Monday, July 14, 2014

A Brief History of Smithfield Primary School Part II

This is almost enough to suggest that Smithfield and Gawler Plains were one and the same place, but they couldn’t have been, for there were, at times, three teachers (Letitia McClelland, Ann Crisp, and Margaret Myers) presumably keeping separate schools at Gawler Plains while James Catts and Ellen McClelland were each maintaining a school at Smithfield.

On 16 December, 1871, Ellen Grace Beer McClelland was married in Adelaide to Archibald Campbell and returned to her school at Smithfield where she remained until the new school was opened in 1877.

Attendance at school was not compulsory until the passage in 1875 of a Bill which made it compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13 to attend 78 days a year.

It appears that the pioneers placed a fairly high premium on education.  The Government of the State provided no school buildings.  If the people living in any district decided that a school was required, the District Council of the area sent a plan, specifications, and a guarantee relating to the intended school, to the Central Board of Education (set up in 1851).  A grant in aid of construction of the schoolhouse was then given to the Council provided the Central Board of Education was satisfied with their plans, specifications, and guarantee.

Not all Councils were progressive.  On 1 August, 1855 the Board received a letter from the District Council of Munno Para West saying that they were unable to avail themselves of the Board’s offer to assist in the erection of a school.

Because attendance was voluntary, it is no wonder we find enrolments and attendances fluctuating widely.  At James Catts’ school, the attendances varied from as low as 26 in 1867 to as many as 59 in 1869.  In 1860 (24 boys, 26 girls on the roll) he taught writing to 45, arithmetic to 39, grammar to 10, geometry and history to 7, and had an average attendance of 38.

Ellen Campbell, in 1876, had her school open on 245 days, was visited twice by an inspector, had one assistant (male), presented 46 pupils for examination.  Of these, 53 percent passed.  An amount of £30-4-7 was collected in fees.

From 1876 onwards, records of school, head teachers, and statistics of attendances etc. are good, but details of the schools’ activities are almost non-existent.

Minute 854 of the meeting of the Council of Education, held 10 July, 1876, records “It was resolved to accept Mr John Smith’s offer of block 163 for a school site in Smithfield”, although later records show that they paid £8-5-0 for it.

On 14 September (Minute 1105) it was reported that the following tenders for the erection of a schoolhouse and residence at Smithfield had been received.  Taylor and Forgie £1200-12-6 (accepted), Caleb Virgo £1251, Joseph Blake £1270.  The Council affixed its seal to Taylor and Forgie’s tender agreement on 25 November, 1876.

Taylor and Forgie, who are still in business in Gawler, wasted no time in getting on with the job and progress payments were made 2 January, 1877 (£200), 12 January (£250), 12 March (£205), 16 Aril (£200), 14 May (£300-12-6: final payment).

The Council of Education met on 7 May, 1877 and appointed Mr August Wittber to open the school on 1 June, 1877.  We can imagine the excitement and pride with which he moved into his new home and prepared to open his new school on 1 June, 1877.  His wife, Sarah, was appointed teacher of sewing.

Apparently there were unruly children in those days and Mr Wittber had to deal severely with one of them, so severely that the parents complained but Mr Wittber survived the complaint and went on to complete two years of service at Smithfield and eight years at Salisbury.

That he was a good teacher cannot be doubted.  Of the 108 children on the roll in 1977, 80 had attended some other school; the school was kept open on 138 days, 76 pupils were presented for examination by the inspector, who judged that 65 (86 percent) were worthy of promotion – a record which no one surpassed between 1877 and 1900.

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