< Early Canberra Government Schools
Yumburra West [1885 - 1895]
Yeumburra (or Yeumberra, Yuumburra, Yumburra,) was one of several large runs on the Yass plains founded by sheep and cattle graziers in the 1830s, within a decade of European exploration. Charles Hall, formerly a sheep superintendent with the Australian Agricultural Company, bought the property in 1853 and turned it into merino stud. He had eight children with his wife, Hannah, and ran the station for thirty years until his death in 1883. Charles and Hannah's only son, Charles Castle Hall, took over the management as a 16-year-old in 1875.
In 1860 the property had 1,780 freehold acreage and a frontage of 1¾ miles on the Murrumbidgee River. Sixteen miles from Yass, it ran 6000 sheep and 300 cattle in 'abundantly watered, beautiful grazing country'. Its adjacent leasehold, which had 10 miles river frontage, was capable of running 9000 sheep and 500 cattle. The property had a fine brick and stone homestead with a shingled roof, detached servants' dwellings, various workers' cottages and outbuildings, a good garden and an orchard. Like other large stations, Yeumburra was almost a self-contained village.
The 1861 Land Act succeeded in releasing large swathes of land formerly occupied by squatters through 'permissive occupancy'. Thereafter, smaller acreages, surveyed by the government, were offered via conditional purchase to 'free selectors', one condition being the selector's residency on the land. Yeumburra's freehold acreage could not be resumed in this way, but the land around it became more closely settled in the 1860s and 1870s. Parents among this generation of station workers and free selectors made the first moves to obtain a public school in the district.
(Trove: Empire, 7th Jan 1860; Sheila Hall, Yeumburra and the Hall Family: a story of the Hall family, founders of a bank, a newspaper and a fine merino stud, Auburn NSW, 1979)
The quest for a school
In 1883, Thomas Leonard, the owner of a free selector's block midway between Yeumburrra and The Mullion, led a group of local parents in moves to have a public school opened by the NSW Council of Education. Leonard was son-in-law of The Mullion's pioneering squatter, John Ledger, being the husband of his eldest daughter, Marion. The parents of five school-aged children, Tom and Marion Leonard offered to house the school in a dwelling on their own land, for a nominal rent of one shilling yearly to the Council of Education.
A formal application for the school was completed on 11th August 1883 and referred to the Yass district inspector, Mr Dawson for his report. Within 2½ miles, there were 28 children from seven families likely to enrol. Thomas Leonard's (Roman Catholic) children: John 10, Agnes 8, Sarah 6, Thomas 5 and Catherine 4; Edwin Davis's (Wesleyan): John 7 and William 5; Daniel McKaig's (Presbyterian): Daniel 13, Mary 12, Amy 10, Sarah 8, Ellen 6, George 5 and Jennet 4; John O'Donnell's (Roman Catholic): Charles 8 and Maurice 6; James Duff's (Roman Catholic): Peter 10, Anna 9, John 8, Sally 7 and Bridget 4; Samuel Ledger's (Protestant): Albert 9, Elizabeth 7 and Thomas 5; Patrick Kavney's (Roman Catholic): Patrick 13, Mary 11, James 8 and Maria 4. The suggested schoolroom on Leonard's land was 14 x 12 ft, with slab walls, a bark roof and an earthen floor.
Inspector Dawson estimated the average attendance would be 18 and on that this basis the school was viable; the proposed schoolroom, however, would need to be better built and more centrally positioned on land owned by the government: -
The building proposed for a school house is an old hut erected as an improvement on a selection. It is small, in bad repair, and quite unsuitable. A cheap wooden building will have to be erected. I have drawn a specification of a school room, furniture, and out offices (toilets) in accordance with Regulations ... the length is to be 20 feet and the breadth 15 feet... and I hope by 15th Dec. to be able to forward several tenders from local tradesmen for acceptance. The locality is so remote that no other plan I think could be more expeditious.
A site suitable for building in a central position near a road and water has been chosen on Crown Land.
(For all Dept of Educ references: 'Yumburra West School', 5/18282.4, NSW Records)
Dawson thought that the school should be given a better name than 'Jenkins Flat' submitted by Leonard, suggesting instead that it be given the proper name of the locality, 'Yumburra West'. The site dedicated by the Lands Department was 2 acres (Portion 9) in the Parish of Umburra, County of Cowley, as the school site, with a further reservation of 8 acres (Portion 10) for a school paddock. By December two building tenders were in, Thomas Leonard's 117 pounds 17/6 being lower. However, as the Council of Education would fund no more than 60 pounds on the cost of a provisional school, it expected the community to contribute any shortfall. As a result, further progress stalled during the first half of 1884. Finally some leading graziers induced John Grace, of Middle station, Cavan, to build the school for 60 pounds, and his tender was duly approved.
