St Marys Public School 1875-1893


In 1875 the Local School Board of the Public School, and the committee of the Church of England School, agreed to amalgamate the two schools as the South Creek Public School, using the site and buildings of the Church of England school, which were transferred to the Council of Education. This school seems to have been on a narrow strip of land, with a frontage to Princess Mary Street, more or less identical with a piece of land added to the south side of the present school site in 1954. (1)

The new school was not officially opened until 1878 but education was still continuing, obviously in the old Church of England schoolhouse.

School Plan 1876

On 3 January 1876 Mr Callow was listed as being in charge of the school at South Creek and on the 26th a Mr Jame Henry Beecroft was a pupil teacher with a roll of 127 and an average of 98 pupils. An Inspectors report from J McCredie the next month proposed improvements and additions to the building, which would cost at least 400 pounds. The fences needed repairs and a “new closet and urinal are requisite.” Two thirds of the roof of the schoolroom needed replacing and the erection of an Infant Schoolroom and a porch was necessary. A Verandah or weathershed, with separate lavatory arrangements for boys and girls would also be needed. New furniture on platforms should be supplied to the school. The residence needed through repairs. The rooms all need papering and plastering and the present doors and entrance into the end room should be closed and new doors opened into the middle room. Mr Joseph Sainsbury carried out repairs to the Teachers residence in March at a cost of 14 pounds 6 shillings. (2)

Headstone of Joseph Sainsbury, St Marys Magdalene Church, St Marys

On 20 April 1876, as a result of a deputation consisting of Messrs. J S Smith, MLA, J Lethbridge and J Guild, the Council of Education purchased from James Hackett two acres for 60 pounds immediately adjoining the existing one on the north side. The appointment of an assistant teacher Miss Martha Wilson was made on 2 June 1876 with a salary of 60 pounds per year and 1/3 of school fees. She had come from Balmain Public School. (3)

Sir John Robertson laid the foundation stone of St Marys Public School on Saturday May 26 1877. Mrs J S Smith of Mamre presented a towel and mallet to him. (4) Mr John Johnson of Windsor, on 22 December 1876, won the tender for the new building at cost of 1547 pounds and a time limit of nine months. (5) There is a letter in the Archives from Mr John Johnson replying to the Council of Education and giving reasons for the delay in completing the building of the Public School at South Creek within the contract time. Reasons given – Ill health – precluded him from “attending to any business for nearly two months”. Also “the great difficulty I had in getting workmen to go up to work away from Sydney and lastly to the inclemency of the weather, preventing Bricks being made.” (6)

Sir Alfred Stephens officially opened the new building on March 15 1878. (7)

Cumberland Mercury, Saturday 20 March 1878

The fine new public school St. Mary’s, South Creek, was opened on the 15th instant by Sir Alfred Stephen, Lieutenant Governor, of New South Wales, in the presence of a large concourse of the people, spectators including the leading residents of the district. The school is handsome and substantial edifice, and has accommodation some-what beyond present requirements, but the number of pupils is steadily increasing. There were 180 scholars in attendance on Friday, and we are informed that the number on the roll is about 225. Mr J. S Smith chairman of the local board, occupied the chair, and commenced the proceedings by giving a short outline of the progress of the school movement from the period of its initiation until the successful attainment of its object. Mr Lethbridge, a member of the board, then read an address of welcome to Sir Alfred Stephen, which bore the following signatures of behalf of the inhabitants of the district: – J.S Smith, J K Lethbridge, J. R. Woodland, John Guild, George Hope, William Garnor, Alfred Giles, John Griffith. Sir Alfred Stephens first read a brief written reply in which he expressed a hope that the school would prove a blessing to the town and neighbourhood: and then he delivered an eloquent and lengthy address, which was attentively listened to for upwards of an hour. He dwelt very forcibly on the advantages, which he said the present liberal system of education conferred on all classes of the community. He said knowledge if not scientific, yet of the valuable kind: to its possessor in after life, whatever the position, might be obtained, in the public schools, if the individual remains there a sufficient time to acquire it: and then gave utterances to the following pertinent remarks, which teachers and children and parents would do well to lay to heart: -“The position of school teacher, if a highly responsible one, is not the less of a peculiarly trying and harassing character. His work is monotonous and wearying in a high degree. He has to deal with children of various dispositions and capacities. If some are bright and docile, others are dull and unmanageable, wayward, stubborn, and disobedient, some even use bad language, are insufferably insolent, or on occasions they tell lies.” We all know that there are such children. Now, the teacher’s prospect of promotion depends greatly on (what is called) results. If the children do not reasonably advance in learning, or are disorderly, he suffers. You, may imagine, in such a state of things, what are his anxieties. In the midst of these some child if found believed by him to have been guilty of a grievous fault: one perhaps if not repressed and the culprit made an example of fatal to all hope of discipline. So he severly punishes the supposed offender. It is not impossible that in one such case he may have been mistaken. The probability is that he was wholly in the right. But there are persons who never will, at a schoolmaster’s instance believe their children in the wrong and the teacher is fortunate if he escapes a police office prosecution. What I ask of parents is, that they will not in such cases be too ready to cast blame on the painstaking, well-meaning teacher: and I ask of School Boards, that as far as may be they will support him. I by no means advocate corporal punishments. They should rarely be resorted to and never inflicted without due reflection, or in anger. They should moreover be strictly proportioned to the offence. But it is idle to suppose that they can with children be altogether abolished. We know, how ready parents themselves are to beat or flog a child, and for not great fault. Such inflictions, however, like the brutal assaults of which we hear on wives, and which are so seldom adequately punished: degrade and harden alike the actor and the victim. I venture to say that one proved case of ill-treatment of a child by its teacher will so, long as the Council exists, subject him to severe animadversion and probably to removal fromhis school, if not dismissal.”

