The Trustees and the School

The founding of the school

The 1850s

The new school

The public school is established

After the school

Another school in the stone hall

On January 10, 1882, the Reverend James Cosh, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of NSW, wrote Mr Allan Bell a receipt for a packet of papers and the equivalent of about $2100 in cash. With this transaction, the 40-year history of the Presbyterian school at North Sydney and its trustees was brought to an end.

To collect the materials, Rev Cosh probably made the journey to Lathallan, a property on the eastern side of West Street in what is now Crows Nest, between Falcon and Ernest Streets; George Bell, Allan Bell’s father, had died there the year before. Besides running a dairy and orchard for the previous 40 years, Bell senior had been an enthusiastic gardener:

Perhaps one of the most pleasant rambles that one can make in the outskirts of Sydney is to the North Shore; and if we land at Milsom’s Point, we have the pleasure of an agreeable shady walk almost to the village of St. Leonard’s. We cannot conceive a more healthy locality in the neighbourhood of Sydney than the North Shore; and it is to be regretted that it is not more accessible by easier means than is at present adopted. The village church and the pastor’s modest mansion have a peculiarly home appearance attached to them, not perhaps found elsewhere about Sydney. Lathallan is situated about a quarter of a mile from St. Leonard’s church, and contains about two acres of good land, having a never failing creek running through it... The sides of the creek are adorned with rock-work, the interstices of which are planted with ferns, orchids, succulent plants, and Rock Lilies... The ground about the dwelling-house is laid out in flower beds, and is planted with nothing but what is really good and choice... Altogether the place is and has always been considered one worthy of a visit. We believe that Mr. Bell was one of the earliest settlers on the North Shore. His well known love of gardening, and his desire to improve apparent to all who have had intercourse with him. (Transactions of the Horticultural Society of Sydney, October 1866)

The creek that ran through the property can still be traced between the blocks of units now on the site: it ran down into Middle Harbour at Willoughby Falls, then a well-known beauty spot, later the site of a sewage treatment plant, now at the back of Primrose Park in Cammeray.

The name of George Bell’s elder daughter, Sophia Leonards Bell, born in 1841, suggests it was in that year that the Bell family settled on the North Shore (Allan Douglas Bell, the eldest son, was born in 1840). The term North Shore at that time embraced more or less the whole of the land between the Lane Cove River and Middle Harbour Creek. Apart from the foreshores, this area had remained very sparsely settled for the first 50 years of the colony. In 1835 the Governor rode down from Parramatta to have a look; in 1837 surveyors started work laying out a new town, to be called St Leonards; in 1838 the town begins to be mentioned by name.

For communication with the mother settlement, the North Shore had to rely on man-powered ferries, which naturally favoured the shortest route – between Billy Blue’s Point or Milsom’s Point as they were then called on the northern side (the Milsom family had not yet renamed themselves ‘Milson’), and Dawes Point on the south. Dawes Point was tricky, though, with a strong current: apart from a quick stop to land single passengers, boats often put in to the watermen’s stairs for preference, at the bottom of Windmill Street.

It was in the capacity of ferryman that William Blue, ex-West Indian, ex-convict, had attracted the patronage of Governor Macquarie from whom he had his land at Blues Point. His son John Blue was an accomplished waterman, often mentioned in Anniversary Day regattas; his son-in-law and neighbour George Lavender was another. Besides, a host of others offered boats for hire for the harbour crossing, while the wealthy, no doubt, retained watermen of their own.

In 1839, Robert Brindley, a naval architect, proposed that a ‘floating bridge’ as he called it – a chain ferry – to be driven by steam, should be installed between Blues Point and Dawes Point. To a number of people, Alexander Berry and Archibald Mossman among them, this looked like a golden opportunity to make some money. At a meeting on January 23, 1840, Mr Brindley expounded his idea; a company was formed with a nominal capital of £10,000; it was resolved to build a punt 86 feet long and 43 wide ‘calculated to carry from 80 to 90 tons, 6 drays’ load, with oxen, luggage, and passengers’.

The Governor himself was said to be keen, but proved less so when the harbourmaster objected to chains being laid across the waterway – it was given out then that His Excellency had misunderstood the proposal. Plans were revised; the company became the Sydney Steam Ferry Company; Robert Brindley was dumped, much to his indignation; the vessel was now to be a paddle steamer. The project went ahead slowly, though the papers maintained their enthusiasm:

Quiet and unostentatious as the doings are of the Ferry Company (besides great profit to themselves from the fares), they will thereby confer a greater benefit on the inhabitants of Sydney than has yet been rendered either by the Government or any other set of individuals. The directors, treasurer, and secretary justly merit, and it will shortly too be as freely expressed, the high gratitude of the public in thus having organised and brought into actual operation during the present unfavourable times an undertaking of such vast public utility. The present steam bridge (for there are to be others) will at once more than double the area of the town of Sydney, and, consequently, enable the inhabitants to possess positions for buildings at a trifling expense, equally available for persons in business or in office, to many parts of Sydney itself, and where the superior facilities of procuring material too, will further enable buildings to be erected there at a cost, even including the price of the land, much less in amount than allotments alone can be bought for in or near Sydney. In short it may justly be said of the North Shore that the free fresh air, the more healthy atmosphere, the absence from dust, the freedom from noxious exhalations, the everlasting supply of pure water at the falls into middle harbour, the superior altitude of the land, the greater fertility of the soil, the cheerful scenery, the picturesque views of the ships and harbour, the noble prospect of the Heads and the open Pacific, the greater exposure to the refreshing sea breeze, the ready access with the interior, and the delightful drives that can be made at little expense towards the Fort, at Bradley’s Head, George’s Head, &c., along the heights overlooking the romantic waters and headlands of Middle Harbour on the one hand, and those of Port Jackson on the other, are considerations alone that would induce us to feel positive that a large portion of the town of Sydney will soon be extended to the North Shore. The now crowded state of the town, the exorbitant prices demanded for town allotments in Sydney and the now ready intercourse with the extensive district of the North Shore, render such a result self-evident, and, under all the circumstances, it is fortunate for the town of Sydney, thus affording (if such were wanting) another apt illustration of the vast importance the introduction of steam power is to the human race. (The Sydney Herald, 30-11-1841)

Finally, in 1843, the steam ferry Princess was open for business:

NOTICE is hereby given, that this Company’s Steam Ferry Boat will COMMENCE PLYING between Sydney and the North Shore, on Thursday next, the 9th instant, starting from near the Whalers’s Arms, Windmill-street, at eight o’clock in the morning; and will thence continue to ply daily, from dawn to dusk, starting every half hour from the two shores respectively.
The fares will be as follows, payable to the Master, Mr. George Lavender, on entering the boat:
For eachFour-wheeled Carriage26
      "Two-wheeled Dray,20
      "Cart or Gig,16
      "Horse, Mare, Gelding, Ass, Mule,  
 or head of horned cattle, draw-  
 ing or not,06
      "Sheep, Lamb, Pig, or Goat,02
      "Foot Passenger,04
 (Children half-price)  
Fowls and ducks, unless forming part of a  
load, per couple,01
Turkeys and geese, unless ditto, per head01
By order of the Board,
Sydney, February 7. (SMH, 9-2-1843)

The fare for a foot passenger translates to about $5.50 in today’s money; the other fares may be calculated in proportion. At these rates, predictions of the profits to be made were more than optimistic:

it is clear, that the immediate and prospective resources upon which the Company are to depend for employment, promise to equal their most sanguine wishes. This, indeed, is shewn by the fact, that there are, even now, no less than six passage boats constantly at work between Sydney and the North Shore; and that their passengers do not average less, one day with another, than a hundred per day. This yields a revenue of nearly £1,000 per annum; and when we consider the certain increase of passengers that will be caused by the comfort of the steam bridge, and the large extra revenue arising from the conveyance of goods, produce, carts, drays, carriages, horses, and live stock, we may confidently assume that the Company’s income will be at least £2,000 per annum. And what will be their expenses? A very careful calculation of the cost of coals, wages, and wear and tear, brings them to £750 a year; which leaves a net yearly profit of £1,250. The paid up capital is £4,000, which is reckoned quite sufficient to cover the entire original outlay; so that the amount of profit just stated is at the rate of more than thirty per cent per annum upon the capital invested. But even should the expenses be £1000 a year, the profit would still be in the extraordinary ratio of twenty-five per cent. More sanguine calculations have made it fifty per cent; but we have taken the lowest estimate for income, and the highest for expenditure, and yet arrive at this splendid result. After a very careful consideration of the whole subject, it is our decided opinion, that the Sydney Ferry Company promises to confer most important benefits upon this metropolis, and at the same to reap a richer profit upon its capital than any company throughout the whole Colony. (The Sydney Herald, 10-3-1842)