In July 1884 Inspector Dawson clarified for Duncan Ledger, of The Mullion, the Council's standard specifications for the construction soon to commence: -
The schoolroom shall measure 17 feet in length 14 feet in width and 9 feet in height to the wall plates, and shall have a pitched roof, two windows, a boarded floor, and a fireplace. Two out offices (separate and detached) must also be provided and the following articles of furniture supplied, viz.: -
4 desks, each 7 feet 6 inches long; 4 forms each 7 feet six inches long; 1 book press; 1 table, 3 feet by 2 feet; 1 chair.
These are the only particulars with regard to the buildings being erected. If the sum allowed permits, the schoolroom should be ceiled and lined. The roof may be of iron or shingles.
As it happened, there were insufficient funds to line the building. Also, the cost of the furniture was deducted from Grace's payment (as specified), although he was advanced 2 pounds 5/6 for its carriage out from Yass. On inspection, a further 5 pounds was withheld from Grace as he had built only one two-door outhouse (toilet), instead of a detached pair. As Grace declined to finish the build for his 5 pounds, Thomas Leonard built the second outhouse for 6 pounds 10/-. Finally up to standard, the school opened with William Johns as its first teacher in April 1885.
The school's early years
Johns remained at the school only until February 1886. His replacement, Alfred Gallop, was quite a young teacher, 19 when he arrived. During his two years at the school, Gallop secured some improvements to the building and also became married.
The building work was undertaken by E H Bates in mid 1886, at a cost of ₤12/10/-, to 'close up the slab walls as weather-tight as possible, provide and fix a 400 gallon iron (water) tank on a hardwood stand, and to fix necessary quantity of 5 inch guttering'.
The next year, Gallop applied to the Yass school inspector, Mr L E Lawford, for the two-acre school site to be fenced. The case he put was that four boys who rode to school had trouble retrieving their horses for the ride home, especially in winter when it was nearly dark. However the inspector declined this request, arguing that the average pupil attendance in the last half-year (under 20) didn't warrant the cost of a fence, given the school's uncertain future.
Towards the end of 1887, Gallop had a similar setback in his request that the Council consider funding the construction of a teacher's residence. By this time he was courting a Miss Henrietta Rumble of Barwang, and no doubt had a residence in mind for them. His request was quickly dismissed however, partly on grounds of the school's small enrolment and also as Alfred had no level of promotion.
The couple were married at Murrumburrah in April 1888, not long after Alfred came of age. Two months later, perhaps for married accommodation, Alfred was transferred to Chain of Ponds School near Gunning. In its 'Country Chitchat' column, Town and Country Journal reported that on 20th June 1888: 'Mr and Mrs A G Gallop of the Yeumburra Public School gave an evening party, which was attended by many of their friends. Dancing was kept up until daylight on the following morning'.
Alfred Gallop went on to have a long and successful career He gained the first promotion step to 3C classification at Chain of Ponds in 1889, then rose to 3B in 1891. His later teaching years were mainly on the south and central coast. Henrietta died aged 44 at Swansea in 1911, from blood poisoning after an insect bite; Alfred died aged 87 at Epping in 1953.
Mr Grogan's teaching challenges
The next teacher at Yumburra West, Michael Grogan, was 20 when he arrived in July 1888. Four months later, Inspector Lawford visited the school to inspect its standards. As the inspector's report was sternly critical of the pupil's punctuality, proficiency and overall progress, Grogan was told to explain these deficiencies. In response, he sought to avoid personal responsibility for the depressed standards of learning he had been trying to redress in his first months at the school: -
I am of opinion that when children are below the standard, the classification cannot be good. In the present instance I was trying to establish some groundwork as I think it quite useless to give children work they know nothing about.
...When I took charge of this school some of the children, who had been enrolled three years, could not do subtraction. Others, who had been the third half-year in the second class, could not do long division. In other branches the children were equally backward – reading, dictation etc.
The pupils' irregular answers, he explained, were due to their nervousness and fear of the inspector. With regard to lack of punctuality, he submitted that all bar two families lived more than two miles from the school, which accounted in large measure for their lateness in getting to school. Only in his record keeping, he accepted, were there a few deficiencies he would remedy in future.
