The first state school in Upper Beaconsfield was established in 1883 after years of lobbying by residents. The location chosen for the school was near the entrance to the Beaconhills Golf Links, and the main school remained there until 1915, when a new school was built at its present location. In the late 1880s some parents lobbied the government to establish another school which was closer to the present town centre, which would cater better to the children living on the southern side of the township. For a short time (1889-1891) this school was operating at the Upper Beaconsfield Hall (see below article “A School Rediscovered” ).
In the 1930s another state school was established in Dewhurst. There was also a private school run by Rev James Wilson at Casey for some years.
The first primary school at Upper Beaconsfield opened on 13 Dec 1883. The residents had come to an agreement that the school should be situated at ‘North’ Beaconsfield, as the greater number of children lived to the north of the town. In the village centre, as we know it today, there were few residents, many only part time.
While the geographical location on Stoney Creek met the criteria, the location of the school house was less than perfect. Teachers reported that in summer snakes were a constant problem; in winter the schoolhouse was very cold and often enveloped in fog.
The teacher’s accommodation was inadequate, and many complaints were sent to the Education Department, including one from teacher Alice Russell in 1885:
[As my quarters are] “only two small rooms I am obliged to do a great portion of my domestic work outside, and there is no shelter of any kind either from sun or rain.” Alice was guardian of three younger siblings and wanted a small verandah to shelter her while she did her work outside. Two years later she made the same request.
A Second School
The children living south of the current township of Upper Beaconsfield were a long way from the school. The parents argued that to send their children to Stoney Creek was too far for the little ones, and thus their children “were debarred from privileges of state education – and would remain ignorant for life”. They asked William Henry Goff of ‘Harpfields’ for help. He was headmaster at All Saints’ Grammar School in St Kilda, and trustee of the local Assembly Hall.
On 4 May 1889 Goff visited the Minister of Education asking for a second school to be established. He suggested that the Assembly Hall could be used temporarily as a school. The Minister suggested that £20 might be paid as rent. A fortnight later Mr Goff wrote to the Department that he had discussed this with the other trustees of the hall, and that they were prepared to lease it for no less than £30 per year. They had spent over £1,100 building and furnishing the hall and they expected a return on their investment of 3%. They added – “a great amount of damage may be anticipated”.
The Education Department argued that they could not pay such a high rent on account of the trustees building an exceptionally expensive building. On 10 June 1889 the Department sent a lease for renting the Hall for 6 months at a rate of £12 per annum, with a right of renewal. The lease was not taken up.
The Department then sent an inspector to find suitable premises to establish a second school. He visited on 18 September 1889 and reported that the Hall was “a very fine room, but unnecessarily large for the accommodation of the few children likely to attend a school at Beaconsfield.” He further reported that “there is, however, a room at the back measuring about 18 feet by 12 feet, of good height; and fairly lighted. There is no chimney in it. This room would no doubt be large enough for school purposes. It is off ered by Mr Goff Hon. Sec. to the Committee for £15 per annum. The rent is I think high, and I suggested £10 per annum as fair, but Mr Goff declined to entertain my proposal.”
The room they were talking about was the library and reading room of the Mechanics’ Institute which was added to the Hall in 1887. The library did not open before mid-1888. It was later converted into the kitchen we know today.
Richard Noble, one of the founders of the library, had misgivings about school children being accommodated in the library, and thought it would be most inconvenient for his club members as no doubt the school needed furniture.
He insisted, “Should the trustees, however, decide to let the room as a State School let it be understood that any damage being done to the books or loss of same will be made good by the school authorities.”
It was then that the trustees of the Assembly Hall finally offered the library for £12 per annum, with the special instruction that the teacher should make sure that the children did not touch the books.
The school opened on 23 October 1889. Mr John Gorrie, who had only arrived from Scotland two months earlier, was the first teacher. There was an immediate backlash from Mr Schlipalius, the original selector of the golf course land, who wrote to the Department worried that the opening of the new school would jeopardise the Stoney Creek school, which he had been instrumental in setting up.
The Hall school was popular, so that in March 1890 Mr Goff reported to the Department that it was felt that the room the school occupied was too small. It was documented that attendance fluctuated greatly due to the weather. On a high attendance day the room could have been quite crowded. However, the Department used only the average attendance in its consideration and created the illusion that there was no crowding.
In mid-May John Gorrie was taken ill with a bronchial catarrh and general weakness, and his doctor wrote him a medical certificate that he would be unable to return to his duties for about four weeks. He did not return to duties at all, and ceased teaching.
His replacement, Miss Eleanor Goodwin arrived on 22 May and reported to the Education Department “… there is no fire-place in the room rented by the Department, but there is one in an adjoining room, and I beg to request as the winter weather is very severe that the school might be carried on in the room containing a fi re-place.” Th e Department requested that she was to describe the room she wanted to use, and on inspection she replied that the room with the fi re-place (then the supper room) was smaller than the one she was using at the moment, but that it might be suitable for the infants. Th e trustees allowed her to use both rooms, and the Education Department gave her a fuel allowance while she was heating the room.
The hall originally had a supper room with fire place at the rear. This was the second room allowed for the school. The wall with doors left and right was removed in 1954 to extend the dance floor.