Like most schemes that appear too good to be true, this one came to nothing. In April, the service was interrupted for a time when George Lavender resigned; when it resumed, some fares had had to be reduced. In May there were further reductions across the board. Watermen working for themselves could always undercut the company’s service, and there were not enough drays and flocks of turkeys anxious to cross the harbour to make the extra capacity pay that the Princess offered. It became clear that there were no profits to be made, and calls on the shares went unanswered. If a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in December was not written by one of the investors themselves, it nevertheless represented too small a constituency:

GENTLEMEN,—It is with no small regret I observe the Steam Ferry Punt is to be laid up. I have endeavoured to ascertain why this should be, at a season when every one connected with the North Shore must feel the loss, as every arrangement has been made by the growers to bring down their produce to a market; and I regret to say the only reason I could learn was, that in consequence of the undue advantage given to the watermen, and I may perhaps add, the want of support from my neighbours. I speak feelingly when I say, “inhabitants of the North Shore, do your utmost to continue the communication at the present reasonable fares: for should she stop, you may then rely upon the same difficulty and extortion you have already experienced.”
Yours, truly,
EMPTY POCKET. (4-12-1843)

Perhaps it was in the bankruptcy court that George Bell, pursuing Mossman for a debt of £25, encountered the shipwright John McMillan of Windmill Street, who was owed £16-5/- by the insolvent company for ironwork supplied to the Princess. In any case, the two men became friends. Bell’s second daughter Charlotte, born in 1844, was given the middle name McMillan, as was his son John, born in 1847.

McMillan had arrived in Sydney in 1821, convicted of high treason and sentenced to transportation for life. He was 28, with a wife and three daughters left behind in Scotland. At this time, the western and central lowlands of Scotland were already highly industrialized and densely populated; thanks to the educational policies of the Presbyterian church, the working population had one of the highest levels of literacy in the world. At the same time, collective industrial action was treated by the authorities as criminal conspiracy, and common people had few political rights. Not surprisingly, the ideals of the American and French revolutions, spread by works such as Tom Paine’s Rights of Man (1791-92) had a wide appeal, and political unrest was endemic, particularly when the economy was in trouble.

In 1794, Thomas Muir and his fellow ‘Scottish Martyrs’ had been exiled to New South Wales for sedition; in 1816, when the end of the war with Napoleon was followed by a severe depression, with bankruptcies and unemployment all around Glasgow, another generation was ready to campaign for the same ideals. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Thrushgrove near Glasgow to demand reform. Nevertheless, conditions continued to worsen: for weavers in Kilsyth, earnings fell from £1 a week to 11 shillings between 1816 and 1820.

On Sunday April 1, 1820, a bill posted on the streets of Glasgow, Dumbarton, Paisley, Stirling and Kilsyth called for a general strike to sweep away the present form of government. On the Monday, the government ordered all shops to be closed and everyone to stay in their homes. Most of the skilled workers in central Scotland and many in the west immediately went on strike. The next day about 70 men from Glasgow set out for the village of Condorrat. Their aim was to join another group there, and together capture the Carron Iron Works near Falkirk, where they expected to find weapons. The protesters already carried muskets, pistols, swords and pikes: the ‘Peterloo Massacre’ of 1816, when cavalry had charged an unarmed crowd in Manchester, had warned them to expect violence.

At Bonnymuir their expectations were fulfilled. The group were intercepted by a force of Hussars. The battle was brief and bloody. Those who were not killed, and not wounded sufficiently to prevent escape, fled the area; eighteen men were taken captive on the battlefield; three, including McMillan, were arrested in the nearby village of Camelon.

The captured men were brought to trial at Stirling on July 13, 1820; all were convicted. Andrew Hardie and John Baird, leaders respectively of the men from Glasgow and Condorrat, were hanged and then beheaded. The death penalties of the others were commuted to transportation for various terms to the penal colony of New South Wales.

In the colony, John McMillan was put to work as a blacksmith in the government service. He is mentioned in the muster of 1825 as still in service; he received his Ticket of Freedom on 18th December, 1827. In 1828, he was living in Cumberland Street; in 1832 he moved his residence and business to 2 Windmill Street, Miller’s Point, where he was joined by his wife, Jane, and his three daughters in the same year. The blacksmith’s business flourished and was diversified into the manufacture of ships’ hardware, edge tools and scale beams. In a jury list from 1836, McMillan is described as ‘shipright’, and in 1842 he is called a ‘shipsmith’.

Meanwhile, many in Scotland believed the radicals had been duped by an administration keen to find an excuse for suppressing political dissent: as a writer later put it in a letter to the then Home Secretary:

1st.—They were led on by Government spies, and the whole treason was worked up by the then Ministry. 2nd.—They were made the scapegoats of a Tory plot. 3rd.—Their conduct was what might be expected, from the distress of the times, and from their feelings being worked upon by designing villains. (The Sydney Monitor, 26-1-1838)

Perhaps there was some truth in these beliefs – in any case the survivors were given a free pardon in 1836:

HOUSE of COMMONS, MARCH 18.—Mr. Wallace, inquired of the Lord Advocate for Scotland if any thing had been done by his Majesty’s Government on behalf of the eighteen unfortunate men who had been convicted in Scotland in the year 1820, of what was called in those times treasonable practices, whose names were as follow:—John Barr, Wm. Clarkson, James Clelland, Andrew Dawson, Robert Gray, Alexander Latimer, Thomas M‘Culloch, Thomas M‘Farlane, John M‘Millan, Benjamin Moir, Allan Murchie, Thomas Pike, William Smith, David Thomson, Andrew White, and James Wright. The Lord Advocate was happy to inform the Hon. Member for Greenock, that His Majesty had been graciously pleased to pardon the whole of these men, and instructions to that effect had been sent to New South Wales. (The Colonist, 1-9-1836)

In a letter to his friends in Glasgow, McMillan expressed the thanks of the group, sending as a memento the 20 pound (9kg) irons he had been obliged to wear on the convict transport. Yet though he was pardoned, it seems the authorities were not keen to have him back. In 1837 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary in Sydney voicing his impatience at the delay in granting written pardons to himself and the other members of the group, pointing out that he had applied ‘no less than ten times’ to his office at Hyde Park Barracks but received ‘no further answer than call again and such conduct is very unsatisfactory to me’. In a petition to Governor Sir George Gipps at Parramatta, he said he was anxious to leave the colony, but could not do so without documentary proof of his pardon. As it turned out, he never did return to Scotland.

From 1836 to 1838 McMillan held a publican’s licence for the Blacksmith’s Arms in Windmill Street, near the watermen’s stairs. From there, in the bushfires of November 1837, he launched a brave but unavailing attempt to save the home of George Lavender:

Lavender was absent at the time; he had gone round to bring his wife from his brother in law’s, and returned in time to witness the roof of the house fall in. Mr. M‘Millan the publican, of Windmill-street, observing the flames approaching Lavender’s house, with a zeal highly creditable to him, got a boat and six men, and with buckets and axes pulled across to see if he could render any assistance; but his well intended means could not be made available, the house was all in a blaze on his arrival and the heat so intense that it was dangerous to approach. By this calamity Lavender is said to be almost ruined, he lost every article, with the exception of the boat, that he was possessed of, all his furniture, and a sum of money amounting to about £48 were destroyed. The money which consisted chiefly of notes was kept in a metal teapot placed on a shelf; on Lavender’s arrival he observed the pot melting and could not save it. (The Sydney Monitor, 29-11-1837)

Lavender had been meaning to set up as an innkeeper himself – the money was intended for extensions to his home to make that possible. As it was, he was obliged to continue working on the water.

In 1839 McMillan began to buy property on the North Shore; his first purchase, 25 acres in Lane Cove, he named ‘Thrushgrove’, after the site of the protest rallies in 1816. The area was noted at the time for oranges, which George Allan was also growing in his early years at Lathallan – that may have been another point of contact.