This defensive response to an unfavourable report failed to impress Inspector Lawford. He immediately penned a recommendation that Grogan be cautioned to improve school's standards or face suspension: 'I do not consider this explanation satisfactory. Teacher betrays some crude ideas on the subject of classification. I recommend that he be severely reprimanded and warned that if better results are not shown at the next inspection his classification will be cancelled'. Mr Grogan, it appears, applied himself more earnestly in his teaching duties thereafter.
Coping with a drought
From 1888 into early1890, the school's single water tank emptied during a severe drought. To help cope with this, the pupils were told to bring their own water to school, which was difficult for those who walked a good distance to school. A few days before the drought finally broke, the parents requested that a school meeting be held to discuss carting water from the Murrumbidgee River, 2½ miles away.
Although the end of the drought relieved the problem, Grogan thought it prudent to have an extra water tank installed to cope better in any future drought. Accordingly, he wrote to Inspector Lawford in April 1889: -
Permit me the honour to make application for another tank as, previous to the late rains, the children attending this school were obliged to carry water for nearly a fortnight. Some of the children attending have to travel a distance of four miles; therefore, they are unable to carry a sufficient supply. Hoping to secure your co-operation.
In reply the inspector asked for confirmation that the school already had a 400 gallon tank; which Grogan advised was correct, adding that it had emptied during the drought. The inspector's response was swift and pointed: 'This is a 9th class school. One tank is amply sufficient with care. I recommend this request be refused' - which it was.
Rising through the teaching ranks
Michael Grogan had arrived at the school on the first promotion level, that of 3C. In October 1889, he applied to sit for the teachers' examination to attain a 3A certificate; but in view of his school report the year before, this was overly ambitious. Inspector Lawford recommended a 3B examination, commenting: 'he only holds 3C and his practical skill is "tolerable".'
Grogan was duly examined for the 3B classification and attained it. In May 1890 he applied to be transferred to Boambolo, where he had heard he could be boarded closer to the school. He had been two years at Yumburra West, he pointed out, travelling 3 miles to and from the school. The application was noted but not advanced.
In December 1890, after another school inspection, the new Yass inspector, Patrick Sheehy, assessed Grogan as having achieved a 'fair' level of practical skill, advancing his status a little. With these qualifications, Grogan re-applied for transfer, stating that his further promotion could only be achieved in a bigger school. Once again, it was recommended that his application be noted.
In April the next year, Grogan sought and was granted the first improvements to the school building in five years. A tender of ₤19 was accepted from WH Smith to add verandahs on the front and one side of the schoolhouse, and install a third window for better light and ventilation.
Michael Grogan finally gained a transfer in August that year to Bango, north east of Yass towards Blakney Creek. He taught mostly in the Yass area, and appears to have kept in contact with Inspector Sheehy (both of Irish-Catholic background). When a Yass branch of the Teachers' Association was founded in 1902, Patrick Sheehy was its patron and Michael Grogan served on the executive committee. He retired from the Department due to ill health and died from the same illness in 1906, aged 38, at his home in North Yass.
Some travails of bush school teaching
The school's last teacher, Alfred Southwell, was 24 when arrived from Bango on 11th August 1891 (exchanging positions with Grogan). In less than a month, however, he wanted to be moved anywhere away from the place, expressed as follows to Inspector Sheehy: -
I have the honor to request that you will please grant me a removal from Yumburra as early as possible for the following reasons:
1st The change from so convenient and animated a place as Bango to such a remote, uncouth & monotonous as Yumburra is entirely too depressing for me to endure.
2nd I could attend to my professional duties to much greater advantage in a locality where I could not be so continually haunted by inconvenience & monotony for my disposition is such that, unless I frequently mingle in society I am likely to become morbid & melancholy & perhaps my health might become impaired.
3rd I cannot make any mark here as a Teacher as I am labouring under discouraging circumstances in a variety of ways (1) The children are far behind the standard & are naturally dull (2) A regular attendance cannot be enforced owing to distance (3) I have fully four miles to walk every morning & evening whereas a person of different Religion might get accommodation much nearer (4) The school smokes very much & my eyes being very weak are already becoming impaired.
4th I cannot content myself in such a place as this as I cannot refrain from thinking that I am wasting my life & time teaching only 6 or 7 children.
