Bastow Legacy Part 1: A New Era in Social History

History

​​​Victoria’s First Education Building Revolution

Chapter 1: Education Act 1872

Warrnambool State School no.1743, designed by Henry Bastow, built 1876: Corangamite Regional Library Corporation 

Warrnambool State School no.1743, designed by Henry Bastow, built 1876:
Corangamite Regional Library Corporation


The most significant education reform in colonial Victoria began in December 1872 when the Government assumed control of education. They were determined to produce an egalitarian education system free from religious and fee-charging education.
The Education Act 1872 proclaimed that all children in Victoria between the ages of six and 15 were not only entitled to be educated, but were required to be educated. The Act dared to imagine a future society of well-educated and informed people, a society of peers and equals, a community that had hitherto not existed in the class-entrenched British realm.

James Wilberforce Stephen was appointed as Minister of Public Instruction and began the formidable task of implementing this new education system. Curriculum was needed, and teachers and district inspectors recruited and trained.

But above all else, Stephen wanted his new school buildings to showcase the glory and educational triumph of the Government. Thus began the most intensive education building program this state has ever seen.
 

Chapter 2: A Strategic Appointment

North Fitzroy State School no.1490, 1875: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-4: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria 

North Fitzroy State School no.1490, 1875:
Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-4:
Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


"... making education secular, free, and compulsory, is a measure which marks a new era in our social history, and will, I have every confidence, promote the happiness, intelligence, and prosperity of the people."

Proclaiming the Education Act in Parliament, 18 December 1872

Thirty-four year old Henry Robert Bastow was appointed Departmental Architect and Surveyor in March 1873. His appointment would change the face of education. With training in the classics abroad, and contemporary architectural experience here, Bastow was about to bring to Victoria’s first education building revolution a significant and lasting influence.

In the first five years of Henry Bastow’s appointment, 615 new schools were created. Bastow was directly responsible for most, and highly influential in the design of the others. How Bastow and his team managed to achieve this is staggering. They worked with limited funds and multiple building crews, when communication was mostly via the time-consuming telegraph and when locations were sometimes so remote that building material could take months to arrive by bullock wagon or horse and cart.

Above all else, it was Bastow’s love of neo-gothic that is most remembered. He gave school buildings individual touches – a sense of grandeur to the large schools, and decorative detail to the small.

1884 map of Victoria showing the distribution of state schools after the first 12 years of state education, 1884: National Library of Australia

1884 map of Victoria showing the distribution of state schools after the first 12 years of state education, 1884:
National Library of Australia


 

Chapter 3: Visually Stunning

“… many very worthy persons only woke up to the real significance of the Education Act of Victoria when they found handsome buildings erected to which they could send their children to school.”  Member of Parliament 1874

Minister of Public Instruction, James Wilber-Stephen wanted Bastow to design buildings that had a strong visual presence. He wanted education to dominate the landscape; to be a symbol of Government supremacy.

Henry Bastow’s interpretation of this can be seen in St Kilda Park State School no.2460, St Kilda. Planned in 1879 and completed in 1882, this showpiece of neo-gothic design portrayed everything that the Government wanted to say about their great education system.
It is beautifully balanced with a church-like quality to the windows and doors. Towers and bell turrets – large and small – were used by Bastow to create a central focal point. They were often placed off centre, but here at Fitzroy St the tower rises from the centre of the building.

Lithographs of St Kilda Park and of Urquhart Street State School no.2103, Ballarat, were used to promote education’s great architectural achievements in the Report to the Minister of Public Instruction, 1878-1880.

Lithograph of St Kilda Park State School no.2460, St Kilda: State Library of Victoria

Lithograph of St Kilda Park State School no.2460, St Kilda:
State Library of Victoria


 

Chapter 4: Formulaic Interiors

Architectural plan for Castlemaine State School no.119, 1875 showing school rooms, galleries and infant room: VPRS SSO119-3: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria 

Architectural plan for Castlemaine State School no.119,
1875 showing school rooms, galleries and infant room: VPRS SSO119-3:
Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


The physical environment is important to effective teaching and learning and Bastow’s designs reflected current practice in the 1800s. During this era class sizes were large and rooms were cavernous. Effective learning was believed to occur with repetition and practice, and by keeping attention on the group rather than the individual student.

