The impulse to systematise schooling in the colony of New South Wales occurred early. In the relative absence of wealthy churches, philanthropists and well-established communities, the colonial government needed to play a role in educating young people. The idea that criminality (the convict ‘stain’) could be prevented from passing down the generations through interventions such as chaplain-supervised and a little later church-subsidised schooling was accepted by most of the early governors.
If the colonial government was to subsidise schools, or more likely the livings of teachers, then they would seek to do so with some degree of consistency, hence the drive towards systematisation. Governors were unwilling to establish schools directly, with major exceptions early on such as the Female Orphan School (1801). Instead the colonial chaplains, including Richard Johnson and Samuel Marsden, were to advocate, encourage the establishment of, and ‘visit’ or examine what schools they could. There were a very small number of completely private establishments from late in the eighteenth century but they were likely to touch no more than a few in the population.
There is little doubt that before the 1820s, and for many, a lot later, the chaplains attached to the Church of England would have the main responsibility for educating children from those families that could be persuaded to use the schools. Increasing rural dispersion of the population as well as lack of compulsion, and the necessity of children’s labour in a large number of households ensured very low and irregular attendances. Families were usually charged a small fee for attendances, in order to make up the wages of teachers. This was a further disincentive to attendance for the many poor.
Before the 1820s, the colonial chaplains were directly responsible to the civil government led by the governor. In the 1820s the Church of England began the process of establishing itself as separate entity in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The governing elite had little doubt, though on questionable grounds, that the Church of England in the colonies would be the established church of the colony (see Glossary) as it was in England. The arrival of Archdeacon Thomas Hobbes Scott to lead the church in Australia allowed the possibility of a national school system run by the newly organised Church of England in the Australian colonies.
Thomas Hobbes Scott
Scott had been in New South Wales earlier, as secretary to J. T. Bigge who had been appointed in 1819 to enquire into the affairs and governance of the colony. The provision of schools and education more generally had been a small part of the Bigge inquiry, so Scott had developed some familiarity with colonial circumstances. After returning to England he became a priest in the Church of England. In 1824 Scott was appointed archdeacon in the newly constituted colonial archdeaconry covering New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land—within the diocese of Calcutta. As archdeacon, Scott assumed leadership of the church. In the process, the colonial government did not resile from its assumption that that the Church of England would become the dominant provider of schools in the colony. Scott committed to the challenge.
Establishing the Church and School Corporation
If the Church of England in New South Wales was to provide schools and new churches, with livings for their clergy and teachers, government needed to provide the Corporation with a semi-independent source of income. In 1825 a Church and School Corporation was established by the British government according to the plans of Archdeacon Scott. One-seventh of the Crown lands of New South Wales were granted to the Corporation to support the clergy and schools. Hypothetically such a grant had the potential to become a magnificent source of income for the Corporation in the funding of its activities.
Scott developed ambitious plans for a system of schools. Along with taking over existing schools, plans for new infant, parish, grammar and orphan schools were made. The founding of a university was also projected. There were plans for evening schools for workers, mechanics’ institutes, teacher training (normal) schools and native schools for Aboriginal children.
Scott assumed the role of King’s Visitor (a colonial government appointment), or inspector-general of the emerging public system of schools. He appointed teachers and supervised their work. He began work on developing an inspectorate. He also maintained the dominant educational discourse of the ruling group within the colony, that schooling was a pimary means by which the social disorder, indeed ‘viciousness’ of the convict and ex-convict population, might be combatted. The influence of criminal parents over their children down through the generations would be broken by the good influence of education. This education was clearly conceived in terms of the catechisms and doctrine of the Church of England.
There were initial achievements. Corporation schools increased in number, mainly elementary schools, and a new school for infants. Scott worked tirelessly, travelling both to Van Diemen’s Land and into country New South Wales in pursuit of an expanding network of churches and schools. He sought to make chaplains and others within the Corporation more responsible for their work; they were required to write frequent reports on their activities.
But the Corporation was not a success. Very few of the ambitious plans of the Corporation were realised. Opposition to the Corporation in New South Wales was fierce, and in the end, effective. Though Earl Bathurst in the British government supported Scott and the Corporation, the ground shifted. The collapse of a similar scheme in Upper Canada (that is, much of the future Ontario) a few years earlier should have provided sufficient warning.
Opposition to the Corporation
Opposition to the Corporation was multiple and overlapping. It came especially from the groups who aligned themselves against the old exclusivist caste (see Glossary). By the 1820s this group was in retreat though it had had a temporary victory in the dismissal of Governor Macquarie, in part brought on by the Bigge Report. Scott was associated with that report and therefore the downfall of Macquarie. His efforts in the colony were consequently subject to suspicion and opposition from the beginning. Legal challenge to his appointment as King’s Visitor by William Walker, the Wesleyan master of the Female Orphan School, was only the beginning. The difficulties were so intense that Scott sought to resign less than two years after the proclamation of the Corporation’s charter in 1826. His resignation was accepted in November 1828.
Why did the Corporation fail?