The founding of the school

Nearer the shore, the town of St Leonards grew slowly – too slowly for the ferry company. Yet there were families – the Blue clan for a start – and there were children. In 1842, the same year in which the Chief Justice his recorded as saying ‘it is notorious that “St. Leonards” consists of but two or three scattered huts’, a Mr Samuel Smythe opened a school. Education at this time, regarded essentially as a charitable undertaking, was left to private initiatives, which primarily meant to the efforts of the various churches. The government was prepared to assist with grants of land. Smythe’s school was apparently being held in a private house, and the parents wanted something better. In 1843 an appeal was made to the Synod of Australia:

The Moderator stated that Mr. Smith, the Teacher on the North Shore, informed him that the parents of the Children attending his School are anxious to erect a School-house if a site can be procured: when they resolved to request the Moderator of Synod to apply to the Government for a site on the vacant crown land on the High Road from Blue’s Point at the entrance of the village of St Leonard. (Synod of Australia Minutes, 7-2-1843)

The site the Government granted was just across the road from George Lavender’s estate: bounded by Miller Street, Lavender Street and Blues Point Road and extending north from Lavender Street about as far as the entrance of the present-day carpark. Apart from Blues Point Road – ‘ the Road from the Ferry’ – these streets were no more than lines on a surveyor’s map – for many years they remained completely unmade, and were tracks at best; on the survey of the school land it looks as though there was a footpath along the southern boundary of the site.

The remainder of that block, up to the intersection of Miller Street and Blues Point Road, was later granted as the site for a manse, and the corresponding triangle on the western side of Blues Point Road, bounded by William Street and Blue Street, as the site for a church. Perhaps the later grants were always intended, since the nearby siting of Christ Church and of St Francis Xavier’s suggest that this part of St Leonards was seen as a sort of church precinct.

On May 3, 1844 a meeting was held to elect trustees for the school property:

North Shore.—On Friday evening, a meeting was held at the temporary school-house, on the North Shore, for the purpose of electing trustees, and considering the best means for the erection of a school-house, on the ground recently granted to the Synod of Australia for that purpose. The meeting was opened with singing and prayer, by the Rev. Dr. Fullerton. The following persons were chosen trustees: G. A. Bell, J. Blue, J. French, J. M‘Millan, and R. Lepper. Before the meeting separated, nearly the whole of the persons present signified their intention of contributing towards the erection of the school. (SMH, 6-5-1844)

Of the five trustees, Bell and McMillan were certainly Presbyterian at the time, at least notionally: the wedding of McMillan’s daughter Mary was celebrated by Dr Lang, while Charlotte Bell was married by Rev Roger McKinnon of St Peter’s. McMillan may well have attended St Andrew’s, just a short drive up Kent Street from his home. The Bells later were identified with St Thomas’s, probably because it was so much closer to Lathallan.

William Blue, though he could wear a long face on a Sunday, was not known for any particular religious affiliation – nor was John, or his brother-in-law James French, though John Blue was later to say, in another context, that ‘he was not a Presbyterian’. But they were men of a certain local solidity. If perhaps they might have preferred a Church of England school, the grantees of St Thomas’s had no immediate intention of building one. Of the fifth trustee, nothing further is known – it would seem he left the area and his position soon after, only leaving behind multiple misreportings of his surname.

So in due course the school was rehoused in a new weatherboard building next to Blues Point Road. Two rooms on a lower floor could have been accommodation for a teacher, though Smythe presumably continued to live in his own house, where the school had previously been conducted. On behalf of the church, oversight was entrusted to Rev Thomas Mowbray, but the trustees kept an eye on its temporal proceedings. By the end of 1845, clearly dissatisfied with how things were going, they asked the Presbytery of Sydney to investigate. In April a report came back:

The Moderator reported that a Committee of the Presbytery met at St. Leonards School House on the day appointed to enquire into the state of the School and the efficiency of the Teacher, and the results of that investigation having been submitted to the Presbytery it is resolved that it is not necessary for the Presbytery to interfere further, but leave the matter in the hands of the Minister superintending the School. (Presbytery of Sydney Minutes, 7-4-1846)

On July 7, Rev Mowbray reported ‘that Mr Samuel Smythe has been removed from the office of teacher at St. Leonards.’ Apparently the separation was amicable, for the Presbytery signified its willingness ‘to superintend Mr Smythe’s School, if he succeed in collecting a sufficient number of children, in the district of Lane Cove, without encroaching on the district of St. Leonards.’

Mr Smythe was succeeded by Mr Ross, Mr Ross by Mr McEachern. The settlement grew. George Bell contributed two guineas towards the cost of making the road from Blues Point as far as St Thomas’s. Meanwhile, storms raging in the Church of Scotland were being felt in New South Wales, even if it was only a ripple that lapped at the North Shore. A minute of the Presbytery of Sydney from October 1846, give a hint of these wider disturbances:

In reference to the protests of...the Revd Thomas Mowbray, Minister at Sydney, and [his] final separation from the Synod of Australia the Moderator was instructed to write to Andrew Ross, Teacher at North Shore, whose [school was] superintended by [this Minister], enquiring whether [he wishes his school] to be superintended by this Presbytery as usual.

In 1843 there had occurred what in the history of Scottish Presbyterianism is called the Disruption. As an established church, the Church of Scotland received various benefits from the Government, a situation to which few people objected. On the other hand, there were parishes in which the civil authorities, sometimes the owners of land on which a church was built, claimed the right to nominate the Minister. After long discontent with this arrangement, a number of Ministers broke away in 1843, founding what was called the Free Church. Few of them wanted to forego Government benefits, but all of them believed that no-one but a local congregation should have a say in selecting their Minister. It was at first not at all clear how, if at all, this should affect New South Wales, where there was no question of outside interference in Ministers’ appointments. Some, such as Dr McGarvie at St Andrews, were for affirming their connection with the established church; a few were for the Free Church; the majority, including the Rev Mowbray, whose congregation met in an annexe of the Old Mint building in Macquarie Street, were for maintaining links with both parties – they believed that though the Free Church had the right of it, the quarrel was irrelevant to New South Wales anyway, and there was no point making enemies. Unfortunately for this majority, neither branch of the Scottish church would have them if they had any dealings with the other. There was also another complication: the deed of grant conferring a title to the land at St Leonards on its five trustees contained these words:

Upon Trust for the Erection thereon of a School House, under the Superintendence of the Synod of Australia, in connexion with the Established Church of Scotland.

Every other grant would be in similar terms. An independent Church in New South Wales, if there was to be one – and there would have to be if neither Scottish church would associate with them – would need to persuade the Government to pass legislation and give it title to the grants already made; lobbying might stop that happening. In the end, prudence prevailed: the majority decided to stay with the Church of Scotland.

Thomas Mowbray felt he had to resign on principle, yet, being neutral by conviction, he did not join the breakaway Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia which saw itself as an Australian equivalent of the Free Church: he remained in a minority of one as a church of his own; most of his congregation left him for a Free Church established in Pitt Street. He had, though, been given oversight of the school at St Leonards – what were the views of the school? In November 1846, Mr Ross, then the teacher, intimated his wish to remain under the superintendence of the Presbytery, and so the school did remain, though Ross in turn resigned the following year after unspecified complaints to the Presbytery. In 1849 George Bell and John McMillan were given educational duties in addition to their trusteeship: along with John McGarvie, Minister at St Andrew’s, they were appointed as a Denominational School Board to oversee the school and make sure the teacher was doing his job. As Dr McGarvie would have had the say, it suggests that both men had his confidence.


The 1850s

In 1850 the then trustees – Bell, Blue, French, McMillan, plus Dr McGarvie – signed an improving lease over part of the school land in favour of Jeremiah Cochrane. Cochrane, later described as a gardener, probably knew George Bell already on that account. Here were some funds for the trustees to put away for future improvements and to supplement a salary which, as the Rev James Fullerton was to tell an inquiry later, was ‘not so large as some of the teachers receive in more populous districts’. Cochrane built himself a four-roomed house; the frame of another house was put up, but nothing came of it – there was more supply than demand in St Leonards. Bell and McMillan, however, were optimistic for the area, as appears from a notice in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 20, 1854 – the time now seemed ripe for the project which had failed ten years before:

NORTH SHORE STEAM COMPANY.—Yesterday a numerous meeting of parties connected with the North Shore was held at the Royal Hotel, for the purpose of carrying out the formation of a Steam Company, to run two steamers between Billy Blue’s Point, North Shore, and Sydney, and one steamer between Milson’s Point and Sydney. Mr. T. Ryan was called to the chair, and resolutions were agreed to for forming the company with a capital of £10,000 in 2000 £5 shares, and obtaining an Act of Council to secure a limited liability of shareholders. But one opinion was expressed as to the growing importance of this hamlet, the imperative necessity of establishing further steam communication between the North Shore and Sydney, and the absolute certainty of success that must attend the operations of the Company. Daniel Egan, Esq., M.L.C, Captain Scott, Mr. T. J. Fisher, Mr. R. Hill, Mr. McMillan, Mr. E. Hill, Mr. Bell, Mr. Tucker, Mr. C. Lowe, Mr. Joubert, and several others took part in the proceedings of the meeting. It was stated on the authority of Mr. Williams, the United States’ Consul, that a Company at Boston, established for similar purposes in connecting the City, with a suburb situated as the North Shore is in Sydney, had, in a very short space of time, by speedy and certain steam communication, and low fares, added a hundred-fold to the population of the suburbs, and produced a revenue greatly in excess of the dividend allowed by the Legislature. At the close of the meeting, several persons present increased their number of shares, and although many were absent at the flower show, shares representing £2000 were taken up in the room, and the deposit of £1 per share paid.