Once more allow me to ask you to kindly favour me with a removal at any early date.
I have the honor to be sir, Your obedient servant, A D Southwell
Exactly what the inspector had to say about the new teacher's depressed state of mind hasn't been preserved. He probably dismissed Southwell's personal misery as no offer was made to transfer him, however the low attendance was noted for investigation. As subsequent attendances were more satisfactory, it appears that this was possibly due to inclement weather or the older children being kept home for harvesting. Also, the complaint about travelling distance to school would have been disregarded, as any teachers serving at a pair of half-time schools commonly travelled much further than four miles.
As it happened, Alfred Southwell coped with his situation much better a few months later when he began keeping company with Marion Walker, eldest daughter of local grazier Charles Walker, the owner of 'Ledgerton', about four miles from the school. Alfred and Marion were married in December 1892.
In common with many married teachers in remotely situated bush schools, Alfred had great difficulty finding suitable accommodation. Again, this is best conveyed in his own words - penned to Inspector Sheehy in April 1894: -
I have the honor to again renew my application for a removal to a more important school with a residence attached & beg to state that in doing so I am solely actuated by the following reasons, which I trust will meet your favourable consideration.
1. By my classification (3B) I am entitled to a school of the 8th Class, whereas my present school is only a Tenth.
2. No residence is provided at this school and as a result I am compelled to rent an old two-roomed hut – the only one I could get – whose walls are constructed of green stringy-bark poles with the bark on. The free ventilation thus caused taken together with a damp earth floor, a leaky bark roof, a fireplace ten feet wide and two doorways each six inches too wide for the door, render it highly dangerous and extremely unpleasant for us to live in it; and I fear that unless prompt measures be taken the ensuing cold Winter months – characteristic of the locality – will have a palpably baneful effect upon our constitutions.
I may mention that I have been an applicant for removal for upwards of fifteen months and during that time have deprived myself of numerous items of household furniture, thinking that it would be cheaper & better to get them when my station became permanent.
If my request cannot be immediately complied with, I will reluctantly be compelled to again take board & lodgings for my wife, my child & myself. This I am very loath to do as no suitable accommodation can be procured nearer than five miles from my school, and the roads are in such a bad state of repair as to render it impossible for Mrs Southwell to fulfil the Regulation relating to the Duties of teachers' wives.
I have the honor to be Sir, Your most obedient servant, Alfred Southwell (Teacher)
Once more, the Alfred Southwell's domestic discomfort was ignored. Inspector Sheehy simply noted on the letter: 'On 10.12.93 I reported on Mr Southwell's former application, which was in some respects similar to this one'. Most likely the inspector's personal belief was that if the young couple had to travel five miles to school to have better accommodation, then so be it.
Mr Southwell in Court
Not long after school began in 1893, the young schoolmaster faced a situation far more serious than uncomfortable accommodation. The matter began on Wednesday 1st February during the school lunch break, when 11-year-old Ernest Davis told some pupils that he had seen a little bull 'ram it into an old cow (waiting to be milked) before she knew it'. When informed about this after lunch, Mr Southwell severely caned the boy for his 'rude language'. About an hour later, Ernest fainted whilst standing for a singing lesson, and that night told his parents what had happened. The boy's father, Edwin Davis, promptly reported the matter to the police. Two weeks later, the case of Ernest Davis v Alfred D Southwell was brought before Yass Court of Petty Sessions.
The claim against Southwell was that the boy's punishment had been excessive. Twelve-year-old Louisa Duff told the court that Ernest had been given a total of 16 strokes on one hand because he had a sore on his other hand. She also recalled him being given 20 stokes on a previous occasion for fighting, 10 on each hand. However, she didn't think that the caning had caused him to faint, as it was a very hot afternoon and he had vomited after being splashed awake with cold water. Edwin Davis said that his son was a fairly quiet boy who had only ever been caned twice; and that all the strokes on one hand had made it very swollen and bruised. In his defence, Southwell said that the punishment was warranted and that the cane used (which he held up in court) was no thicker than a pencil. After hearing final addresses from the legal representatives on both sides, the Police Magistrate dismissed the case, refusing to direct costs.
Two weeks after the hearing, Inspector Sheehy sent a newspaper report of the case to Southwell, requesting that he furnish a full explanation by return mail. In his reply, Southwell said that the caning had not been 16 but 12 strokes, as he entered in the punishment book. He also enclosed a copy of Ernest's exact words, adding 'I think when you have read them you will conclude that I was quite justified in regarding it as an extreme case and that the punishment was not too severe for the offence'. Sheehy however, took a different view, recommending that Southwell be informed the punishment was far too severe and that he be 'cautioned as to the necessity of avoiding excessive corporal punishment in future'.
