Place of Many Crows (Part 10)

By Eric Irvin  

25 August 1953 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)

A brief history of the foundation of Wagga Wagga

This is the tenth of a series of articles to appear daily, tracing the history of the foundation and early growth of the town of Wagga Wagga. The complete history will be published in book form later.

William Macleay, of Karaberry, was very prominent in the early life of Wagga. 

He was appointed a J.P. on December 18, 1846, when he was described in the N.S.W. Government Gazette as "William Macleay, Esq., of Morumbidgee."

In 1856 he was elected to the first N.S.W. Parliament as Member for the Lachlan and Lower Darling.

In 1859 he was returned as member for the Murrumbidgee, and remained its representative until the dissolution of the Parliament of 1874. (2)

 John Peter and William Macleay were described in an election speech made by the latter in Wagga in 1859 as "the founders of Wagga." (3). 

J. G. Church, of Uranquinty, was appointed a J.P. in 1848.

In 1858 he owned the Pomingalarna and Collingullile runs, (4). 

John Gordon is known to have been on the Wagga Bench from 1851 to 1856; Robert J. Alleyne from 1855 to 1866; Walter Clarke from 1856 to 1864; Alexander D. Macleay from 1856 to 1864 and Donald Mackeller from1856 to 1859. 

Police magistrate In 1858 Wagga's first resident Police Magistrate, Henry Baylls, was appointed.

He was, of course, assisted on the Bench by resident magistrates.

It is interesting to note that even as late as 1866 the list of these was quite a lengthy one: William Macleay, John Gordon, John Lupton, Robert J. Alleyne, John Leitch, Hugh Wallace, Thomas W. Hammond, Walter O. Windeyer, Alexander McNeil, John Clark, Alexander Burt, Francis Desailly, James Cochrane, George Forsyth. (5). 

The name of "Francis Desailly" is certainly a corruption of De Sales or De Sails, the family which, headed by Leopold F. De Sales, occupied Darbalarra in 1848.

Leopold was a J.P., and appeared on the Wagga Bench with Macleay and Peter in 1848. 

Wagga's oldest public institution, of course, is the court house.

Next in order are its public school, erected In 1851 (though Wagga's first school, a private one, was established in 1849 by F. A. Thompson's brother Edwin); its hospital, established In 1855; its church (St. John's Church of England) the foundation stone of which was laid in 1859, and its School or Arts, established in the same year. 

In January 1848 the National Board of Education, which laid the foundation of our present system of State education, was established, and those men who had the advancement of Wagga at heart were not slow in taking advantage of the educational facilities which the, new (Lord Stanley's) system offered. (6). 

On October 6, 1849 a public meeting was held at Wagga "for the purpose of adopting the necessary preliminaries for the establishment of a public school" in accordance with the regulations issued by the National Board of Education on May 10, 1848.

The meeting appointed local patrons of the scheme, appointed F. A. Thompson as secretary to the patrons (or board as they later became) and subscribed £40 towards the cost of erecting a school to still "the anxiety so generally evinced by the laboring classes here for the education of their children." (7). 

Never functioned 

Construction of this school, which was located on the river bank near the site of the present bridge, was completed in 1851.

It was built of brick with a shingle roof, and capable of accommodating 70 to 80 children. 

Unfortunately, this school never functioned.

Wagga was unable to obtain a teacher, drought and the gold finds depleted the population, and, at the very time when a teacher was finally obtained tile floods of 1852 destroyed the building. 

On July 4, 1857, the Wagga correspondent of the Yass Courier and General Advertiser for the Southern Districts or N.S.W., reported that: 

"The flood of 1852, however so damaged the school house as to make it untenable and drove the school master abroad, and matters have remained as they were ever since." 

In 1852 Inspector Wilkins of the National Board visited Wagga to try and arouse interest in the opening of a school, and in 1859 tenders were called for the erection of a new building.

This time it was located out of flood danger in Tarcutta Street, on the site of the present Riverine Club.

The building was completed in I860, and opened the following year. 

"The first teacher at the school was Mr. George Robin- son. The average daily attendance ... for the year ended December, 1861, was 47." (8). 

It was only a matter of nine years after this that the new school was found to be overcrowded and totally unsuited for its purpose.

A new site was chosen (that of the present Demonstration School in Gurwood Street) and building operations commenced in 1871.

The school was opened on April 15, 1872. 

The total cost of the land and buildings was £2462, towards which £583 was raised by public subscription, £1161 was received by way of a grant from the Council of Education, and £550 from the sale of the old school premises (part of which are said to have been incorporated in the Riverine Club building). The deficiency of £ 168 was made up at a later date.

Most commodious 

There is a note of pride in the newspaper description of the new school:

“The schoolhouse is certainly the most commodious we have seen out of Sydney. 

It comprises a boys' school- room 37ft 6in by 20ft, and a boys' classroom 16ft by 13ft. 

The girls' school and class- rooms are respectively 31ft by 17ft and 17ft by 15ft.

All these rooms are light and airy, and well supplied with every species of apparatus, from maps and blackboards to natural history pictures and arithmetical beads, used in the elaborate business of education." (9). 

From 1847 to 1855 a percentage of the fines collected by the Wagga Bench was paid to the Sydney and Gundagai Benevolent Institutions, which were the hospitals of their day.

It was in March, 1855, that the first appropriations from the Wagga Bench were paid to the Wagga Hospital or Benevolent Institution. 

This high-sounding title disguised what was in fact a slab hut with a bark roof in Kincaid Street.

In 1858, the second annual report of the Wagga District Hospital (as it had by then become) stated: 

"Although the balance in the hands of the treasurer, £276/3/ appears large, it must be remembered that in the course of the next 12 months the committee will have to erect suitable premises, as the lease of the present one expires In July, 1859." (10). 

On October 26, 1858, a meeting of the committee decided to apply to the Government "for a suitable site of land for the erection of a commodious hospital during the ensuing year." (11). 

The site requested was on Church Hill, and was granted for church purposes; in its stead the committee was granted land on the corner of Tarcutta and Johnston Streets, on the site now occupied by the police superintendent's residence.

The Wagga Hospital remained on this site until the opening of the present Wagga Base Hospital in 1920. 


(1) Wagga Express, October 30. 1858. 

(2) N.S.W. Parliamentary Record. Seventeenth editon, 1950. 

(3) Wagga Wagga Espress and Murrumbidgee Advertiser. June 31, 1859. 

(4) H. J. E. Gormly. (5) Waugh's Australian Almanac for 1859. (6) Sydney Morning Herald, January 8, 1848 (7) From a letter to the National Board of Education. September 19. 1840, signed by F. A. Tompson

(8) From a speech in 1931 by the Minister for Education (William Davies) when he opened an addition to the Wagga High School, reported in the Daily Advertiser in 1931. and reprinted if its issue of October 10. 1938. 

(9) Wagga Wagga Advertiser and Riverina Reporter, April 17. 1872. 

(10) The Yass Courier and General Advertiser for the Southern Districts or N.S.W., May 1, 1858, reprinted from an earlier issue of the Goulburn Chronicle.