The Interior of Bastow’s buildings included two styles of rooms: the schoolroom was a very wide room with tiered steps on which desks were placed. The room’s proportions were based on desks placed side-by-side, row-by-row. The backless desks sat four students each.
There were also deeper tiered classrooms (or galleries). These smaller, squared rooms or partitioned areas were used for learning music, singing, sewing or other smaller group activities. Students either stood or sat on shallow wooden steps.

The infant’s room included the schoolroom and galleries in the one space. The plan was for these shared spaces to be partitioned by curtains – as had been the practice in Britain for many years. But this was often overlooked, adding to the strain on teacher’s vocal cords.

As the education building revolution continued, teachers began to voice their dissatisfaction and Bastow’s buildings began to change.

Cross section of Bastow’s Mount Pleasant State School no. 1436 showing the two different tiered floor formations. Steeped flooring for desks is on the left and gallery tiered seating is on the right: VPRS SSO1436-3: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria 

Cross section of Bastow’s Mount Pleasant State School no. 1436 showing the two different tiered floor formations. Steeped flooring for desks is on the left and gallery tiered seating is on the right: VPRS SSO1436-3: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


 

Chapter 5: No Fun Education

Victorian State School: note the adults are dwarfed against the height of the windowsills. This image was incorrectly labeled Drysdale State School: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education:  

Victorian State School: note the adults are dwarfed against the height of the windowsills.
This image was incorrectly labeled Drysdale State School: Photographs of State School Buildings.
Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-4: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


Regardless of how architecturally gorgeous Bastow’s schools were, the experience of the student was far from glamorous. Class sizes could be very large – 60-70 children – who were drilled over and over again in the three Rs - reading, arithmetic, and writing.
Disobedience was dealt with by a swipe of the cane.

The entry age for children began at six, but was dropped to four, then later increased again to five. These were known as the infants and were relegated to their own room where the furniture was sometimes smaller (but not always), and the design and set-up exactly the same as for upper levels.

Imagine being a young student whose first experience of education was stepping through an enormous entrance into a room without a view, often too cold or too hot, with little ventilation, and filled with huge desks that rose in steeped format.
Such intimidating proportions were possibly a conscious effort to force young minds to conform and adapt.
 

Chapter 6: Bleat, Bleat, not Neat Feet

Mt Jeffcott South State School No.1611 

A class in progress at Mt Jeffcott South State School No.1611. Look closely to see four students in backless desks, and teachers with a blackboard: Museum Victoria.


“… at the last matriculation examination a state school boy passed in all nine subjects, with credit in five. His parents were poor people. We may fairly hope that a system that entitles the lowest to take a high position in the state examination is a system which will confer immense advantages on the rising generation.” The Hon G B Kerferd at the opening of Wandiligong State School - The Argus, 1.3.1877
Education success was measured by examination results, and it was believed that practice makes perfect. Lessons were taught by rote and students spent their days repeating and repeating information until it had been absorbed.

The largeness of classes could impact on rote learning as a district school inspector, Robert Craig, articulated in the 1878-79 report to the Minister of Public Instruction:

“‘The horses neighed and the oxen lowed,
And the sheep’s bleat, bleat came over the road’,

recited as

‘The horse’s nail and the ox’s toe,
And the sheep’s neat feet came in a row’,

… is a sample of the ludicrous perversions which young children make in the verses they learn in large classes by simultaneous repetition. 

To guard against this evil the teacher must exercise a very watchful ear, resort frequently to the examination of individual scholars, and insist on a tolerably slow and perfectly distinct enunciation.”

 

Chapter 7: Spread of Disease Leads to Unique Solution

Wandiligong State School, 1870s: State Library of Victoria 

Wandiligong State School, 1870s: State Library of Victoria


The Alpine based Wandiligong state school no.275, built in 1877, was designed to accommodate 200 students. Both the climate and the sloping hillside of the site provided a challenge for Bastow. He solved the problem by creating a split-level design with matching gables and encircled the building in verandahs.

Brick arches, and a distinctive square tower also added to the picturesque gothic look.

The first school was opened in 1860 under a canvas roof. When the Education Act was introduced the student population more than doubled.