Declining numbers and closure
In December 1894, accepting that Southwell's 3B certificate entitled him to be appointed to a bigger school, Inspector Sheehy recommended that applicants be invited to replace him at Yumburra West. But when none applied, Sheehy could only report he was unable to fill the vacancy offered.
When school began in February 1895, Southwell applied to sit for the mid-winter examination to be upgraded to 3A classification. Elaborating on this, he informed the Department that his promotion had been hampered at Yumburra West by having so few pupils: -
I beg to point out that owing to excessively wet seasons and the long distances most of the children had to travel to this school, my opportunities for gaining the required "Skill Mark" have been considerably curtailed and, as a result, I have only succeeded in obtaining "Fair minus".
... during the Half-year previous to the Inspector's last visit there were 20 days during which there was no attendance at all; and, out of the 15 children enrolled at the time of inspection, 8 were marked by in the Class Roll by the Inspector as being irregular in their attendance.
Asked to report on this, Inspector Sheehy recommended that Yumburra West be re-classified as a half-time school. He suggested a teacher be shared with Boggy Creek School, where there were also insufficient pupils for full-time operation. However, as this wasn't endorsed by the Department, the school closed in April 1895.
Alfred Southwell was transferred and went on to have a long and successful career. He taught at a number of country schools, rising in turn to principal at Molong, Hoxton Park, Revesby and Helensburgh. The couple's retirement home at Bexley, in Sydney, was named 'Fairledge' – blending the homes they grew up in: 'Fairview' and 'Ledgerton'. Alfred died in 1952 aged 85; Marion died in 1958 aged 87.
The school building's later years
In May 1896, the Department of Public Instruction received simultaneous requests from Marion's father Charles Walker, on behalf of Ledgerton parents, and William McLaughlan, spokesperson for Uriarra (20km south of Ledgerton). As both districts had insufficient pupils to qualify for full-time schools, they asked the Department to consider opening two half-time schools. The next month, inspector Inspector Sheehy, visited both localities to attend to the matter. He reported that Uriarra had a disused church that could be made suitable for a schoolroom; Ledgerton parents, however, would need to build one before the Department could approve the joint request.
This being accepted, Sheehy selected a suitable site on crown land for Ledgerton School, which was duly dedicated by the Lands Department. The next step was that Ledgerton parents submit a building plan. Charles Walker wrote to the Minister of Education proposing this simple solution: -
We the parents of the children of the Ledgerton half time school beg that you will grant us permission to remove the old Yumburra West school building and furniture to the Ledgerton school site. The old school building is not required at its present site as there is no children at all under 14 years within 3 miles. The parents will remove it and re-erect it on the Ledgerton site and will make good any damage done to it free of cost.
Trusting you will see fit to comply with our request
We have the honour... (etc) CF Walker - on behalf of the parents
('Ledgerton School', 5/16574.2, NSW Archives)
Approved in September 1896, the school building was relocated within a month. The old schoolroom served this community more than a decade until it closed again due to insufficient pupils. In September 1915, Duncan Ledger informed the Department that he was interested in purchasing the former school for three pounds. It had not been used for over four years, he wrote, and the premises were in a state of complete ruin. The Department accepted his offer.
In 1931, a group of parents applied to have a new Yumburra West school re-opened on its original site, listing 18 potential pupils in the area. However, at a meeting called by the Yass district inspector, Mr Laird, it was agreed that Bonnieville subsidised school (already operating with seven pupils on Gordon Ledger's property) was a more central site. The meeting accepted Mr Laird's advice that parents either send their children to Bonnieville School, which might then become a provisional school, or else apply for correspondence lessons.
(Contributed by Keith Amos, former teacher of The Mullion School, out of Yass)
Reference: L.L.Gillespie, Early education and schools in the Canberra region. pp 60-61
- Johns, William Laurence
04/1885 - 02/1886
- Gallop, Mr Alfred Godden
03/1886 - 06/1888
- Grogan, Mr Michael J.
07/1888 - 08/1891
- Southwell, Alfred Dawson
08/1891 - 04/1895
NSW Government schools from 1848
- Yumburra West (external link)
< Early Canberra Government Schools
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