Something still remains of Wesley in 1893
Wesley’s Curator of Collections, Kenneth Park, discovers a small historical treasure The College Archives are full of all sorts of fascinating historical records and objects that all help in telling the story of Wesley College. When the 1989 fire devastated the College, many people worked hard to rebuild the collection. It is through the generosity of members of the College, and indeed the wider community, in donating items that we have been able to develop this important College resource.
One of my favourite objects is a little publication titled In and About Wesley College. Published in 1893, it provides an extraordinary insight into Wesley at that time. The newly appointed Headmaster of the day was Frank Goldstraw, who, amongst his many qualities, was a very fine artist, and this is reflected in the carefully selected illustrations featured in the booklet. The booklet lauds Wesley’s splendid building: “a handsome edifice in the Italian style, [it] possesses a noble façade with loggia and a tower at each extremity, from the windows of which a cycloramic view can be obtained. All the rooms are lofty and well provided with light and ventilation.”
Indeed, the opening paragraph is worthy of full reproduction:
“Effects of Environment Upon the Mind”
“One of the most prevalent assumptions in regard to the work of a school is the idea that all the training is acquired within the walls and little notice is taken of the possibilities of educational influences acting on the boy’s mind when, at recess or after school, he surrenders himself, heart and soul, to the active impulses which have been temporarily under restraint. If he has been doing honest, hard work within, how important it is that what meets his eye at that time of relaxation shall have a soothing and cheering effect! How necessary in all cases that the surroundings of his leisure time shall be such as will supplement and not counteract the wholesome influences of tuition! There can be no doubt that on all minds, and especially
on those of the young, an entourage of a mean or sordid nature will have a belittling effect, while the charms on all minds of waving boughs and bright flowers and verdure must subtly work toward a refining and ennobling result…All the requirements mentioned are admirably fulfilled by the position and surroundings of Wesley College.”
The situation of the College is described as healthy and it is noted that there has never been an epidemic, and that the College hospital is little used! How very reassuring.
Many words are expended on cataloguing the pluses: the magnificent grounds boasting an orchard, kitchen garden and full sized tennis court. It notes unashamedly that “the College smiles complacently upon the best-appointed cricket ground in the Colony.” Easy access to trams and trains is highlighted, and special mention is made of the closeness to the sea baths in St Kilda and, of course, the rowing facilities at Albert Park Lake.
The staff list for 1894 provides a clear indication as to the educational priorities of the day with masters in Classics, Modern Languages (French and German), Science, Commercial, Elocution, Drawing and Painting, Gymnastics, Music and, rather curiously, a Lecturer in Ambulance Work, and of course a Drill Instructor.
In addition, the College provided a class for those preparing for the Articled Clerks’ exams. Shorthand was available. “Scriptural instruction of a perfect unsectarian character is given to all whose parents do not object.”
In matters of discipline, the object was to “show a more excellent way”. Corporal punishment, used only as a last resort, is administered by the Headmaster alone.
The Headmaster, his wife and a “competent” matron supervise boarders. Rather charmingly, to ensure the wholesomeness of the boarders’ diet, all the fruit and vegetables used are grown in the College garden and the milk is supplied from the College dairy.
The system of prefects, properly administered, helps maintain a sound school environment so as to prevent bullying and improper games, and to “encourage the weak and nervous boys”.
Great emphasis is laid upon the virtue of sport as administered by Games Committees. The idea of playing decently, losing decently and winning decently is much encouraged. “Education is the art of forming men: it has three objects; to train for life, to train the intellect, and to train the body - and the greatest of these is the life. But life, that is, character, cannot be trained directly. A boy “will not become gentle and chivalrous and true by being told that he ought to be so”, he must be surrounded by influences which draw out those feelings: his relations with other boys must be influenced.”
In rounding off the character of the pupil, a vast array of general recreational pursuits was offered. A Natural History Society conducted rambles through forests and along the seashore. It arranged visits to factories and scientific institutions. The society supported a museum with collections pertaining to the biology and geology of the Colony, as well as “specimens of the workmanship of natives of Australia and the South Seas”. The College Chronicle provided a place for literary practice. There was a Glee Club, which
not only offered a source of social relaxation, but also an opportunity for the training of the voice. Literary pursuits were also encouraged - “As boys will read light literature of some sort, and as their choice
is not always wise, Form Libraries were instituted some years ago, and from these every boy may borrow, out of a carefully chosen collection of works of fiction, books of historical or social interest.”
All this was available for a day boy for 4 guineas (or for a boarder it was 16 guineas) per term, plus extras at 2 guineas each for Practical Chemistry, instrumental music, drawing and painting. You could also do gymnastics and elocution for one guinea apiece. Consistent with its practice since its foundation in 1866, Wesley offered scholarships, and so there were opportunities for boys to attend the College at greatly reduced cost.
Today Wesley College is a very different school and yet many of the features and aspirations of the school that are highlighted in this 1893 document still have resonance. Wesley College continues striving to create a safe, secure and inspiring environment where young people can flourish and grow as thinking individuals.