In Victorian times the spread of disease was an issue, particularly in poorly built and overcrowded schools. Inadequate toilet facilities, washbasins and ventilation led to such an excessive outbreak of measles in 1874 that the Wandiligong State School had to be closed.
The community lobbied for a new school with better ventilation. The new Bastow design incorporated a ventilation system that had only just been developed, making Wandiligong State School the first to trial the system. The Tobin ventilation system circulated fresh air into the building by inserting a little tube into the wall cavity through the exterior wall at floor level.
 

Chapter 8: Teaching Infants

Teachers and pupils outside the Mt Doran State School near Ballarat: Museum Victoria 

Teachers and pupils outside the Mt Doran State School near Ballarat: Museum Victoria


“… in small country schools managed by male teachers the infant children are neglected, and the evidently irksome duty of attending to these children is usually delegated to some inexperienced monitoress or incompetent work mistress.” Report of Charles Tynan, School Inspector for the Castlemaine District, for the Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the year 1878-79, 1879-80: Page 193
In many of Bastow’s schools the design for the infants (aged between four-six year olds) was the same as for older children. There were rows of desks, some slightly smaller in size, and independent galleries. Young students were dominating the numbers in most schools, so they were often either squeezed into the infant rooms or shared space with older students.

In the Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the years 1878-1880, Sandhurst (Bendigo) District School Inspector Walter M Gamble reported that in one school 124 infants were under the care of two very young student-teachers assisted by two little girls from the grade three class.

Despite Gamble’s concerns, the design of infant classrooms did not change much until the early 1900s when specifically designed buildings were tailor-built for the young ones, and areas of the school grounds designated for infants only. Armadale State School was the first to benefit from this change.
 
 

Chapter 9: Minimum Attendance

Casterton State School no.2058, early 1900s illustrating tiered seating and a large shared class of 70 students. One class is reading with their teacher (in background) the older students have their hands on their heads and are looking forward, possibly at a second teacher: Museum Victoria 

Casterton State School no.2058, early 1900s illustrating tiered seating and a large shared class of 70 students.
One class is reading with their teacher (in background) the older students have their hands
on their heads and are looking forward, possibly at a second teacher: Museum Victoria


In the early days of state education the requirement was to attend a morning or afternoon session, or both. Students attending day school had to have been at school for at least four hours across two consecutive days with a minimum number of attendance days per quarter, which in 1879 was 40 days.

If a pupil attended two consecutive quarters and reached 80 days they could be eligible for a certificate that indicated they had fulfilled the year’s quota.

This also ensured that students could undertake more studies than were required and that they could complete their elementary education earlier than the age of 15. A lucky few would go on to technical training at the Working Men’s Colleges which later expanded into junior technical and senior technical colleges.

The entry and exit age level went through several reviews during the first years of state elementary education.
State secondary schools were still several decades in the future.
 
 

Chapter 10: Education Versus Child Labour

Fitzroy State School no.450, 1874: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-4: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria 

Fitzroy State School no.450, 1874: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-4:
Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


The daily timetable for older students was flexible to cater for child workers.

Night school allowed pupils up to the age of 15 to continue paid work during the day. Robert Craig, School District Inspector of North Eastern Melbourne surveyed 200 students who were attending Fitzroy State School in the evenings. He asked each one what their work was during the day. All students were under the age of 15.

The 100 girls surveyed worked in the following areas:
  • 53 were domestics
  • 35 worked in factories (boot, hat, glue or washing)
  • 12 worked as dress-makers or in clothing factories
The 100 boys surveyed worked in a wider range of practices:
  • 28 were shop assistants, office boys or messengers
  • 8 worked in factories (biscuit, cigar, gingerbread)
  • 3 in clothing factories or with tailors
  • 24 worked in the boot trade
  • 10 were printers
  • 4 were carpenters or cabinet-makers
  • 17 in other trades
  • 6 were at home
Findings were printed in the Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for the years 1878-1880.
 
 

Chapter 11: Walhalla's Wooden School

Walhalla State School: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-3: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria  

Walhalla State School: Photographs of State School Buildings. Department of Education: VPRS 1396-p0-3:
Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


The task of building schools quickly throughout Victoria was already an enormous undertaking, but the challenge of building schools in some of the most remote settlements in the state must have been daunting.

Building crews needed to be employed and supervised, and materials transported in. Generally larger schools were constructed in brick or stone and frequently this material was sourced locally to keep costs down.