Of the people named, Bell and McMillan sponsored a resolution at the meeting, while Richard Hill – like George Bell, an experimental gardener – was elected a provisional director to get the project on the way. At that flower show being held at the same time and credited with drawing away potential investors, Hill was exhibiting (among other things) ‘some very fine Shaddocks, of a new variety (dwarf) which will we predict soon become a favourite in the colony’.

Another business associate of Bell’s was Daniel McInnes, an elder at St Andrews and John McGarvie’s brother-in-law, who lived in Munn Street, Miller’s Point, just a stone’s throw from the McMillans. McInnes was with Bell at a land sale in St Leonards in November; soon he too was involved in the ferry company. By the end of the year the Herald was reporting that:

The population of the North Shore is now considerable. About three minutes’ walk from the ferry on the main road from Blue’s Point, a very large number of excellent shops and dwelling houses have been erected, and one enterprising individual has lately started a “Cremorne Tea Gardens.”

With the growth in the settlement since the school was founded, the number of children in the district had doubled. Thanks to a report of the Legislative Council’s Select Committee on Education we have a snapshot of the school as it was at the end of 1854. There was accommodation for 35 children, the state of the building was fair, there were no toilets – better than the school at Paddington, where the facilities were described as ‘Dirty, filthy, without regard for decency’.

Of the children enrolled, who paid a shilling a week, 46 were Church of England, 5 Church of Rome, 18 other. Average attendance was 50 – on the day the school was inspected, 32 boys and 20 girls were present. Fittings and apparatus were described as ‘insufficient’, books as ‘very insufficient’. One teacher taught all 7 classes; the children attended 6 days a week; their cleanliness was good, their punctuality bad, their regularity and order fair; the school year ran for 6 months.

Maxwell Thomson, the teacher, received £70 in salary (whether this was Government subsidised in unclear) and £69 in fees – equivalent in total to a little more than $40,000. Underpaid, Thomson, who had been schoolmaster since 1852, was also disgruntled. He refused to occupy the two rooms under the schoolhouse – Dr McGarvie, he claimed, had promised that an additional room or rooms would be built for him. The trustees had no wish, or no funds, to honour that agreement – or perhaps the agreement was just in Thomson’s mind. In any case, Dr McGarvie was now dead. Thomson proceeded to let out the lower floor of the school, planning to use the money to rent somewhere else. The trustees, however, refused him permission to sublet; they told Thomson’s tenant to pay the rent direct to them. The previous teachers had lived in the rooms under the school: if Thomson thought they were unfit to live in, it was hardly up to him to rent them out.

Thomson was already chafing under the supervision of Bell and McMillan as members of the Denominational School Board: he thought the teacher’s authority should be unquestioned and that any revenues from school land ought to be his to keep. John Blue, now licensee of the Old Commodore Hotel in Miller Street, was appealed to as a trustee who was not on the Board. He refused to get involved: ‘he was not a Presbyterian’. By which he probably meant that the Scottish precedents which Thomson claimed should hold in New South Wales meant nothing to him.

At this stage, Thomson found the ear of a Government inspector, whose report shows evidence of Thomson’s input:

This school stands in a good situation. The school-house is in fair condition, but is much too small. There are no out-buildings of any kind, and no supply of water. The furniture and apparatus are insufficient for the wants of the school, and there is a great paucity of books.
On the whole, the children read and spell indifferently, and they do not understand what they read.
Their writing is fair. In arithmetic they have made fair progress, but have no knowledge of grammar, and very little of geography. No catechism is taught, but all the children, whether Protestant or Catholic, read the authorized version of the Scriptures. The number of Presbyterian children attending the school is less than one-fourth of the whole. The children are clean and orderly, tolerably regular, but unpunctual.
The Teacher is intelligent, and we believe zealous, but his exertions are checked by the inconsiderate conduct of the Trustees. A residence beneath the school, intended for the Master, is let to a constable, who has converted the play-ground into a garden. The rent is received by the Trustees. As the Master has to pay rent for a dwelling-house, he feels injured by this misappropriation of the school-house. It is questionable whether the Trustees are men of the right stamp to hold property of this description.

Some compromise should have been possible: Rev James Milne tried to broker one, but Maxwell Thomson had become convinced that he was the victim of a church-wide conspiracy, of which Milne was part, to misappropriate the proper entitlements of teachers. A committee of the Legislative Council was set up to enquire. John Dougall, McGarvie’s successor at St Andrew’s, had this to tell the Inquiry:

Mr. Thomson had been, to a certain extent, the protégé of Dr. McGarvie, who had placed him there, (I believe against the wishes, even, of some members of the church), having an opinion of his integrity and ability. He had always had the reputation of a troublesome person, and had made enemies wherever he went. He was at Port Macquarie before, and I believe had got ill-feeling to himself there, and has made things unpleasant for himself also at St. Leonard’s. On coming first to this place, I saw the character of Mr. Thomson, but I had a respect for him, as I thought him a useful teacher. I thought there was an honesty of purpose about him, and disregarded his temper. His failing is a tendency to take extreme views of other people’s conduct, and, by strongly expressing himself, raise enemies. When I first came to the place, I was sorry for Mr. Thomson, and wished to protect him against himself. I therefore advised him to softer measures, and said, I would try what I could do to get things put right for him. These trustees had also been appointed as his local Board, and they had, I may say, aggrieved him very considerably. There is a Mr. Milne, who is appointed by the Presbytery to attend to the spiritual wants of the North Shore, in conjunction with Paddington. He appointed to visit the former place once a fortnight, and to give one sermon at each visit, and to do any duty that was to be done there. The Presbytery joined with me in requesting Mr. Milne to have a talk with these trustees, and endeavour to get both parties to go on more pleasantly; and, if there was any grievance, to use the influence of his character as a clergyman to make things more comfortable. I believe Mr. Milne’s impression was that there was something a little too intractable and meddling about Mr. Thomson.
Shortly after my coming to the Colony, Mr Thomson, from my youthful warmth and the opinion I entertained of him, thought to engage me as champion of his grievances. I thought his notions extreme, and his views impracticable; and while I thought him hardly dealt with I felt cautious of even answering, by writing, the lawyer-like letters I almost every morning received, stimulating to measures, I conceived, most rash and dangerous.

In the end nothing much happened; the trustees remained in control, and the school remained answerable to the local Board. Bell, whom Thomson in his evidence to the Inquiry described condescendingly as ‘a milkman’, was becoming increasingly well-connected on both sides of the Harbour. In 1856 George Bell and Daniel McInnes were elected to the inaugural council of the Horticultural and Agricultural Society, while the Governor expressed himself as delighted to accept the position of President. By mid-1857 both men had been elected directors of the North Shore Steam Ferry Company. By the end of the year McInnes is acting as letting agent for a new investment property of Bell’s, opposite what is now St Leonards Park:

TO LET, Burnbank Cottage, situated at St Leonard’s, North Shore, containing six rooms, with hall, good cellars under the house, with a detached kitchen, stable and coachhouse, fowl-house, with a never-failing well of pure water. There is about one acre and a half laid out as a garden, planted with fruit trees, well cropped vegetables. The house has never been as yet occupied, only lately finished; the distance from the ferry wharf is about twenty minutes’ walk. It adjoins Mr. G. A. Bell’s Nursery Garden. Application to be made at Mr. D. M‘lnnes, Munn-street, Miller’s Point; or to JAMES MALCOLM and CO., 152, George-street, Exchange Buildings. (SMH, 23-10-1857)

As it turned out, McInnes rented the cottage himself, moving his family from Millers Point. He maintained his connection with St Andrew’s: the Rev J. Dougall of that church, who had married Mclnnes’s daughter Agnes there in 1857, travelled to Burnbank to conduct his other two daughters’ weddings in 1858 and 1859.

