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The Founding Of Wesley College

Posted 1 May 2015
Wesley College

This time next year the Wesley College community will be in the midst of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of our foundation. It was a bold and grand initiative of the Methodist Church to establish Wesley College in Melbourne. To many residing in the young but booming colony, education was seen as a great improver of the individual and, as a consequence, society generally. In 1866, Wesley College welcomed its first pupils and this has happened every year for nearly 150 years. 

The College as an entity was, in fact, founded in 1865 and before that in the 1850s various committees and individuals worked to create of a new school. In truth, the idea of Wesley College became a reality in 1866 when a very young boy called Frederick Binks walked into the newly-built Wesley College on St Kilda Road and made history by becoming our first pupil. I don’t think our founders or Binks could ever have imagined the Wesley College which we know today - the leading and innovative, coeducational, multi-campus institution with more than 3,100 students.

In the Prospectus and Annual Report for Wesley College Melbourne 1866, we find that the original educational objectives of Binks' day still have great resonance:

The object of this Institution is to provide a Classical and General Education of the highest order, such as to fit a young gentleman (Wesley was a boys’ school in those days) for mercantile life, for the public service, and for matriculation in the University.

And later:

The College will be conducted upon the principles of the Wesleyan Church; the constant aim being to give a liberal and Christian education. 

Today, as Wesley College as approaches its 150 birthday, that line, "the constant aim being to give a liberal and Christian education" is still relevant, but perhaps expressed differently. The enduring values remain important in defining who we are.

The reputation of Wesley College has been built on the simple fact that it has always been committed to being an innovative and leading educational institution, providing an education that encourages every individual student to flourish and be prepared for the challenges and opportunities of life after school.

As our website notes “Add to this an awareness of self, an ability to think critically, creatively and independently, with resilience, a generosity and a preparedness to act with others' interests at heart, then we are close to the essence of the quintessential Wesley student.”

The idea of fair-play and making a meaningful contribution to enriching the wider community figures prominently in the character of Wesley students and alumni. 

Many decades ago, the College took the bold step to become a coeducational school in order to fully prepare girls and boys for life after school.

In 2016, the College will celebrate its sesquicentenary and acknowledge the vision of the founders of the College.  There have been many great moments, indeed milestones, in the history of Wesley which highlight the desire of each generation to honour the vision of the founders in developing a great school which prepares its students to achieve their best in life.

In 1866, the College motto was confirmed as Sapere Aude translated as Dare to be Wise - this line expresses very neatly the aspirations for student and adult life.  

Kenneth Park, Curator of Collections

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