Accommodation Still Inadequate
In July 1890 Henry Madigan, teacher at Stoney Creek school, complained to the Education Department that he required more room for his living quarters, as he had a large family. The Department off ered extra rooms as long as he paid the cost of transporting the rooms to the site and paid increased rent. When he learnt that the rooms would not have any internal lining he declined the offer. He further mentioned that some parents sent their children to the Hall school on account of the unhealthy situation at Stoney Creek.
By now there was talk that a new school should be built at a central location between Stoney Creek and the Hall. While these deliberations were going on, the department was unwilling to spend any money on the school on Stoney Creek, which badly needed painting.
In February 1891 a report was furnished by an inspector from the Education Department. He concluded that most parents were of the opinion that a central school would be of advantage, as a larger school would attract teachers with a higher qualification. Some parents preferred the situation as it was at present. He noted that there were two distinct centres of population, and while at the moment there were about 25 scholars in each school, further settlement would more likely be around the hall, while it was stagnant or declining around the Stoney Creek school. He recommended that at this time no changes should be made.
On 13 May 1891 the teacher of the Stoney Creek school, Miss Isabella McFarlane, reported that “the attendance at this school is very much reduced for the present by whooping cough. Five or six children are all who are attending just now, and out of this number not more than one can come either on or just after wet days, owing to the nature of the ground they have to travel over.” She asked for permission that she could proceed to her next place of employment, which was allowed. The next teacher Miss Harriet Audsley (later Mrs Glismann) was not appointed until the end of June 1891, and she only reopened the school on 6 July 1891. Given the talk of removal of the school she was reluctant to furnish the school house and her living quarters until she was sure that it would continue.
A Health Inspection
The health inspector, Dr Thomas Elmes, had just furnished a report about the suitability of the Stoney Creek school. “The situation of this place is in winter swampy and unwholesome, in summer from its position very hot and ill-ventilated for it is placed in a kind of little valley where no healthy breezes can penetrate.” About the hall school he had to say that the average attendance was about 27 and that the “room used for a schoolroom was the small dressing room behind the main hall, on a hot wind day or when the weather is wet and cold, the allowance of air for each child is about fifty cubic feet (1.4 m3) and none at all for the teacher. This is supposing the doors and windows to be closed which they must at such times”.
“As Health Officer it is only fair to give warning that if no other arrangement is made I will through the central Department of health resist the limited space in the Townhall being used as a school to the injury and danger of the children. At present it is very common for the little ones attending this place to return home complaining of nausea, sickness, headache etc. If diphtheria or any other contagious disease were to break out now scarcely one of the children would escape contagion. I will however, not take any steps in this matter as health officer until the Minister of Education has had time to consider the case, or until the beginning of Spring”.
The Department responded that they had information that the attendance was less than Dr. Elmes stated, and since the Hall school could accommodate 21 children they each had a space of 10 square feet (about 0.93m2). Should the attendance rise the question of providing additional accommodation would receive immediate attention.
In early July 1891 the department was looking at securing some land at a central site on Stoney Creek Road. A string of public meetings, several offers of one acre blocks of land (for exorbitant prices) to be excised for the purpose brought no resolution. Mr Goff had informed the Department that Jacques Martin had offered him an acre for free, however, when it came to sealing the deal in December, Martin wanted £50 for the block. We will never know if Goff had misunderstood Martin’s offer, or if Martin changed his mind.
As the year drew to a close the hall school teacher was asked to supply the department with a list detailing the conveyance of children to the school, in this case how far the children had to walk if the hall school was closed. A number of parents (Messrs Noble, Craik and Williams) stated that they would not send their children to Stoney Creek, as they considered it unsanitary, and referred to Dr Elmes’ report. The Department deemed that most of the children fell within the allowable walking distance of less than 2½ miles.
By the end of 1891 the school at the hall was closed and the furniture removed to the Stoney Creek school. Mrs Tyson, who lived on A’Beckett Road was not happy about the new arrangements. In early January 1892 she wrote to the Department: “Mr Brodribb Esq. Dear Sir, I am sorry to inform you I cannot possibly send my grandsons so far as Stoney Creek School. In the first place, the eldest, who is just twelve and far from strong, and the youngest five, who I am sure you will allow could not be trusted to travel such a distance”.
The Department offered Mrs Tyson a conveyance allowance of 3d. a day, which she claimed “would not keep a goat let alone a pony. I am sure the people in Beaconsfield were all very well satisfied with the school here, and I sincerely pray it may be allowed to continue. Begging for your assistance and influence in the matter. I remain yours sincerely B Tyson PS I may add that Stoney Creek is looked upon as anything but a healthy situation and infested with snakes. B T”
By later in January the Education Department decided that the Stoney Creek school met the educational requirements of the district for the moment. As a final effort re the closure of the school at the Hall, a deputation was introduced by the Hon.L L Smith to the Minister for Public Instruction on 5 February 1892. Mr Keating of the school board, asked the minister why the school in the Hall was allowed in the first place to which the minister replied that it would have been a mistake.
It was not until 1915 that the school was moved to the central location it is now.