If Burnbank was a successful investment, the ferry company was not doing so well. There were still watermen who would row passengers across the harbour and had no fixed costs to meet. In May 1858 the fare was reduced to twopence, to ‘enable the working man to visit the beautiful scenery of the North Shore at a moderate rate’. By September 1859 the steamer Herald was put up for sale, with the optimistic assertion that:

This boat has met with much patronage from the residents of the North Shore, and earns a very respectable sum every week, which, under the management of one or two persons who could give their personal services, would prove a snug fortune in a very short time. (SMH, 5-9-1859)

The company’s other two boats, Brothers and Ferry Queen, went back into the control of the Gerrard family, from whom the Steam Ferry Company had acquired them in the first place. In July 1860, at a meeting held in the Hero of Waterloo Hotel in Windmill Street, and after a wait of half an hour for a quorum, the company was wound up. The next, and successful, attempt at founding a ferry company was launched in 1863 by two city financiers, Messrs C. Frith and James Milson (formerly Milsom), junior. Their service, begun in 1865, ran between Milson’s Point and Circular Quay, which the previous companies had considered a secondary route – it reflected perhaps a shift in the centre of gravity of the city, from the older world of the wharves and warehouses to the new financial district.


The new school

By 1863 the trustees were ready to enlarge and improve the school. In September they advertised for a male and a female teacher (at £87 10s and £28 respectively); in October they were ready to open:

EDUCATION.—Notice.—The Presbyterian Denominational School, North Shore, will be OPENED THIS DAY, under the superintendence of Mr. and Mrs. GEORGE. The School Trustees and Local Board are happy in being able to recommend to the families of St. Leonards and neighbourhood, Mr. and Mrs. GEORGE, as being highly qualified and efficient Teachers.
In the Boys’ School the branches taught will comprise those of a sound English education, including book-keeping and geometry.
In the Girls’ School, in addition to the ordinary routine of lessons, instruction will be given every afternoon in plain and fancy needlework.
Arrangements are in progress for the erection of a new and commodious school-house, in which the health of the children, as well as the most approved appliances for facilitating education, will be attended to.
In the meantime the School will be conducted in the present school house by Mr. and Mrs. GEORGE, from whom particulars as to school fees, &c., may be obtained.
     R. ANDERSON, Secretary. (Empire, 1-10-1863)

Robert Anderson, now named as secretary to the school trustees, represented the Church. Anderson’s background was in insurance; he was a member of Rev Adam Thomson’s United Presbyterian congregation in Phillip Street. In 1865, when the Presbyterian factions, all but 5 recalcitrant free church ministers, united to form the Presbyterian Church of NSW, Thomson was elected inaugural Moderator of the General Assembly, and Anderson became Treasurer of the Church. He had no connection with the North Shore beyond his association with the school, but his sons James and Robert both moved to St Leonards and later were prominent figures at St Peter’s. James, who married Thomson’s daughter Isabella in 1872, became Session Clerk.

On Christmas Eve 1863, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the laying of the foundation stone. John McMillan was there; he left his audience in no doubt of the importance of education, though some who knew his history might have wondered if in his case it had not been a mixed blessing:

St. Leonards, North Shore. —On the 21st instant, the foundation-stone of the Presbyterian denominational school-house was laid by Mr. John M‘Millan, senior trustee, in the presence of the other trustees and local board; a large assembly of ladies and gentlemen, the teachers and children of the present school, and others interested in the proceedings. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. J. M‘Gibbon, Moderator of the Synod of Australia. After a school feast provided by the trustees, had been liberally dispensed by the ladies present to the children, the laying of the stone was proceeded with. The Rev. J. M‘Gibbon, having engaged in prayer, addressed the meeting very impressively, touching on the benefits of schools in general, but the Denominational schools in particular, where the proper reading of the Scriptures, under the superintendence of judicious teachers, is calculated by the Divine blessing to lay the foundation of real religion in the hearts of the young. The rev. gentleman paid high and well merited compliments to the trustees and the local board for the energy they had evinced in the management of the affairs of the institution, and for their discernment in the selection of the present teachers, who he was happy to find were giving general satisfaction. He concluded by admonishing parents, teachers, and children present, as to their respective duties in a way which evidently made a deep impression. Mr. R. Anderson next addressed Mr. M‘Millan, presenting him in the name of his colleagues with a handsome trowel, on which was engraved a suitable inscription. Mr. M‘Millan then proceeded to lay the stone with the usual formalities. He remarked that a school in connexion with the Presbyterian Church and Denominational Board of Education had long been wanted in the district of St Leonards: He would not detain them long, but he had a desire to give short account of how the grant was originally procured, and how the funds had been accumulated. It gave him great satisfaction to think that he had been instrumental in securing for the rising generation so great a boon, and he trusted they would give the present very excellent and energetic teachers all the encouragement in their power by placing the young under their care, where they might receive a good education, so as to enable them in their day and generation to become useful and respectable members of society. In July 1844, Sir George Gipps, who had previously been applied to for a acceded to the request, when along with himself, the following trustees were appointed, viz., Messrs. George A. Bell, John Blue, James French, and Robert Lesser. Two of these gentlemen have since resigned, and one removed from the district. Mr. Bell and himself had, however, all along taken the active management, and by leasing portions of the ground they were enabled for many years to derive a small revenue, which was carefully fostered, and they now found themselves in a position to commence the building, leaving a sum in the bank at their credit, which the Government, through the General Board, will supplement in the usual way as the building is proceeded with. The stone was then pronounced to be properly and well laid. In it were deposited a bottle properly sealed, containing the coins of the current reign, the several Sydney newspapers of that day’s date, copies of the Christian Pleader and Presbyterian Magazine, and the names of the trustees and Local Board, the master of the school, and the building contractors. The ceremony was concluded by the school-children singing the National Anthem, and giving three ringing cheers for the Queen, in which they were heartily joined by all present.

By April the school had been named ‘St Peter’s Presbyterian School’, probably a rebranding conceived by the Georges. It was opened on the 5th of July:

St. Peter’s Presbyterian School, North Shore.—Yesterday, this school was formally opened by the Rev.J. M‘Gibbon, Moderator of the Synod of Australia, in the presence of the children, several of the parents, the two teachers, the Rev. Messrs. Atchison and Milne, members of presbytery, and the three trustees, viz., Messrs. J. M‘Millan, G. A. Bell, and Robert Anderson. The children were mustered in the old school, and marched, at 12 o’clock, into the new building, of which they were delighted to take possession. After singing and prayer, the Rev. the Moderator proceeded to address the meeting, commending the trustees for their praiseworthy exertions and perseverance in carrying out to completion so fine a schoolhouse, which, he remarked, was a credit to them and an ornament to the locality. Parents, teachers, and children were then severally exhorted by the rev. speaker in a very impressive manner, and their relative duties clearly defined. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the pupils were plentifully regaled with cake, lollipops, and oranges, provided by the trustees, and all departed well pleased with their share in the day’s proceedings. (SMH. 6-7-1864)

The Georges became members of the first North Sydney congregation. So did the McInnes family. They moved out of Burnbank Cottage after Daniel McInnes died in 1863, but it was on the occasion of a McInnes double wedding that the name St Peter’s was first recorded for the church:

On the 11th instant, at St. Peter’s (Presbyterian) Church, St. Leonards, by the Rev. John Dougall, WILLIAM PALMER MOORE solicitor, eldest son of Mr. Robert White Moore, of Berry-street, St. Leonards, to OSSELLA, youngest daughter of the late Mr. DANIEL McINNES, of St. Leonards. No cards.
On the 11th instant, at St. Peter’s Church, St. Leonards, by the Rev. J. Dougall, Mr. DANIEL McINNES, son of the late Mr. Daniel McInnes, of St. Leonards, to MARGARET HILL, fifth daughter of Mr. JOHN THOMSON, late of Glenboig and Blackfaulds, Lanarkshire, Scotland. (SMH, 18-6-68)

The Georges continued running the school as a husband and wife team till the end of 1869: after that, their names no longer appear on the lists of local residents. But new teachers were found, and a new trustee had taken the place of John McMillan. About the time the new school opened, McMillan had given up his business interests in Millers Point in favour of property on the North Shore; he was living now on 60 acres (24ha) at Lane Cove which he called ‘Comely Park’, ‘tending a few beehives, his orchard, and numerous cats’ – and collecting rent.