Mr Wilkins, secretary of the Council of Education, and Mr Forbes, one of the Council’s examinees, also delivered addresses, after which the children were plentifully supplied with refreshments in the old schoolroom. Sir Alfred Stephen and the other visitors were subsequently entertained at a sumptuous luncheon at Byrne’s hotel. About sixty gentlemen were present and among them were the clergymen of the district. The chairs was occupied by Mr. J. T Smith, Mr J K Lethbridge, acting as vice-chairman. A couple of hours were passed very pleasantly, after which the company dispersed, and the guests returned to Sydney.

School commenced on 18th March 1878 with 180 scholars and the number on the roll was about 225. (8) The teachers were – Messrs Callow (headmaster), J H Beacroft, JJ Blackmore and Miss Wilson. (9) The New headmaster, Mr R E Callow, and his 184 pupils overflowed the available room in the former Church of England School. (10)

Mr Thos R Woodland, secretary of the St Marys Mutual Improvement Society wrote to Joseph Leary, Esq, Minister for Justice and Public Instruction on 3 April 1878 begging to be allowed to use that portion of Land at St Marys containing the old School House for a School of Arts. “We had for many years used the old school as a Literary and Debating Society and now being likely to be deprived of its use and having no other place available.” There was also another letter from Thos R Woodland (no date), “For your information I respectfully beg to state that the old school applied for was at first the Church of England Certified School later it became the Public School. Not being large enough it was bought out by the Council of Education, also the school masters residence close by, and a large new public school erected close by on the adjoining land. As the old school stands close in, one corner of the school land, and facing the street, the granting of it for a School of Arts would not interfere at all with the old school masters residence or the rest of the land. As there are rumours of the lot being sold shortly we make early application to you.”

There was a note on the letter from Council of Education 5 April 1878 Prior to the receipt of this communication, the Council of Education had decided to sell the old Public School Premises at South Creek by auction.” (11)

Before the old school and site could be auctioned on Saturday 6 April 1878 the old school house was burnt, valuable contents of the library being destroyed. (12) An Inquisition was held at the dwelling house of William Roberts known as the sign of the Volunteer Hotel at St Marys. It came before John King Lethbridge one of the Coroners of our Sovereign Lady the Queen, for the Colony, on view of the remains of a building in the town of St Marys known as the late Public School and the property of the Council of Education. Upon oaths of Joseph Sainsbury, foreman Robert Hamilton, William Shiels, James Hackett, William Neal, Augustus Gassman, Matthew Webb, John Morrison, William Fleming, James Byrnes, William Chalker, Patrick Donnelly. The result of the Inquest was that, “The Building was burnt. The old Public School at St Marys, South Creek was wilfully set fire to on the night of the sixth of April instant, by some person or person unknown, and we also think it desirable that the Government should offer a reward for the offender or offenders. (13)

