramatta and Windsor for the years 1804 and 1814, found that 55% of men and 24% of women born outside the colony could sign their names, the remainder marking the register with an “X”.  He found however that for the same period the percentage of those born in the colony who could sign their names was 63% of men and 44% of women. By the years 1821-1824 the percentages of those born in the colony who signed their names had risen dramatically to 71% of men and 69% of women. Of course it cannot be assumed that signatures in church registers can be taken as entirely valid indicators of literacy. Nor can it be assumed that these rising literacy rates occurred solely because of schooling. However, in spite of such qualifications it would not seem unreasonable to argue … that the long tradition of schooling in New South Wales contributed its measure to the comparatively high level of literacy among the native born.

Concerning moral behaviour there are several indications that the colony’s native born children were generally held in higher regard and had a lower crime rate than did convicts, emancipists [freed convicts], and free immigrants.  Governor Bigge having observed evidence of moral growth in the native born, recommended that they be eligible for land grants and loans of cattle and that they be called for jury service. Bigge’s opinion was shared by a number of others.  Peter Cunningham [journalist of the time] in the 1820’s writing of the colony’s native born claimed: “… they are a little tainted with the vices so prominent among their parents!  Drunkenness is almost unknown with them and honesty proverbial; the few of them that have been convicted having acted under the bad auspices of their parents or relatives … The young girls are of mild-tempered, modest disposition, possessing such simplicity of character; and like all children of nature, credulous and easily led into error. The lower classes are anxious to get into respectable service, from a laudable wish to be independent, and escape from the tutelage of their often profligate parents.”

A correspondent in The Edinburgh Review in 1828 described the native born as “in a more than ordinary degree, temperate and honest”. …

The most significant evidence that the native born were the least criminal class in the colony has emerged from an analysis by Ward and MacNab of early nineteenth century Sydney Goal committals. This analysis revealed an average index of only 3.43 per thousand for the native born in contrast to 4.23 for free immigrants, 15.4 for emancipists and 10.4 for convicts.

The following comment by Sir W.W. Burton, judge of the Supreme Court, indicates that he was impressed by the law abiding nature of the native born and concerning them wrote: “There was not one of them ever tried before the writer for any of those atrocious crimes which are attributed to their country, but belong only to the convict class; nor did he hear or know of any person born in the colony, being tried for or even charged with, either the offence of rape or any other licentious crime; nor has he ever found any offence committed by any one of them, such as to call upon him to pronounce sentence of death; and no such sentence has ever been passed within his knowledge, or any crime committed with such a degree of violence as to justify it.”

There are certainly a number of quite significant indications that Governor Macquarie was correct when he claimed that the colonists were “more regular in their conduct, more temperate in their habits and infinitely more moral and religious than they were” when he first arrived ….

P. 11 – 13 . .. The second phase in early Australian education was characterised by … denominational disquiet … the colonial government was faced with the problem … most of the government’s solutions were spectacularly unsuccessful and led to compromise … it must be remembered … the sectarian strife, even persecution … which had occurred [in Europe] … denominational suspicion … came to the country with the first fleet.

… [another] attempt to solve the sectarian problem was a scheme known as The Irish National System. It was endorsed by Governor Burke in 1833. The essential features of this scheme were that children of all denominations would be accepted into the schools and while approved extracts from scripture would be read, no other religious instruction would be given by teachers. Clergymen however were to have permission to enter the schools on one day per week to provide religious instruction to the children of their own denomination. Anglican bishop Broughton was quick to see in the plan a serious violation of the basic principles on which Protestantism rests; namely, free access to the scriptures.  Broughton’s strong stand on the principle that the bible must be retained “in all its unmutilated completeness and in all its unsullied purity”, was strongly endorsed by the fiery Presbyterian Rev. John Dunmore Lang. … Governor Bourke embraced government sponsored education and [in approx. 1835] claimed: “… that government took the lead in their institution (that is of the schools) fixing the places from time to time where they should be established as population increased, erecting the schoolhouses and assisting well-qualified masters and mistresses to be brought from England, if need required.    I may without fear of contradiction, assert, that in no part of the world is the general education of the people a more sacred and necessary part of government than in New South Wales.” …

The years following 1848 were …. a transition period which ultimately saw the almost complete victory of government education over that sponsored by the church …

P. 15-17. … The New South Wales Public Instruction Act of 1880 was typical of a number of acts passed in six of the colonial states of Australia. Through these acts, public education became strictly secular in the sense that assistance to church schools was abolished. The New South Wales 1880 Act set down clearly the nature of teaching in public schools and the conditions under which religious instruction was to be given: “In all schools under the Act, the teaching .. shall be strictly non- sectarian but the words ‘secular instruction’ shall be held to include the general religious teaching as distinct from dogmatic or polemic theology.”

William Wilkins, chief inspector for the National Board of Education in New South Wales … wrote: “The characteristics of the national system resulting from the adoption of religious neutrality as its central principle are: firstly its unity, mainly in its laws and its administration …. it is more readily supervised, more effectively controlled and so much more cheaply administered.  Its second great characteristic is its comprehensiveness.”

Anglican Archbishop Vaughan …. attacked the principle of neutrality in a series of pastorals and speeches on education delivered in 1880. He described the government system as “godless education”, consisting of “schools which the church knows from experience will in the course of time fill the country with indifferentists not to speak of absolute infidels.” He also gave reasons why a policy of religious neutrality would not operate effectively when he wrote: “There is one greater curse in the world than ignorance and that is instruction apart from moral and religious teaching. To instruct the masses in reading writing and arithmetic and to leave out religion and morality is to arm them with instruments for committing crime … A great deal has been said in the colony about the crime that proceeds from want of schools; very little about the still greater amount of crime which is produced by training the intellectual faculties whilst the will and the animal passions are allowed to run loose.” Vaughan then went on to predict state schools which would be “seed plots of future immorality, infidelity and lawlessness, being calculated to debase the standard of human excellence, and to corrupt the political, social and individual life of future citizens.

There are those who would claim that this prophecy is now being fulfilled … one hundred years after it was made.

END Australia’s First Hundred Years extracts.