The new name was Henry Allan, tenant since 1867 of Burnbank Cottage; neighbour, probably cousin, of George Bell. They had arrived in the colony on the same ship; Allan had been successful enough as a pastoralist to live now on has investments; he could describe his occupation as ‘gentleman’ for the rest of his life. This gave him plenty of time to concern himself with church affairs.

The end of the school year in 1870 was a time for congratulations all round:

ST PETER’S SCHOOL, NORTH SHORE.—The annual distribution of prizes to the children who attend the above school, took place on Friday last, in the presence of Messrs Anderson, Allan, and Bell (the trustees), and a number of visitors. Though the weather was extremely inclement, the muster of scholars was very good. Under the direction of Mr Gilchrist, their teacher, the children sang several part songs in a very pleasing and satisfactory manner, and a number of them delivered recitations in a manner that elicited much commendation from the gentlemen and ladies present. After the prizes had been handed over to the successful competitors, Mr Bell distributed a large quantity of confectionery among the children. Mr Robert Anderson, on behalf of the trustees, then presented Mr Gilchrist with a cheque for five guineas as a mark of their appreciation of his tuitional labours, since his appointment to the management of the school at the beginning of the year. There was also presented to the assistant teacher, Miss Jessie M‘Diarmid, a large and elegantly bound Bible, as a parting gift from the trustees on her retiring from her duties in connection with the school. This lady also received from the children a neat present, accompanied by an address in which they testified their regard for her. The Rev. J. S. Muir (minister of St Peter’s Church), the trustees, and two of the visitors having expressed their gratification at the evidences of progress which had that day been made manifest, the proceedings were concluded with the National Anthem, three cheers for the Queen, the trustees, and their teachers. (SMH, 26-12-70)

The stone schoolhouse in the early 1870s


The public school is established

Not everyone, however, considered St Peter’s school such a success. At a public meeting held on the 14th of March 1870, William Tunks, Mayor of St Leonards, urged the establishment of a public school, on the grounds that:

At present many of the children of the neighbourhood, at great risk and cost, were sent over to the model schools in Sydney, as a superior education could be obtained there than could be got at the Denominational school at North Shore. It was therefore an act of self-defence on the part of the inhabitants of North Shore to make an effort towards the establishment of a Public school. The population of the neighbourhood was increasing very fast, and there were now about 3000 people within a radius of two miles from the wharf. Surely a sufficient number of children could be found to attend a Public school as would make it worth the while of a better qualified teacher to take the management of it.

though, mindful of his constituency as Mayor and local member of Parliament, he hastened to add that:

in saying that he did not wish to cast any imputation upon the Denominational schools (SMH, 15-3-1870)

Mr Johnson, an Inspector of Public Schools,

at the request of one or two gentlemen, pointed out the advantage which a Public school would be in that neighbourhood. He showed that with the present small attendance at the Denominational schools, the children could not receive more than elementary education, and if a parent wished to supplement that he would have to send his child across to one of the schools in Sydney. But if a Public school was established, and the children could be collected in it in sufficient numbers, they would be able to get a fourth or even a fifth class, and then there would be sufficient inducements for a first-class teacher to be placed in charge. No teacher worth his salt would ever take charge of one of the schools at present at St. Leonards.

The reservations of Messrs Tunks and Johnson may have been shared by the trustees. The Public Schools Act of 1866 had opened the possibility that denominational schools could be transferred to the public system. According to William Tunks, writing in 1872, the committee set up to promote the establishment of a public school on the North Shore considered:

amongst other things—it was generally understood—a proposition, or a hint, from some of the Trustees of the Presbyterian Denominational School, as to handing over that school to the Council of Education at a valuation...

When denominational schools had in effect been the only schools available to a community, they had mediated a mutual support between it and the parent church. The church, fulfilling its Biblical obligation to clothe the intellectual nakedness of the children in its care, was at the same time drawing those children and their families into the ambit of the church. Now that public education was becoming widely available, Mr Tunks went on to point out, denominational schools would find themselves in a different position:

The report of the Council of Education for the year ending 1869 showed that the school alluded to had on its roll seventy eight children, consisting of the following Denominations, viz.: Church of England, 45, Presbyterians, 10, Wesleyans, 13, and other Protestants, 4. So that if the Presbyterians of the North Shore were called upon to pay the expenses incidental to keeping up a Denominational school they would do so principally to educate the children of other sects. The central position of the school, the supposed conditions on which it could be handed over to the Council of Education, the quantity of land and the general favourable circumstances of the case, recommended the proposal as most advantageous to the district and that as many children would have been drawn to this centre as would have justified the appointment of a first-class teacher. (SMH, 12-4-1872)

In 1872 the trustees petitioned the General Assembly for permission to transfer the school property to the Council of Education (the State body). The Assembly referred the question to a committee; nothing happened. In 1874 the trustees leased the school to the Council of Education; the Presbytery of Sydney vetoed the lease; the trustees appealed to the General Assembly. Before the Assembly, Henry Allan, who was there in any case as an elder representing St Peter’s, argued that the lease was valid. Dr Gilchrist, speaking for the Presbytery, felt that the land had been given for a Presbyterian school, and that was that – no other use could be permissible. Others argued that by withdrawing state aid the Government had broken its side of the bargain, and the Church, consequently, could do as it liked. In the end, the Assembly decided it would not consider the validity of the lease, but overturned the Presbytery’s decision on the grounds that the question of leasing church property had nothing to do with the Presbytery. The consequence was that in 1874:

The first Public school instituted in the township of St Leonards was opened on Monday last, under the superintendence of Mr. J. A. Plummer (late master of the Camperdown Public school), in the premises recently leased from the Presbyterian Church. (SMH, 4-11-1874)

The children, presumably, remained the same as had attended St Peter’s School, augmented by some at least of those who had previously crossed the Harbour in search of a higher quality of instruction. At St Peter’s, congregational meetings on July 27, 1875 and September 23, 1875 adopted motions authorizing the respective trustees to seek approval for selling both the school (described by them as ‘premises in which the Public School of St Leonards is conducted’) and the manse lands to the Council of Education – that is, the whole of the triangle bounded by Blues Point Road, Lavender Street and Miller Street. The land granted to the School Trust was the southern half of this block, the Manse Trust the northern half. In respect of the manse lands, the petition to the General Assembly says:

That Petitioners having already erected a Manse on a vacant portion of the Church allotment in every way more suitable for the purpose, and the said Manse allotment not being suitable, and not being required for the erection of a Manse, are anxious to dispose of the same to the best advantage, and apply the proceeds, after payment of expenses, to defraying a portion of the cost of the existing Manse.

Perhaps we sense a personal appeal here from Henry Allan as a member of the Manse Trust: he had advanced £885 (about $200,000) towards the construction of the Manse, and as yet had seen none of it come back. Henry Allan and George Bell were trustees of both the properties; the School Trust was completed by Robert Anderson and Captain Robert T. Moodie, a shipping agent known to Anderson in insurance and social circles: along with Allan and Anderson he had been on the organising committee of the Robert Burns Centenary Ball. Captain James Bremner, a marine surveyor, made up the Manse Trust, along with Alexander Thomson, married to Daniel McInnes’s eldest daughter Ann. Rev John Dougall had married them at Burnbank in 1860; Henry Allan was living there now.

On the 31st of October the petition came before the Assembly. They decided to appoint a committee to consider the question and report back – but the moment had passed. On January 28, 1876, tenders were called for building a school and a house for the teacher; in February work began on a site opposite the present North Sydney Station. The work, however, if it was designed as a whole, proceeded slowly: in July of 1876 a foundation stone was laid with appropriate ceremony, but it was not till October of 1878 that the school building was complete. More likely, as comparison of the 1878 engraving with the Holtermann photo suggests, the infants’ accommodation in Blue Street was completed first, while the primary children remained in the old school.

Mr Plummer remained in charge until the end of 1877, when an offer he was unable to refuse – £430 plus a residence (about $100,000) enticed him into government service in South Australia. At St Leonards he had maintained the lifestyle he felt entitled to by moonlighting at the School of Arts, teaching writing and arithmetic at 10 shillings a quarter. There was an affectionate send-off:

The teachers and scholars of St. Leonards Public school presented Mr. Isaac A. Plummer, head master, with a silver-plated tea and coffee service, bearing a suitable inscription, as a memento of their esteem for his services, on his leaving New South Wales to take charge of an important Government school in South Australia. During the short time Mr. Plummer has had the management of the Public school at the North Shore, the number of scholars attending has more than doubled, and his departure may therefore be considered a great loss to the locality. (SMH, 4-1-1878)

For his part, Mr Plummer said that ‘St. Leonards was to him a paradise, and its people were the kindest he had ever met.’

