The Twelve-Year Battle for a School In Wagga
By Eric Irvin
22 January 1954 Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga)
Eric Irvin's 'Place of Many Crows, a History of the Foundation of Wagga, N.S.W.,' has now been published, and is obtainable from Wagga booksellers or direct from this office at 5/ per copy. Postage in a sealed envelope, costs 11d extra.
Although it was only eleven o'clock in the morning the temperature was already on the wrong side of 100 degrees, with the countryside standing dry and still in the heat.
Frederick Tompson, newly appointed Clerk of Petty Sessions at Wagga, looked out from the doorway of the slab and bark Court House on to the sand hill which was to become the town of Wagga.
Not a building stood there at the moment, but behind the glare of the sun which it reflected so boldly Tompson could visualise the streets, the buildings and homes which he was sure would be there in a matter of a few years.
The site of the lonely Wagga police post at which he was now stationed was, he felt sure, destined to become one of the colony's main inland towns.
Its situation was entirely right, midway between Melbourne and Sydney and on the main overland route.
And he and his fellow landowners were determined that a town would rise on the sand hill which had served for so long as a burial ground for the aborigines.
He wiped his forehead and his neck with a limp rag, and turned back into the comparative coolness of the hut's interior.
Seating himself at the rough table, he began to enter in the Letter Book a copy of the letter he had just composed to the Principal Superintendent of Convicts in Sydney.
Mind occupied It was a purely automatic process, and while he wrote his mind was occupied with the thought of the letter's subject - Cartwright.
He recalled again the scene of a few days before when, in the awesome presence of two landowner - magistrates, the Chief Constable, and himself, Cartwright was solemnly dismissed the Wagga Police Force.
Cartwrlght had been in the wrong, of course.
He had allowed a prisoner to escape.
Only the fact that the man had absconded with his horse saved Cartwright from a charge of collusion, or of deliberately aiding and abetting.
As it was, even though he had lost his horse, he was lucky to get off with mere dismissal and the loss of the 2/6 per day on which he fed and clothed himself, his wife and a "large and very young family."
But Cartwright was not a rogue, Tompson reflected. That much was obvious.
He was a hard worker, and showed a wholesome respect for authority which was rare enough in these republican times.
Therefore .... he moved the newspaper, on which he rested his hand while he wrote, a few lines further down the page, and resumed his copying.
Some ten minutes later he sighed with relief as he at last put down his pen, with drew the newspaper, and shut the book. Perhaps the Government would one day send him a ticket-of-leave holder who was able to write.
Mean time . . . his eye was caught by a name In the newspaper - William Sharpe Macleay.
He read the brief paragraph quickly, confirmed that it was the Sydney Morning Herald he was reading, and put the paper down. His eyes gleamed.
'General Education Board ... Macleay .... Macleay.. "
In 1848, the year in which the embryo township of Wagga on the Murrumbidgee was slowly being formed from its first collection of gunyahs and slab huts, put together the year before, those people in Sydney who had been fighting for the education of the children of the 'laboring classes' gained a signal victory with the establishment of a General Education Board. Comprising the Hon. John Hubert Plunkett, Charles
Nicholson and William Sharpe Macleay, this board, under the guidance ofLord Stanley's System of Nat- ional Education, laid the foundations of our present State educational system.
The formation of the board did not pass unnoticed in Wagga. The township had not yet been declared, though it was due to be surveyed and
laid out, and what more fit- ting, thought its far-seeing pioneers, than that the town which was bound to develop into one of the colony's most important centres, should lead the way with the establishment of a National School?
For between Sydney and Wagga there existed the perfect link in that magical name Macleay.
The Macleay family, with its homestead at Borambola, was solidly behind the establishment of a town at Wagga.
One of seventeen
William Sharpe Macleay was one of the seventeen children of Alexander Macleay. Another was George Macleay, who accompanied Sturt on his Journey down the Murrumbidgee in 1829, and was later to represent the Murrumbidgee electorate in the Legislative Council.
Yet another Macleay was William John, cousin to both William Sharpe and George, who had accompanied the former on the trip from England to Australia in 1839.
William (he never used the John) lived near Wagga, and he and cousin George were among its first magistrates.
Many years later he was to make the claim that be and John Peter were the virtual founders of Wagga.
Although Alexander died In 1948, William John and Alexander D. Macleay remained to give considerable assistance to the new town of Wagga, and it is apparent that they gained the ear of their brother and cousin in Sydney, William Sharpe Macleay, with regard to the establishment of a school.
A Wagga committee was set up at a public meeting in 1849, at which the ubiquitous Frederick Tompson was voted into the chair, and then appointed secretary to the patrons of the Wagga National School.
Tenders were called for the erection of a building to hold 40 pupils.
By the end of 1850 the school, built of brick on the river bank at a cost of £140, was ready for shingling, and the Wagga patrons were already mentally marshalling their 40 "shining morning faces" into their first class.
But there was trouble over the appointment of a teacher.
Sydney, it appeared, had not one to spare, and although Frederick's brother Edwin offered himself for the position, he would take it on his own terms only. These included more than the £40 a year offered, and did not include his attendance at the model school in Sydney for a month and entrance for an examination at the end of that term, on which the board insisted as a necessary prerequisite to his acceptance.
Letters passed backwards and forwards, now explaining, now demanding, now making concessions, now standing firmly to principles.