(1) Despite being granted one seventh of the Crown lands of New South Wales, the difficulties of survey and allocation of the lands meant that the harnessing of their productive potential was unachievable. The Corporation for the whole of its life remained mainly dependent on grants from the colonial treasury for its income. Grants to the Corporation, virtually the Church of England in New South Wales, far outstripped anything granted other religious denominations which also had substantial numbers of adherents. The grants were easily condemned as unfair.
(2) Many colonists resented the restriction of available land for occupation. This was exacerbated by an economic down-turn in the colony in the second half of the 1820s. ‘Clergy Reserves’ were deeply unpopular.
(3) New South Wales by the 1820s had very substantial populations of Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans and others. None of these groups were prepared to accept the hegemony of the Church of England in terms of publicly-assisted schooling, and certainly not any consolidation of the Church of England as the established church in the colony. J. D. Lang of the Presbyterians thought that rebellion was a likely outcome. Father John Therry‘s opposition on behalf of the Catholics brought about his dismissal as a colonial chaplain.
(4) Most of the independent newspapers of the colony waged unceasing war against the Corporation. W. C. Wentworth’s The Australian newspaper argued that the colony was in danger of becoming ‘priest-ridden’, the clergy becoming tyrants of the people and government alike. In this sense, opposition to the Corporation may be interpreted as a step towards a more open, free society, where competing interests could lay their claims to influence and wealth without regard to the interests of the Church of England in the colony.
(5) In England the arguments of E. G. Wakefield that the future of the colonies should be based on the entrepreneurship of free farming families, no longer subject to the authoritarianism and corruptions arising from the convict system and large land grants to individuals and corporations, gained influence.
(6) Similarly, in England, the privileges of the Church of England were in decline as the Acts restricting the rights of Roman Catholics and others not of the established church were repealed in this period. That had its effect on colonial policy.
Collapse of the Corporation
Scott had offended many groups and individuals inside and outside the Corporation for various reasons. Attempts by Scott and the colonial government to sue and silence its critics were mainly unsuccessful. Most historians agree that Scott’s personal activity was not a primary reason for the collapse of the Corporation. It was the combined effect of oppositional pressures outlined above.
Opposition to the Corporation merged with a growing argument for self-government with elected representatives replacing most of those previously appointed to advise governors. In 1830 there was a new Whig government in Westminster, and there was no retraction of an instruction to Governor Darling by the previous administration that the Corporation be wound up; nor should the attempt to establish a replica of the Corporation in Van Diemen’s Land be countenanced.
The Corporation was not formally concluded until 1833. A new governor arrived in that year. Richard Bourke was liberal in policy. He achieved government subsidies for all the major churches, no longer over-privileging the Church of England. He also developed a very different, though still ill-fated, proposal for a new national system of schools.
Significance of the Church and School Corporation
The history of the Corporation, though its life was short, was significant for several reasons, both for and beyond its immediate impact on schooling:
(1) It helped legitimise the idea that systems of schools were desirable, even though it would not be until much later in the nineteenth century that stable and effective systems were produced.
(2) It helped de-legitimise the idea that the Australian colonies should have an established church, though the ambitions of the Church of England in this direction lived on. especially through the efforts of William Broughton who replaced Scott as archdeacon from 1829 and in 1836 became Australia’s first bishop.
(3) Its failure helped consolidate the idea that the schools of the different major religious denominations might equally receive government assistance for their schools. The failure of the Corporation was not a failure of the idea that religion and schooling should be associated.
(4) The successful opposition to the Corporation assisted entrepreneurs in their attempts to open the lands of the colonies to free settlement.
(5) Similarly, the successful opposition assisted those in favour of self-government, and the development of a colonial society where a ruling, mainly exclusivist caste, was undermined.
(6) Following earlier points, the collapse of the Corporation made its own small contribution to the decline of patriarchal authority and the eventual, if unsteady, rise of secularism more generally in Australia. For a century and more before the Corporation such movements had gained strength in European and British history.
In broader terms, the Corporation did little to increase the access of young people to schooling though it had ambition in that regard. The view of its promoters concerning the possible relationships between schools and society were profoundly conservative. The approved form of pedagogy for the elementary schools and others was monitorial. Religious texts were to form the heart of much of the literacy and moral curriculum. The schools were seen as reformatory in character. For most colonial youth, the effort was to transform the ill-disciplined and unproductive in a convict-society into loyal, disciplined, moralised and productive labourers. Little progress was made during the life of the Corporation to develop corporate grammar schools (see Glossary) that would educate the sons of the social elites with either English or classically-based curricula.
The most readily available collection of documents concerning the Church and Schools Corporation occurs in Griffiths (1957), pp. 32-48. Austin (1961), pp. 9-27 is an essential reference. See Bibliography and References below.
An established church is a church recognized by law as the official church of a state or nation and supported by government.
Exclusivists were those colonists whose wealth and status were sustained by their non-convict heritage, and land grants. Led by John Macarthur, they had achieved a victory in the removal of Governor Macquarie. Unfortunately for Scott’s influence in the broader colony, he aligned himself with Macarthur and the exclusivists.
A corporate school in the Australian context is the school owned and managed by a corporate entity, such as a church, trust or other organisation. It is distinguished from those private schools owned by individual proprietors or families.