By this time, with the increasing number of children, conditions for Mr Plummer’s school within St Peter’s schoolhouse must have been something less than paradisal – a fact which had not escaped public notice:

Sir,—In the report of the school inspectors for the Sydney district, as given in the report of the Council of Education for 1875-6, at page 102, there occurs the following serious statement:—“The 39 existing public schools afford accommodation for 6000 pupils: the number in actual attendance is 9820 children; the schools at Botany Road (Waterloo), Newtown, Surry Hills, Pyrmont, and St. Leonards, are conducted in non-vested premises, they are literally crammed with children; the accommodation is for the most part of a wretched character, and the work of education is carried on amidst serious drawbacks. Indeed many of the other schools of the city are overcrowded; lavatories, weather-sheds, hat-rooms, and lobbies are utilized for teaching purposes; the atmosphere in these is close and stifling, and thus serious injury is being done to the health of hundreds of children.”
Since the issue of the above report the Council of Education have opened one school in Sussex-street, and another is in course of erection at Newtown, still we have over 9000 pupils crammed in schools only having accommodation for 6000. Botany Road, Surry Hills, Pyrmont, and St. Leonards, and many other schools of this city are still working serious injury to the health of hundreds of children. (SMH, 22-1-1877)

When the new school finally came, not only was it everything the community could have wished, according, at least, to The Australian Town and Country Journal (30-11-1878), it had been built, like so many of major buildings in the neighbourhood, by a lifelong member of St Peter’s:

WE give an engraving this week of the new Public School, St. Leonards. On the North Shore handsome and commodious residences and business places have been erected upon every hand; there has been an improvement in the church architecture and accommodation till now the locality may boast of superiority in this respect to the other suburbs; and now with this public school the round of improvements is completed. As may be seen from the sketch it is a first-class edifice, and is quite on a par with the architectural advancement of the North Shore. For a long time the Public school was conducted in a rather unsuitable building, belonging to the Presbyterian body; but the late rapid growth of the population necessitated a change, and the building now illustrated was the result. The school stands upon an elevated piece of land about 1½ acres in extent, and the situation is both picturesque and healthy, while it commands from every point a most enchanting view of the harbour and city. The approach from Blue-street is of an improved style, and an expansive lawn in course of formation extends along the whole front of the building. In the rear are the playgrounds, a little more than a quarter of an acre in extent, but now, however, in a rather rugged state. The conveniences are on an improved plan, and the well-furnished lavatories beneath the verandahs in the rear are backed up by an unfailing supply of water. The building is well planned, and thorough ventilation and good light have been made a special feature of its construction. The interior of the school, even when crowded with the scholars, is as fresh as any point on the North Shore, and the result is found in the healthy appearance of the children, and their unusual mental activity; the supply of school furniture is good, and there is nothing whatever in the discipline or standard of the school to denote the absence of a board. The teacher is Mr. John Cusack, who holds the highest certificates from the South Australian, Victorian, and our own educational departments. The Council of Education have in this case made a good selection, and it is just to the master to say that his painstaking endeavours to raise the standard of the school has been very successful, though he has had but twelve months to put his method into practice. When he took charge the school had 300 on the roll, but in the space of twelve months the number has been raised to 400, with a daily attendance of very little under it. Euclid, algebra, mensuration, and Latin have been added to the curriculum, yet at the last examination, with this additional work to set going, the general efficiency was reported excellent by the inspector; in fact there was an improvement to note. Miss Connor has charge of the infant school, numbering 146; the discipline is good, indicating every fitness for the post on the part of the teacher. Miss Thompson is assistant in the primary school, and the master speaks likewise in her praise for diligence and adaptability to her profession. Sewing is taught every day by Mrs. Hume. A knowledge of drawing is gratuitously imparted to the more advanced pupils, and fair progress is reported. The children of the Mayor of the borough, Mr. Ives, and those of other of the principal residents are to be found among the scholars, and the utmost satisfaction has been expressed at the progress already to be noted. The teacher appears to exercise a beneficial influence over the whole school, and we much mistake if it is not found in the after life of the present pupils that here they learned by precept and example all what was necessary to make them good and useful citizens. The style of the building is the early English, now being again generally adopted in the United Kingdom. The design originally was for three departments, but only two have so far been erected. The primary school is 53 feet by 24 feet, with an adjoining classroom 15 by 15 feet. The infant school is 40 feet by 21 feet, and there are means of adding a department exclusively for the accommodation of the very youngest children. The building has cost £3700 and the ground £800; while a very large sum had to be paid for a teacher’s residence, standing in front of the school, in Blue-street. The architect for the work was Mr. G. Allan Mansfield, architect for the Council of Education, and the contractors were Messrs. W. Eaton and Son, Neutral Bay.


After the school

The final separation of the school from St Peter’s raised financial problems for the Church and management problems for the trustees. The stone schoolhouse was there, and yet had no obvious use, other than as a school; it could continue to house the Sunday School, but that left it unproductive for the rest of the week. The remainder of the school land was not in high demand; some of it was gradually built on, though the ‘paddock’ on the corner of Lavender Street and Miller Street was to remain vacant for the next 50 years.

George Bell died in 1881; Henry Allan retired; by the time new trustees came to be appointed from the congregation in 1882 there was only one trustee already in office: William Cochran, who must have been appointed after 1875. He could have been the brother of Jeremiah Cochrane, to whom the trustees leased part of the school land in 1850 (the difference in spelling means nothing in a non-official 19th century document); he may have been a member of the first St Peter’s congregation. Jeremiah had been on the North Shore since 1856 at least; by 1861 William and family were established in ‘the second house above the cottage’, on Milsom’s Bay. By 1864 they were at Careening Cove, not far from William’s brother-in-law, Benjamin Mountcastle. He lived in Glen Burn Cottage, near where the northernmost block of Greenway Flats now stands, a substantial house ‘containing seven rooms, detached kitchen, with servant’s room, store-room, wash-house, cow-house; a well-stocked garden, and an abundant supply of the best water.’

The two families were close: Cochran gave his eldest son the name Benjamin after his brother-in-law, and managed a branch of Mountcastle’s hat shop at 64 Market Street (where Myer now is) – the main shop was in George Street near Wynyard. In the early 60s both men were active on the committee of the Temperance Alliance, selling tickets, for example, for its annual picnic on Easter Monday 1862 – an excursion to Middle Harbour on the steamer Waratah, with a good band, tea-making facilities, and soft drinks at Sydney prices, all for 2/6 for adults and 1/6 for children (something like $33 and $20).

Cochran, however, seems always to have had a short-tempered side to him, as might be gathered from the wording of two advertisements that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in the 50s:

TEN SHILLINGS REWARD.—LOST, a Newfoundland Dog ; answers to the name of Lion. Whoever will return the same to Mr. W. COCHRAN, 48, Market-street, will receive the above. N.B.—Parties are cautioned not to keep him after this notice. (25-3-1856)

CAUTION.—All Persons are CAUTIONED from purchasing the BOAT ORWELL, advertised by James Small to be sold by auction—as they will purchase a law-suit. WILLIAM COCHRAN. (28-3-1859)

Perhaps it was amicable, perhaps it was due to a family disagreement, but at the end of 1867 Cochran took over the shop in Market Street and moved his family into town. He may have sold his North Shore property to buy the business. Compared with his brother-in-law’s advertisements, the ones Cochran now inserts have a staccato quality that suggests a man with a certain snap in his voice:

HATS. HATS. HATS.—Just landed a choice selection of the most fashionable Black and Drab Hats. B. MOUNTCASTLE, Manufacturing Hatter, 352, George-street, under the Big Hat.
No. 64. No. 64, No. 64, MARKET-STREET. WOODROW’S, Woodrow’s, No. 64, Market-street. WOODROW’S best Black HATS at COCHRAN’S, 64, Market-st. All the new styles at Cochran’s. (SMH, 14-3-1868)

His connection was now with St Andrew’s, Kent Street; ties with St Peter’s were not established, or re-established, till the Cochrans moved back to live at ‘Rocklea’ in High Street in the middle 70s. When Ada Cochran was married at the family home in April 1878, the wedding was celebrated by Rev R. Robertson of St Peter’s. Rev Roger McKinnon began his ministry in September; William Cochran was already a trustee of the school. In 1881, the Presbyterian Church Property Management Act made the Minister a trustee ex officio. Roger McKinnon was a man who liked his own way and had a keen sense of the value of money, William Cochran a man with a short temper. For the first two meetings under the new arrangement, all was well; at the third Cochran protested at McKinnon taking the chair. He was

remonstrated with by Messrs. Thomson and Grant for introducing obstruction and personalities, after which Mr. Anderson gave notice of motion for next meeting “That the Trustees take action under the Presbyterian Church Property Management Act of 1881 to have Mr. Cochrane removed from the trust.” (School Trust Minutes, 7-9-1882)

At the next meeting, it was moved that Rev McKinnon take the chair whenever he was present. Cochran lasted another year. When his son Walter subsequently married William Eaton’s daughter, the wedding announcement could hardly have been more pointed:

COCHRAN-EATON.—October 1, at “Ashton,” by the Rev. Dr. Moore-White, Walter W., second son of William Cochran, of Sydney, to Maggie, younger daughter of William Eaton, St. Leonards. (SMH, 9-10-1884)

Eaton was an elder at St Peter’s and Rev McKinnon was Minister; usually the minister of the bride’s church would conduct a wedding; the choice of Dr Moore-White from St Andrew’s, Kent Street, looks like the sort of gesture William Cochran would make.