The reward was sent back by the police (16 April 1878) because there was a letter from the Police Department to The Under Secretary Department of Justice. “From enquires made by the police, there does not appear to be the slightest grounds for supposing that the fire in question was the act of an incendiary, but that it was most likely caused by some person entering the building, lighting a candle to obtain a book, and perhaps carelessly throwing down the lighted match, the doors being left unfastened, and there being a quantity of loose paper lying near the desk, where a candle was found burning in a candlestick where the fire was discovered at 11 p.m. A light was also seen in the building between 8 & 9 o’clock the same evening. I think that it would be useless under the circumstances to offer any reward. Proceedings returned herewith.”(14)

The Report of sale of the old school land in Princess Street, St Marys, to Mrs Mary Ann Waring for two hundred and fifty pounds was sent to The Council of Education on 30 April 1878. (15) The stones from the foundations of the old school house were used to build the cairn in honour of Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, at Luddenham Road. This was celebrated in 1937 during the Diamond Jubilee festivities of the school. (16)

Memorial to Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth, Luddenham Road.

There was a dispute at the beginning of 1879 with Matthew Webb who owned the tannery next door to the school over the boundaries between the school and his property. (17) Mr Callow described as “a most efficient headmaster” had to resign at the end of 1879 owing to ill health. (18)

His successor, Mr Thomas Dryhurst, had been headmaster of the Church of England Denominational School at Mudgee, and commenced in early 1880. (19) In March there was another dispute with Matthew Webb. This time it was about liquid going from the tannery into the creek. He was charged with “having caused a nuisance by permitting noisome matter to flow from his premises into a drain near the Public School, South Creek, thereby endangering the health and comfort of both teacher and scholars on adjoining premises.”(20)

Matthew Webb – 1882 NSW Archives, St Marys 5/17577.2

Mr Dryhurst was remembered very fondly by the ex pupils at the reunion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of the school “I remember,” said Mr W Hereford, chairman of Saturday’s Jubilee celebrations at St. Marys, “singing in this school 40 years ago to our old honoured school-master, Mr T E Dryhurst. When we were singing well he used to open all the windows so that everybody could hear. But when we were singing badly he would scratch his beard. The Rev William Sharpe, an ex teacher said, “Mr Dryhurst always insisted on the formation of character as an essential in education.” Mr J E Lethbridge said ” All of the teachers taught very high principles, and he believed that they thought more of moulding the characters of the children than of teaching them the curriculum.”(21) This may explain why the pupil teachers in 1881, Ebenezer Campling, John J Blackmore and in 1883 Emily Gibb failed there exams. (22) Campling was a District Inspector by the time of the jubilee in 1927. (23)

Miss Elizabeth Dalzell, Infants Mistress applied for a lodging allowance of 10 shilling per week for three weeks and asked for a rent allowance of 30 pounds per annum in 1883. There were receipts from William Neale, James Hackett and Mary Ann Waring for the three weeks. Robert Walter Mitchell caused some problems for the school in 1884. He had to send a letter of regret for taking a pupil’s property, “a new box of drawing pen inks and for behaving badly to a girl, Ann Beecroft.” He had placed his hands upon her hips and pinched her. He also made her kneel on her knees with this hand on her shoulders and hurt her. He promised not to disgrace himself again. The Inspector recommended he be given another school near Sydney where his parents live. (24)

At a Public Meeting held in the Protestant Hall, St Marys in April 1885, it was resolved that the names of the railway station and public school should be changed to St Marys from South Creek. (25) This same year Mr James R Dryhurst resigned as a Pupil Teacher because of incessant headaches. (26) He was the son of the Principal teacher Mr T E Dryhurst and went on to become General Manager of the Commercial Banking Coy. Of Sydney Ltd. (27) Mr William Sharpe applied for a pupil teacher position and had a letter for recommendation from J King Lethbridge, Chairman of the District Board. “The boy is of respectable parentage, but both parents are dead. His Uncle who has a large family of his own, has kept him up to the present.

St Marys Public School

1887 bought some hardships to the town. Elizabeth Woodland wrote asking for the recision of the school fees, as she was unable to pay.

