Rutherglen Common School the first Free, Secular and Compulsory School in both Victoria and Australia 1


Research undertaken by one member, David Valentine has lead him to nominate the Rutherglen Common School, No. 522, for inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register. David is on a mission to prove that we truly have a Common School that is unique. Go David !!!

David identified that our Common School (only two rooms) opened on 13 January 1873 with 84 students based on an extract from the Ovens and Murray Advertiser page 3, 20/01/1873 and confirmed that our school was the first Free, Secular and Compulsory State School in Victoria and Australia with enabling legislation commencing in VIC on 1/01/1873, QLD on 8/04/1876, SA on 1/01/1892, WA on 5/10/1899, NSW 8/10/1906 and TAS on 1/01/1909.

Background : Schooling in Rutherglen

There were three schools on the Rutherglen diggings by November 1860, only two months after gold was first found on 9 September 1860 and supports estimates of the population as high as 10,000 mostly single male miners.

School No. 538 was opened on the hill opposite the Star Hotel until closing in less than two years in 1862.  The Catholic School No. 537 was in a temporary building near the police camp, with 167 pupils in 1870.  This school closed four years later after government aid was withdrawn from denominational schools 1874.  Margaret Johnston, a severe disciplinarian, had an unnumbered school in a long, low, unpainted weatherboard building on Camp Hill with 50 to 75 children by 1869.

The site for a Common School No 522 was gazetted in May 1862 as one acre facing Murray Street east of High street.  Over the decade before the school was built, the Town Hall was rented for 7/6d a week.  After much debate, correspondence and disappointment, the Rutherglen School Committee resigned in February 1870, in frustration over the school building still not being commenced.

Rutherglen Common School is built and opened in sequence with the Education Act 1872

A new committee reformed in September 1870 and proposed a school building to Mr Brodribb, the District Inspector, planning and fund-raising having already commenced.  At the same time of the Vice-Regal address at the opening the parliamentary year in April 1872; the committee of School No. 522 considered a sketch drawn by John Banks.  John had built the bridge over the Edward River at Deniliquin, NSW, as well as some of the buildings in Beechworth as well as part of the gaol and was one of the two initial owners who established All Saints Estates in 1862.

Again, with similar timing in June 1872, the school No. 522 committee called for tenders for a school having two rooms, 44 by 18 and 18 by 15 feet.  On 3 June 1872, the Hon. Charles Duffy, Colonial Chief Secretary resigned for his actions including against the proposed educational model.  The Hon. James Francis was appointed as Chief Secretary, on 10 June 1872, James was a long term supporter of the Free, Secular and Compulsory educational model.

Coinciding with the passage of the Education Act through the Victorian Legislative Assembly on 12 Sep 1872, William Booth, who headed the subscription list with £10t o fund School No. 522, laid the foundation stone on 17 September 1872.  The final cost was £547, half of which had to be raised locally and the other half was to be contributed by the then Education Department. The community had some difficulty raising their full share, the Department later paying the small deficiency.


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One thought on “Rutherglen Common School the first Free, Secular and Compulsory School in both Victoria and Australia

  • David Valentine

    Hi,
    I’m David V and it’s not belief when the Rutherglen Common School opened; it was reported by the attending journalist in Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic.: 1855 – 1918), 20 January 1873, p 3, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/197050374, accessed 20 December 2017.

    And the timeline of the commencement of Legislated Free, Secular and Compulsory Education in Australia
    State Date
    VIC 1 January 1873
    QLD 8 April 1876
    SA 1 January 1892
    WA 5 October 1899
    NSW 8 October 1906
    TAS 1 January 1909