From 1883 to 1889, one of the expenses charged to the School Trust each year was a bursary of £12.10.0 ($2,500) towards keeping Robert McKinnon, the Minister’s son, at Sydney Grammar and later at St Andrew’s College – not something a man of William Cochran’s independence would necessarily have accepted without a question. But with the Minister in the chair, the finances of the School Trust no longer had any history separate from the general revenues of the church.


Another school in the stone hall

The stone schoolhouse, however, did house a school for another ten years – from 1880 to 1889. This was the St. Leonards High School, first announced in two advertisements that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 6, 1880:

A CIVIL SERVICE CLASS is being formed at St. Leonards High School, Miller & Lavender sts. Vacancies.

EVENING CLASSES.—At St. Leonards High School, the Principal has Vacancies. Terms and particulars applction.

The school was run by a Mr Carroll, who had taken the lease in March. At their first meeting on February 28, 1882, the new trustees discovered the schoolmaster to be considerably behind with his rent (£50 per annum for the school and the master’s residence); he assured them that ‘he would be in a position to pay off his arrears in a very short time’ Carroll was given till the end of the quarter to make good on his promise. Meanwhile he continued to advertise for students:

St. Leonards High School, Lavender Bay. Vacancies for day and evening pupils. Term commences April 8. Prospectus on application. (SMH, 6-4-1882)

By May 11, Carroll had paid by cheque and the cheque had bounced – he asked for a few days’ grace. By June he had come good. At the meeting in September:

The Treasurer reported that Mr Carroll’s backwardness in paying rent for the school building had become so troublesome that he had intended to ask the Trustees to take decided action in reference thereto but that Mr Carroll had immediately before this meeting handed in cheques &c. covering rent to the 30th June with a post dated cheque for £12.10.0 for rent to 30th September. After Mr Cochrane had guaranteed the payment of this cheque by his endorsement it was agreed to allow Mr Carroll’s tenancy to continue. (School Trust Minutes, 7-9-1882)

By May of the next year the trustees had lost patience. Carroll threatened to sue: the lease ran for three years, he claimed – but no evidence could be found. If William Cochran had still been of a mind to protect Carroll from the consequences of his actions, he was no longer a trustee. By October Carroll was gone, and the trustees had another offer, from a Mr Langford Baker, a master at Newington College:

To rent schoolroom and cottage at the rate of £50 per year for the months of November and December, and £75 per year for the year commencing Jan. 1st 1884 allowing the Trustees the use of the schoolroom on such nights as they might require it. (School Trust Minutes, 5-10-1883)

The offer was accepted, and Baker lost no time, advertising already on October 20 that the school would re-open in November. It was ‘uphill work’ as the trustees noted, but though Baker had to ask for rent relief on more than one occasion, the school remained open for six years, even fielding a cricket team against Shore in its last days:

Sydney Church of England Grammar School and St. Leonard’s High School, played on ground of the former on Friday. Scores—C. E. G. S., 194 (B. Clarke 23, Kendall not out 46, Wallace 28); St. Leonard’s High School, 46 (Hogg 16, Moodie 10). B. Clarke bowled well for the winners, taking 7 wickets for 21 runs. (SMH, 11-11-1889)

Perhaps this was the high point: by the end of the school year in 1889, everyone seemed to realize that time was up:

On Tuesday last an interesting ceremony took place at the St Leonards High School, when the pupils to exemplify the high appreciation in which they hold their headmaster, Mr. L. A. Baker, presented him with a piece of plate, bearing a suitable inscription. Mr. Baker in receiving the presentation, thanked his pupils for the honour they had conferred upon him, and trusted that the good feeling which now existed would continue. Mr. Crawford, the assistant-master, was also the recipient of a testimonial from the boys. (SMH, 30-12-1889)

Though Baker held the lease and paid his rent till the end of June, there is no record that the school continued into 1890. Baker himself went on to teach at Shore (though not, perhaps, to coach cricket). What became of Mr Carroll is not recorded. The building was subsequently leased to a Miss Russell, for purposes at present unknown, and from 1895 to Russell Sinclair, younger brother of the Superintendent of St Peter’s Sunday School.

As an interesting footnote, there was also, briefly, a St. Leonards High School for Girls, which had no connection of any kind with the school in St Peter’s Stone Hall. It was opened on February 1, 1888 in a house called Abbotsleigh in Mount Street (where the Mary MacKillop Centre now stands) by Miss Helen Veitch-Brown and Miss Helen Nelson, who had just closed a school in Adelaide.

Montaubar-terrace, Mount-street.
After the Christmas Holidays Miss VEITCH-BROWN and Miss NELSON will re-open the school known as Abbotsleigh, hitherto conducted by Miss Marian Clarke. (SMH, 24-12-1887)

Miss Clarke had taken her school Abbotsleigh to Parramatta. It subsequently moved to Wahroonga, where it has remained till the present day. The St Leonards High School for Girls may have inherited Abbotsleigh’s premises, but did not share its longevity. By mid-year, Misses Veitch-Brown and Nelson were bankrupt (eventually paying just eight and one-sixth pence in the pound). Nothing daunted, however, they re-launched the school under the name ‘Torsonee’ – the name of a place in the Scottish borders close to the home of Sir Walter Scott. The name proved troublesome to the press – the school’s advertisements appeared several times under the name ‘Torsonce’ and once ‘Porsonce’ (the flourished copperplate T being mistaken for a P by typesetters):

“TORSONCE,” Mount-street, St. Leonards, N.S.W. This school has been recently opened under the joint superintendence of Miss Veitch-Brown, of London and Edinburgh (late head mistress of Queen’s College, Barbadoes), and of Miss H. Nelson, who holds honor certificates from the University of Cambridge and from the South Kensington Art and Science Department. The school is healthily situated, and is easily accessible from Sydney by ferry and tram. For prospectus, testimonials, and farther particulars apply to Miss VEITCH-BROWN, “Torsonce,” St. Leonards, N.S.W. (Australian Town and Country Journal, 10-11-1888)

This school survived, first in Mount Street and later in Berry Street until 1901. In the May of that year, Miss Veitch-Brown sold up and left for England, and the school did not re-open. While it operated, though, there had been a certain connection with St Peter’s, as appears in this paragraph from 1896:

In connection with the Saturday Hospital Fund a sale of work was held at Torsonee, Berry-street. North Sydney, a college for young ladies, conducted by the Misses Veitch-Brown and Nelson. There were in all four stalls, tastefully stocked and arranged by the pupils, who have evinced great interest in this charitable movement. The refreshment stall was loaded with tempting confectionery, and presided over by the Misses Amy Bice, Bessie Carment, and Hilda Kendall; fancywork stall No. 1, was in charge of the Misses Lucy Cotter, Aggie Smith, and Jole Pitt ; fancywork stall No. 2, by the Misses Lily Marker, Haidee Pitt, and Gladys Thomas; and the flower stall by the Misses Ethel Hopkins, Muriel Johnston, and Elsa Hale. The gross proceeds of the sale amounted to £10 10s. (SMH, 21-4-1896)

The 18-year-old Bessie Carment helping with the refreshments was the daughter of David Carment, a long-time member of the St Peter’s Committee of Management. It would have been a short walk from Strathearn Villa, the Carments’ home in Whaling Road, to the school at 72 Berry Street. Bessie Carment herself was to become a life-long member of St Peter’s.