Elizabeth Woodland’s letter

George Voyseys made an application for cancellation of fees as he had had an accident and lost a leg. Both were granted. (28)

From the Penrith City Library, Local History Section comes the following information. “In 1890, one hundred and thirty eight citizens of St Marys area petitioned the government, asking for incorporation as municipality. The government, with Sir Henry Parkes as Premier agreed to this request, and on 3 March 1890 proclaimed the municipality of St Marys. The election of the first St Marys’ Municipal Council was held in May 1890 and the following citizens were elected. William Garner (Mayor), George Turner, James Hope, William Carberry, Charles Gilbert, William Beacroft. E Wake was appointed the first Town Clerk. Meetings were held month in the Protestants Hall, Great Western Road.

The school, during that year (1890), had to empty and clean the four hundred-gallon water tank. Mr Dryhurst had to write requesting an urgent supply of drinking water for the use of pupils. Towards the end of 1890 the School community wanted to give Mr Dryhurst a present but had to write seeking permission. “The request is made under the belief that there is a general rule, prohibiting Civil servants accepting any testimonial or presentation, without the consent of the Head of department, being first obtained. Permission was granted. Whooping cough broke out at the end of the year and the school started its midsummer vacation on the 12th instead of the 19th. The District Inspector did not want to close the school, as he felt parents were not compelled to send their children to school if they feared illness. (29)

Mr Walter M Herford was appointed as a pupil teacher on 4 May 1891, and later became the Chairman of the Jubilee celebrations of the school in 1927 and one of the principal speakers. (30) The school celebrated “Arbor Day” and in September applied to the board for half the cost of purchasing the trees and plants. This cost was 3 pounds 3 shillings and 4 1/2 pence. They were awarded 3 pounds. October bought a special train trip for the people of St Marys to the Mountains. Mr Dryhurst asked that the school be closed on the 16th as a great number of children planned to go with their parents.

Numbers in the school must have dropped by 1892 as when Miss Alice Dryhurst was appointed Pupil teacher, the staff only consisted of a Principal Teacher plus herself. The school was painted in 1892 as Mr Robt. Robinson, honorary Secretary Public School Board, wrote to ask for an extra week’s holiday, as the painters would not have been finished in time. The same gentleman asked for increased playground space especially after the erection of the additional school buildings. A description of the buildings was given in a letter from the Architect.

“The old building consisted of a Primary School and a small infant’s school accommodating 210 scholars. The new additions give another room to the Primary Department affording accommodation for 70 additional pupils making the total number provided for 195, whilst the Infants’ department had been increased three times its original size, giving, besides the old room for fifty pupils, two large classrooms fitted with the improved Infants’ desks and seats and seating 96 children. These two rooms are separated by a glass partition so that the work of both rooms may be supervised by the Head Mistress without the transmission of sound disturbing the work. The aggregate increase of 130 seats has been obtained at a cost of 870 pounds. The external architectural treatment of the new work was necessarily controlled by the old work, with which it harmonises producing a pleasing though very plain building.”

St Marys Public School

Mr Thos Dryhurst moved to North Granville Public School after being in his present position for 13 years. His daughter Alice remained at St Marys as a pupil teacher and he requested that his daughter also be transferred. “Mother was in a low state of health and is in a constant state of anxiety about the youngest daughter living away from home.”(30)


  1. Nepean Times 10 August 1961, p 9-10. W E McCulloch, Education in St Marys. A Brief History.
  2. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  3. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  4. Nepean Times, 16 July 1927, p7
  5. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  6. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  7. Cumberland Mercury, 20 March 1878. p 5
  8. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  9. Nepean Times 16 July 1927, p7
  10. Nepean Times, 10 Aug 1961, p 9-10, W E McCulloch, Education in St Marys: A Brief History.
  11. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  12. Nepean Times, 10 Aug 1961, p 9-10, W E McCulloch, Education in St Marys: A Brief History.
  13. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  14. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  15. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  16. Stapleton Eugenie, Other Days, Other Ways, St Marys Historical Society, 1985.
  17. NSW Archives  5/17577.2 – St Marys.
  18. Nepean Times, 10 Aug 1961, W E McCulloch, p 9-10, Education in St Marys: A Brief History.
  19. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  20. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  21. Nepean Times, 16 July 1927, p 7.
  22. NSW Archives 5/17646.3 – South Creek
  23. Nepean Times, 16 July 1927, p 7
  24. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  25. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  26. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  27. Nepean Times 16 July 1927, p 7
  28. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  29. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys
  30. NSW Archives 5/17577.2 – St Marys