James Buckland, first headmaster of Glebe Public School. (courtesy Glebe Public School archives)
James Buckland, first headmaster
of Glebe Public School.
(courtesy Glebe Public
School archives)

Glebe Primary dates its beginnings from 3 November 1858 when James Buckland (1824-85) enrolled two pupils in a public school conducted in a Wesleyan chapel in Francis Street.  A Wesleyan himself, James had begun his teaching career in 1848, in Bathurst.  By 1851 he was a schoolteacher on the Upper Allyn River and by 1851 he was at Chippendale.  He married Isabella Gray at Bathurst in 1849; they had 13 children.  Of the eight born in the ten years the family lived in Glebe, mostly in Bay Street, five died in infancy.

In May 1862 the 250-pupil capacity Glebe National School was opened fronting Derwent Street.  Five classes from infants to primary level, supervised by Buckland and four assistants, were housed in one long and two small rooms within the Gothic building.  Lessons were conducted in reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar and geography.  At the first inspection, attended by the governor and his wife, 111 boys and 92 girls were present.  By the time the head teacher left in April 1868 average enrolment had reached 320.

After Glebe, James Buckland taught at Wallsend, Freemans Reach, Upper Picton, Sydney Public, Surry Hills, Queanbeyan and Pennant Hills.  He died at home, 709 Bourke Street, on 2 November 1885 ‘after a long and painful illness’.

John Wright took charge of Glebe until April 1870 before his promotion to Master of the Training School at Fort Street, a position he held until at least 1886.  His successor at Glebe until 1876 was William Matthews, subsequently transferred to William Street.  This became a Superior Public School 1  in 1881, but four years later it was removed from the list, a departmental officer recommending that Matthews, classified 1B and ‘an inefficient teacher’, be removed to a second class school.  After working for three months at Macquarie Street, he retired.   During Matthews’ period at Glebe, 14-year-old Peter Board (he later became Director of Education and introduced sweeping reforms) was a Pupil Teacher 2 for three months in 1873 on an annual salary of £30. 

Charles Oldrey Flashman (ca 1845-1920) was Glebe headmaster from 1876-84.  A Methodist, he became a National School teacher in 1857 and lived in Glebe Street and Bay Street before moving with his wife Emily Adelaide née Tarring to Armidale where he taught and where three of his four surviving sons were born.

Transferred from East Maitland Public School, Flashman and his family lived in Derwent Street and Adelaide House on Pyrmont Bridge Road.  Also living in Pyrmont Bridge Road was William Bardsley.  An assistant teacher at Glebe in 1879, ‘Boss’ Bardsley became Forest Lodge’s long -serving headmaster, from 1883 until 1922.

Flashman had a number of problems to deal with at Glebe.  Enrolment skyrocketed.  In 1877 when infants and primary pupils totalled 493 he was looking about for land for a new school building.  By 1880 children were being turned away because there was no room for them.  Classes took place in the weather shed, and the local Wesleyan Sunday School was rented to accommodate the girls’ department.  In the last quarter of 1884 Flashman reported that enrolments had reached 2346. 

His staff were mostly young and untrained, and few stayed long.  The Council of Education 3 allowed him one assistant and three Pupil Teachers.  In 1877 his assistant was Miss Plunkett.  The Pupil Teachers were Elizabeth Richardson, Hannah Tilley and Alice Banks; the first two ‘girls about 14 years of age’, the third ‘of a nervous and timid disposition and quite unsuited to a mixed school’. 

Flashman’s request for a male assistant – on the grounds that most of the pupils were boys, and parents and the School Board were in favour – was turned down.  Richardson, who was transferred after three months, and Banks, who resigned after a year (after failing exams in reading, writing, arithmetic, music, French and ‘skill’), were replaced with yet more female ‘novices’. Emily Crispin, despite having ‘no high aptitude’, was made permanent.

As in any school there were discipline and truancy problems. Attendance was often sporadic, children being kept at home to do chores or run errands. Flashman wanted Peter Brown, ‘a poor disciplinarian’, in charge of third class, to be moved on but there were
no vacancies at other schools. Alice Banks’ father wrote to the Council asserting that Flashman kept order only by always carrying a cane. One boy who hated school was handcuffed to his desk every morning by his father and released in the afternoon. ‘I don’t suppose they would allow that sort of thing today’, reflected 87-yearold Alfred Shearsby who attended the 1958 celebrations. And there were personality clashes. Herr Hugo Alpen (later Superintendent of Music in the Dept of Public Instruction) vied with Flashman for control of the school’s singing program. Alpen was a Glebe resident at 17 Derwent Street, and Arundel Terrace.

Teachers succumbed to stress (‘affection of the nerves … nervous debility … nervous exhaustion of a severe character’), minor afflictions such as quinsy and measles, and more serious ones serious ones such as smallpox.  In 1882 Lilian Ireland who lived in Westmoreland Street was diagnosed with typhoid, an illness which also afflicted students and which might have been caused by the school’s sanitary shortcomings.  The cesspits periodically overflowed; to gain access to the water closets nightmen pulled nails out of the fence, then nailed them back in. 

Flashman had to collect school fees of threepence a week per child from all parents.  Engine fitter L H Krinks of 8 Lorne Terrace in Mitchell Street was unable to pay for his four children.  He’d had two weeks’ work in eight months and survived by selling household goods.  Others returned the invoice with a scribbled note: ‘I really cannot pay for I have not got the means’.  Thieves broke into the school and stole the money. 

