The early history of education in Smithfield is shrouded in conjecture and only a few facts emerge, while quite a few questions remain unanswered.
In 1852, John Smith, from whom Smithfield takes its name, kept a ledger and one day he took the time and trouble to draw in it a map of “SMITH’S CREEK” the town’s early name, as 1200 acres of it belonged to him and much of his holding was let to tenant farmers.
In the southeast corner of Section 1719, on the west side of the Main North Road, directly opposite Purdie Road, he shaded a small oblong and clearly marked it “SCHOOL”. The site is in front of the house now used as a hostel by Barkuma and most of it is buried beneath the sound barrier raised to shield the new homes form the noise of traffic.
The obscurity which surrounds the history of education in Smithfield is due to the lack of private and official records, and the loss by neglect or dishonesty of vital school journals, roll books, inspectors’ examination registers, and the original school admission register. The last-named covered the years 1877 to 1896 and contained the names of the first pupils enrolled at the school, while the first three would have been the source of interesting historical data.
The Gawler Bunyip contains few references to SMITH’S CREEK or SMITHFIELD in the period up to 1877 and none that I could find about schools in this area.
Even records of the Central Board of Education contain no references to Smithfield until 1857 but the Education Reports and Government Gazettes are more helpful, though occasionally confusing as in the case of James Catts.
The educational system was to blame for much of the confusion as the earliest schools were held in chapels and private dwellings as well as in “vested” schools erected by Boards of Trustees on land already bought by the trustees, aided by grants from the Central Board of Education.
There was no college for training teachers but so long as they could provide suitable premises and furniture, and had a modicum of learning the Central Board of Education would grant them a license to teach.
Between the years 1850 and 1875 there were at least ten licensed teachers in the area between Salisbury and Gawler with schools at Precolumb (1856), Uley Bury (1856), Smithfield, Peachey Belt, Virginia, Gawler Plains, Angle Vale, Bassett Town, Burton, and Elim.
Precolumb, Uley Bury (restored by the District Council of Munno Para, 1977), and Smithfield are, as far as I can ascertain, the only century or older rural school buildings still standing in this area.
The first licensed teacher hereabouts was J. William Buchanan who, from 1851 to 1854, conducted a school at Gawler Plains. In 1854, he resigned his license.
He was followed by James Catts, who served the district until 1869 (25 years) when he vanished from the educational scene without trace. He must have been a good teacher for the Central Boardof Education received a “memorial from several inhabitants of Gawler Plains in favour of Mr Catts who is desirous of removing from that place”.
If the records are correct, there was a period when James must have felt like a cat on hot bricks for he is shown as being at Gawler Plains (1854-57), Smithfield (1857-58), Gawler Plains (Aug 1858), Smithfield (Dec 1859).