St Marys Public School 1898-1901

Mr Dwyer the next Principal Teacher started off his career at St Marys by asking for a leave of absence for two weeks ending 28 January 1898, meaning he was not going to take up the appointment until then. The reasons given were “My wife is within a week or two of her confinement and she is in a low state of health suffering from a week heart which during a former similar crisis nearly caused her death. He planned to leave on Monday 24th reaching St Marys on Tuesday. The furniture was to arrive the following day. “I have seven children, the eldest 13, the youngest less than two years old.” He could not commence packing until they are almost ready to leave. “To me the labour and worry of removal is a severe task, especially as I am only just recovering from a severe illness, of which if required, I can furnish a Medical certificate.” In March Mr Dwyer received 18 pounds 15 shillings for expenses incurred in moving from Moruya to St Marys.

Mr Dwyer did not ever appear happy with his position at St Marys and seemed to be constantly disagreeing with the Inspector. On 25 April 1898 he sent a two-page letter applying for assistance. “It is impossible with the present staff to classify this school according to the requirements of the standard and teach it efficiently. The main building contains the Upper 3rd, 4th and 5th classes = 80 pupils in all taught by myself, one class room the lower 3rd (31 pupils) taught by a pupil teacher, the other class room the 2nd class (49 pupils) in charge of a pupil teacher, and the infants room with 95 in charge of Miss Pearce and Miss Guild. ” Request declined.

District Inspector Johnson replied on 3 May 1898 that, “The average attendance at this school for last quarter was 181 and staff consists of Principal Teacher, Assistant, and 3 pupil teachers. I therefore recommend that Mrs Dwyer’s request be NOT granted.

By April 1898 Mr Dwyer was applying for removal from St Marys to any fourth Class School nearer Sydney. “I do not wish to seem ungrateful for the great consideration shown me during the past three months, but I feel that I should utterly break down in health were I to remain here. We are convinced that in every way, we have been losers by coming to St Marys. I tried for six years to leave Moruya, my object being to better myself, and as I am convinced that I have not done so, it is my earnest desire to leave St Marys.”

There was an outbreak of measles and scarlatina and there was a request for the supply of disinfectant in June. This was to have a later effect on the school inspection in September.

An Inspectors report on 19 September 1898 had the remarks of academic achievement as indifferent and tolerable. 30 pupils were examined for exemption certificates but only 14 passed the prescribed test.

Mr Dwyer replied that many of the problems were caused through sickness of the pupils. He also stated that “On the whole I considered when I took charge of this school, that the Upper 3rd was the worst class I had ever met. They were astonishingly backward in every subject except Dictation, in which as a rule they did fairly well. I did not report the matter not wishing to cause unpleasantness and hoping to be able to work them up before the regular Inspection. As I have hitherto always received satisfactory reports and had only two pupils since the “exemption examination” were instituted who failed to get certificates, the present failure cannot be attributed to my want of skill.”

When I took personal charge of the Upper 3rd on the 18th April last, I noted the following facts.

  1. The answering of the children in grammar was little better than guessing. They made no attempt at intelligent parsing, as they were unable to apply either the definitions of the parts of speech or the rules of syntax- being utterly ignorant of both the one and the other.
  2. The pupils could not state the rules for the formation of the plural.
  3. They could not state the various ways of distinguishing gender.
  4. They could neither compare an adjective, decline a pronoun nor conjugate a verb.
  5. Their knowledge of History consisted of a limited number of the dates of accession and death of sovereigns, so that considering the requirements of the standard I scarcely knew where to start with them.
  6. They had no knowledge of proportion, practice or fractions.

Summary: – The causes of the unsatisfactory results are

  • That the school was below the standard when I took charge.
  • That the number absent through measles made it quite impossible to get a good mark.
  • The inefficiency of the Assistant Staff with whom both my predecessor and the District Inspector assures me it will be impossible ever to get satisfactory results.

I wish to add that Master Williamson – Teacher of the 2nd Class is the hardest worker in the school, but his pupils – as far as I can learn must have been backward when they came from the Infants, and the bad attendance has naturally told more against his class than the elder ones.” The District Inspector did not accept all the excuses. District Inspector Johnson reported that, “Irregular attendance no doubt had much to do with the poor results obtained at the inspection, and in the case of the Teachers of the “First class” inefficiency of the staff may be taken as an excuse, but the condition of the school at the time Mr Dwyer took charge of it, if as bad as stated by him, (which in my opinion is not probable) cannot be taken as an excuse for its condition at the inspection, as Mr Dwyer had then been 7 months in charge, and the pupils were examined on the lessons actually taught during that time as shown by the entries in the Lesson Registers. I recommend that Mr Dwyer be informed that, making full allowances for the irregular attendance of the pupils, his explanation cannot be considered wholly satisfactory, and that higher results should be produced by next inspection of his school.

The following year Mr Dwyer was again asking to be removed. “The house we live in is in a wretched state and has caused us great misery, but I did not urge my application for improvements because I felt that I should never be able to settle down in St Marys. . . Neither my eldest daughter suffering from nervous disorders nor my eldest son – a hopeless asthmatic can ever hope to enter the public service. Yet they have gifts and were I near enough to Sydney I could even now apprentice them to callings for which they are well fitted. But I am too far away and the train fare places it quite beyond my power to get them the instruction required. As it would be ruin to my family to stay here I would respectfully and earnestly beg of you to give me an appointment in some of the suburbs of Sydney. I am eligible for a 3rd class school but would accept a 4th. “

This time the Inspector recommended the granting of the request if a suitable vacancy occurs.

Mr Dwyer requested firewood for the school as “the last education gazette states that the temperature of the schoolroom should be about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature of the St Marys School for the eight weeks ending August 16 1898 was – At 9:30 am 35 degrees F-: at 12:30p.m. 47 degrees Fah. Penrith is only 4 miles from St Marys and received a grant of ten shillings per fireplace, though I am assured by the Mayor and other old residents that Werrington (St Marys) is some degrees colder than Penrith.” “Most of the children have had whooping cough and many are now suffering severe relapses -some having developed almost a chronic bronchitis.” The Inspector recommended that they are given firewood but remarked, “The climate of St Marys is mild.”

In April 1901, Dwyer was still the Principal teacher and replying to a letter regarding the failure of the Pupil teacher Mr McMonigal. He commented that Mr McMonigal failed through want of application and that, “I should respectfully request that Mr McMonigal’s failure be contested with the success of Mr Williamson. They both received their lessons together. (1)

History is often remembered differently by people. At the celebration of the School Jubilee in 1927, Mr J Dwyer spoke on behalf of his father Mr C J Dwyer who was headmaster of the St Marys School for years. “I want to say a word of apology for my dad,” said Mr Dwyer. “He would have given years to be present to-day, but unfortunately, old age has just about got him beaten. He is just about 80. But he wished you the best of success.” (2) It seems Mr Dwyer still did not want to be in St Marys.


1. NSW Archives, 5/17577.2, St Marys.
2. Nepean Times, 16 July 1927, p1.