By 1880 Flashman was ready to leave.  He asked to be made a school Inspector, then headmaster at Cleveland Street.  Both applications were turned down, District Inspector John McCredie noting that ‘Mr Flashman does not possess the necessary disciplinary power for a first class school like Cleveland Street’.  The Glebe Evening School operated briefly from 1882 -3.  Its first students, boys aged 14-17, included some with daytime occupations – draper, labourer, butcher, clerk, mason – and others not in employment such as Henry and George Peninton (brothers of Reuben, whose story was told in Glebe Society Bulletin 4/2008).

In 1884 Flashman achieved a number of successes.  A new girls’ school was built.  Glebe was promoted to the status of Superior School and Flashman was promoted from grade 1B to 1A, securing his appointment as an Assistant Inspector from January 1885.  Two years later he became an Inspector.  He worked in Newcastle and finished his career as Senior Inspector, Mosman District.  Flashman died at Mosman on 28 February 1920 in a home he shared with his brother John and his unmarried sisters Nellie (who had taught at Araluen and Goulburn in the 1870s) and Mary (employed at Paddington Infants for 34 years). 

Pupil absence persisted during the headship of Patrick Sheehy, who rented a house in Mitchell Street ‘within sight of the school buildings’.  Jessie (7) and Eleanor (9) Gordon of 24 Talford Street had an average attendance of 47 days (140 days each year was compulsory) in the first half of 1889.  Their father Alexander’s excuse – ‘kept at home to assist in the house and go on errands’ – was not accepted.  Mrs Buckley of 72 Forsythe Street was given departmental approval to remove 13-year-old Kate to help look after her seven siblings.  

Collecting fees, often from deserted wives, was an ongoing chore.  Corporation labourer Charles Denning of 28 Bay Street, supporting a wife and four children on a weekly wage of 30 shillings, asked for his fees to be waived.  Parents complained that their children were harassed for not bringing the money.  In some cases legal proceedings were instituted to recover arrears. 

There were outbreaks of scarlatina.  Sewing mistress Patience Henerie had time off when her servant developed typhoid, as did infants assistant Theresa Adrain whose father and brother contracted the illness, the latter fatally. 

A compliment from a parent was a rare event.  John Evans of 26 Old Parramatta Road, Forest Lodge took the trouble to write to Sheehy thanking him and his staff for their kindness to his son who had passed the Junior Examination and gained employment as a lithographer.

Sheehy, whose wife Sarah née Sheahan was a headmistress at Wisemans Ferry and Green Valley among other schools, was appointed an Inspector in 1890 and retired from teaching in 1907.  His successor at Glebe was William Cornish (1856 – 1935), born in Balmain and educated at Birchgrove Public and Fort Street School and Training School.  He rented in Wigram Road South and later in Toxteth Road.  ‘Too close to the open sewer from Annandale’, he asked the Department in 1894 if he could move to a home with an attached bathing house in Cove Street Balmain so that his wife could sea bathe.  Permission was given as the Balmain tram stopped at the school gate and the school’s caretaker/ cleaner, living nearby, could keep an eye on the premises.

During the economic depression of the 1890s more parents fell into arrears with school fees.  Overcrowding persisted despite the addition of a second storey to the boys’ school in 1897.  There were skirmishes in Victoria Park involving boys from Glebe, Darlington, Blackfriars and St Benedicts armed with catapults, stones and sawn- off broom handles. Sport was encouraged by teacher Walter Laws, Secretary of the Public Schools Amateur Athletic Association, who also drilled the school cadets, ‘one of the largest corps in the colony’.  (Laws was prone to bouts of laryngitis.) Boys went swimming at Elkington Baths, Balmain.  A superannuation fund for teachers was in existence, and bank pass books savings accounts were opened for pupils.

Cornish was promoted to Inspector in 1900, succeeding Peter Board at Lismore.  He resigned in 1923 after 50 years of teaching and died at Hurstville on 28 July 1935.  He was a Mason and a founder of the Balmain Electorate Cricket Club.

During the headship of William Thomas Bax (1855-1920) Glebe pupils participated in a number of public events, usually at the Sydney Cricket Ground: the Patriotic Fund display in 1900 in support of the Boer War; Federation celebrations; and a ceremony in 1905 marking the first Empire Day.  The evening school was re-established as the result of a petition headed by Thomas Russell of 16 Wigram Road. Bax lived at Claremont 16 Allen Street.  In 1906 he was transferred to Woollahra and died at Waverley on 7 March 1920 survived by his wife Emma, née Pike, and six children, two of whom had brief careers as teachers,

Thomas Herlihy (1858 – 1928) succeeded Bax.  After teaching at Kent Street, St Leonards, Hill End, Burrowa, Balmain, Fort Street, Sussex Street, Ashfield, Crown Street, Bulli, New Lambton, Plattsburg, Kegworth and  Annandale  Herlihy was sent to Glebe where he settled in as headmaster for 17 years, retiring in 1924. 

  1.  Superior Public Schools: public schools with at least 20 students who had completed all primary grades could apply to offer some secondary education.
  2. Pupil Teachers were employed at a minimum age of 13 to spend four years teaching while being taught themselves by a qualified teacher after school hours.
  3. The Council of Education was set up by the Public Schools Act 1866 which took control of the denominational and national schools.  The Department of Education was set up by the Public Instruction Act 1880 which made school attendance compulsory.