In the case of Walhalla State School no.957, built in 1875, choosing locally available timber in preference to transporting bricks up the narrow, winding and often slippery tracks was possibly what led the large school to be built of wood.

Walhalla State School became the largest wooden school built at its time and was the second largest wooden school ever built in that century.

Walhalla is also interesting when compared to other neo-gothic schools of the period. Walhalla is a simple structure with square windows and no additional decoration. Most notably there is no bell turret or spire. Because of this simplicity, it retained a timeless design aesthetic.

It is a shame that it eventually succumbed to fire.
 
 

Chapter 12: Buried Alive

Two boys in the foreground walking towards the Paynesville State School no.2343, 1890s. Similar buildings serviced remote settlements all over Victoria: Museum Victoria 

Two boys in the foreground walking towards the Paynesville State School no.2343, 1890s.
Similar buildings serviced remote settlements all over Victoria: Museum Victoria


“There are no advantages of any kind whatever being figuratively buried alive. My predecessor remained here only five months, therefore, as I have been here a year, I sincerely trust that you will give me hopes of removal before the winter sets in.” Mary Boyle, 1879

Despite a surge in school buildings and student attendance, the Education Department continued to have difficulty maintaining teaching numbers in rural communities. Teachers’ salaries were tied to attendance figures, and this was a disadvantage, but above all else it was the remoteness of these communities that was the most cited complaint.

Mary Boyle, Assistant Teacher to Woods Point State School, no.789, wrote a scathing letter to the Secretary for Education, in January, 1879 outlining the things that she hated in her remote posting: “It is unfair to a teacher to be left in a place like the above for any length of time, as, although the salary is not greater, the expense of every thing here is considerable, and that of travelling excessive.”
Mary Boyle, VPRS 640/P0, Unit 434, File 79/1883, 17 January 1879. Cited from Louise Blake: “Woods Point is my dwelling place – Interpreting a family heirloom”
 

Chapter 13: Fun with Aunt Sally

Children in organised callisthenics at Cora Lynn State School, early 1900s. The small girl in the middle has a trumpet, the other children all hold clubs: Museum Victoria 

Children in organised callisthenics at Cora Lynn State School, early 1900s.
The small girl in the middle has a trumpet, the other children all hold clubs: Museum Victoria


Not all memories of schooling in Colonial Victoria were about the misery of strict discipline and hours of rote learning. John Walker was a pupil of Wandiligong State School no.275 in the 1860s. He remembers his teacher, Mr JH Roberts as a popular person who “… played many a joke on us” but, “despite his somewhat eccentric ways was a cultured and scholarly man.”

He remembers sporting games aimed at marksmanship, such as a game called Aunt Sally, which was basically a stone throwing activity designed to knock clay pipes from a makeshift Aunt Sally’s mouth.
The Alpine Observer, 1920.
 
 

Chapter 14: Divisive Education

First School House in Melbourne, 1837: Views of Schools and School Activities, 1923. Department of Education: VPRS 14562-P0006-000004: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria 

First School House in Melbourne, 1837: Views of Schools and School Activities, 1923. Department of Education:
VPRS 14562-P0006-000004: Reproduced with permission of the keeper of public records, Public Records Office of Victoria


While the Victorian countryside was being populated with Bastow’s imposing showpieces of educational dominance, indigenous education was taking a very different direction.

Forced off land and onto Aboriginal missions, indigenous children were educated by Government employed mission teachers. Although the policy was that ALL children were eligible to attend state schools, the practice was that Indigenous children were educated in isolation from other children.

The first school created especially for Aboriginal children was located on the banks of the Yarra River in the early days of the fledgling Melbourne township. Other schools soon appeared either run by religious groups or by the missions.

William Barak (1824-1903) last leader of the Yarra Yarra clan of the Wurundjeri Willum was educated in one of these early Melbourne mission schools in the late 1830s. He became a highly respected leader and led a petition seeking indigenous land-rights to Healesville’s Coranderrk Reserve – which saw some short-term success.

Healesville continues to be the location of an indigenous school, Worawa, which is located across from the Coranderrk Reserve.
 
 

Bastow Legacy Part 2: Henry Bastow: Determined to Make a Difference >>