Meantime, Edwin established his own private school In Wagga (he was presumably educated along with one of his brothers. Charles, at the Rev. Henry Fulton's school at Castlereagh on the Hawkesbury, during the time of Macquarie), but whether this was done as a gesture of defiance at the board, or with the more prosaic purpose of providing him with a living is not known.
An unprecedented drought was experienced in the Wagga district early in 1851, which lessened the district's population "by at least two hundred, and this is exclusive of many settlers who by the fearful state of the country have been forced permanently from the district."
The slashing pen-stroke with which Frederick underlined that 'permanently' is indicative of his rage against those unnatural elements which dared to interfere with his plans.
However, some hope of getting a teacher was seen when the board finally agreed to waive its stipulations with regard to Edwin Tompson's acceptance as a teacher - only for another deadlock to be reached as the result of a further condition attached by, the board:
"That Mrs. Tompson should assist in the management of the school without any increase in salary to himself for such assistance, or any allowance for her services."
Edwin Tompson "formally and decisively'' declined to accept the appointment.
Thus ended the year 1851 with school and pupils ready, but no master.
The following year a 'furore for gold digging' pervaded the community and 'completely checked the advancement of the village and put a stop to all trading speculations.'
Knowing or caring little about this, the board in Sydney announced with some pride that it was now in a position to appoint an 'eligible married couple to the charge of the institution. 'Regretfully, Frederick Tompson replied that Wagga was then in no position to fulfil the board's stipulation that a minimum number of 35 pupils should be available for enrolment.
'Since the completion of the National School here, and the opening of the gold flelds in other quarters, no less than 19 married couples with 72 children have left this young township, and in addition 30 persons without families 'but many of whom were married), making in all no less than 140 souls, or more than half the population of the town when the census was taken 12 months since.
There are now three married couples, with fifteen children, upon the point of leaving.'
However, he added, Wagga left the matter of appointment or non-appointment of a teacher to the board, with the urgent recommendation that, despite everything that had happened, the school should be opened. All this in May 1953.
Week on the road in June Mr. and Mrs. George Loveday set out from Sydney on the Journey by coach over unmade roads to Wagga to take charge of the school.
The fare, without luggage, cost them £30, and they were a week on the road.
They arrived in time for the big flood of June 26, which practically swept Gundagai out of existence and left Wagga's population of a little over 100 stranded for many days and nights In bitter winter weather on a water surrounded sand hill.
Reporting to the board in July, Loveday explained why he had not been able to open the school, stating that for many nights 'I had to avail-myself of such Shelter as was afforded by a sheet of bark propped up by a stick until I became indebted to Mr. Tompson for hospitality.'
Urged on, no doubt, by the said Mr. Tompson's enthusiasm and refusal to admit defeat.
Loveday tried hard to open the school, but in view of the fact that there were no desks for the children to sit at (thanks to the flood) and the additional fact that the Wagga people were so discouraged by a succession of blows that the town was, further depopulated, he had, to report in September the prospect of opening the school was hopeless.
A defeated and chastened Frederick Thompson confirmed this, and Loveday was removed to the more civilised Albury.
In 1853 Wagga suffered two further floods, the second being the 'monster flood' of July 13, when everyone in Wagga was rendered house-less, and the Court House was untenable for two months.
What remained of the National School stood, 'a spectral thing,' on the river bank for many years after that.
But it took more than floods to quench the indomitable fighting spirit of Frederick Tompson and the patrons.
In 1856 Tompson pulled the necessary strings to have a new area allotted in the town for a National School, this time well above flood level.
The town was then capably served by a private school run by an Irishman, and there was a general apathy towards the prospect of again going through what had been endured from 1849 to 1851.
The fight bad been washed out of the Wagga people, and they once again lost interest.
The next move came from Sydney when, in 1858, the board sent an inspector to Wagga to investigate the possibility of opening a National School.
He succeeded in injecting some enthusiasm into the place, and the following year the newly established Wagga newspaper bore an advertisement calling for tenders for the erection of a National School.
But again the evil spirit which had for nine years dogged Wagga's attempts to educate the children of the 'laboring classes' placed an obstacle in the way.
The suggested building was found to be a little too grandiose, and therefore too costly, for the town's circumstances, and In 1859 new tenders had to be called 'for a building on a reduced scale.'
This building was completed by September, 1860, at a cost of nearly £1200, but once more fate took a hand and the school was not opened, for one reason or another, until the middle of the following year.
By the end of that year, 1862, it could boast an average daily attendance of 47 pupils.
Much had happened in the Colony of NS.W. by the time this school was completed, and the teacher appointed to Wagga in 1861 was able to travel from Sydney to Campbelltown by railway and thence by coach to Wagga, knocking two days off the time made by Mr. Loveday nine years before, but paying £8 more for the privilege.
Thus, twelve years after, the dream which had burgeoned in Frederick Tompson's head at sight of the magical name of Macleay came to its full realisation.
By this time the 'large and very young family' of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cartwright was possibly as large as ever, but certainly not so young; and lost as certainly without that education which Frederick Tompson bad envisaged for it.
Nevertheless, in the years which followed there were other families to justify those early, heartbreaking at- tempts, and other 'shining morning faces' - among them that of young Tom Blarney, who ultimately became Australia's first Field Marshal.