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News > Docco's Diary > Docco's Diary | Boarding at SPSC since 1848

Docco's Diary | Boarding at SPSC since 1848

With a boarders' reunion for all former boarders approaching on Friday 4 August 2023, it is perhaps an appropriate time to consider the rich history of boarding at St Peter's College.
Director of Boarding, Timothy Angus and Boarders in 2023
Director of Boarding, Timothy Angus and Boarders in 2023

St Peter's College was founded on 15 July 1847 and we have had boarders at St Peter’s College every year since 1848. The School's first Headmaster, Reverend TP Wilson was appointed in January 1848. The Council of Governors found him a house in Gilbert Place (off Currie Street in the city) and helped him furnish it on the understanding that he would also house some students. These were the first boarders.

After six months of this arrangement Bishop Short, the first Bishop of Adelaide, arranged for the boarders to live with Reverend EK Miller and his wife. A year later the Millers did not wish to continue with this and in July 1849, the Second Master, Mr Allom, took a house in North Adelaide and got the Council to agree that the boarders should be transferred to him there.

Part of the 1848 prospectus for our School said:

Mr Allom has made arrangements for the reception of a limited number of Young Gentleman, who will receive daily instruction at The Collegiate School of St Peter and will reside at his house, situated in Melbourne Street, North Adelaide, in an airy and healthy position, securing a dry and easy walk to and from the present temporary school room.

It is supplied with good well-water.

The comforts of home will be as far as possible united with the regularity and discipline of the School; and it will be Mr Allom’s object to attend to those out-of-school branches of Education which may make his Pupils at once Gentleman and Christians.

The domestic arrangements of the house will be under his own immediate superintendence, assisted by an experienced person as Matron.

Terms, payable in advance (exclusive of the Educational Charge of 10 pounds, 10 shillings, which must be paid to the Secretary of the School, GW Hawkes Esquire) – Young Gentleman under ten years of age, thirty guineas per annum; above that age thirty-five guineas.

Washing – two guineas per annum.

Each pupil must be provided with a knife, fork and spoon; also towels, blankets and sheets”.

Boarders and resident masters and other occupants of School House. F.A Wyatt (with moustache) stands next to Henry Girdlestone (in academic cap)

There are not any records as to what boarding was like in those days for boys who attended St Peter’s College, but here is a description of boarding at another Australian school written by a boarder at around that time and I imagine that conditions may have been similar for St Peter’s boarders:

“We paid only 28 pounds per annum, so we could not be expected to fare as well as schoolboys of the present day. For breakfast and tea we had merely dry bread, with tea in large basins containing about a quart (that would be about two pints) apiece. Green tea alone was used then in the colony. The quantity allotted for our tea was very scant, but a liberal supply of brown sugar, about the colour of coffee, and a dash of milk, made it into a kind of syrup. Two or three basinfuls were considered necessary to wash down the dry bread, and the consequence was that the small boys became like podgy calves. For dinner we had roast beef one day and boiled the next, the boiled beef quite fresh, never corned or salted, sometimes mutton, and ‘duff’, that is, suet puddings – with lumps of suet an inch in diameter, and not very nice either. I have never liked duff since. We never tasted butter, unless by means of a shilling tip to the housekeeper, when one might find some buttered toast under one’s pillow at night”.

A year after that, in July 1850 the boarders moved to Norwood House, the guesthouse of Mr and Mrs Baye, a brick structure which still stands on the south-west corner of William and Sydenham Streets, Norwood. By this time the school itself had moved from the Holy Trinity Church Schoolroom in the city to our present Big School Room here, so it was about twenty-five minutes’ walk from Norwood House to lessons for the boarders.

After more than two years, living quarters were prepared in the present main school building, (now called Old School House), which had been partly built by then.

Image: Boarders sitting on steps in front of Old School House c1872

The Council of Governors granted the school a holiday for twelve days in September and October 1853 ‘to remove the boarding establishment from Norwood House’. At first the Acting Headmaster’s wife, Mrs Jenkins, looked after the boarders, but on the 31st May 1854, Mrs Baye agreed to undertake again boarding and domestic arrangements in place of Mrs Jenkins. She looked after the boarders until 1870. The school magazine records the care she bestowed on the boys, how well she fed them and how she scolded them for wet boots and damp socks: her attention to the boys in times of sickness was unremitting.

So in the first six and a half years of the life of St Peter’s College the boarders had been housed in five different places.

The dormitories for the boarders were in what are now rooms 16 and 17. The General room for the boarders (also used as a dining room) was directly under room 17 (now the room used by Personal Assistant to the Headmaster). The library was in what is now the Headmaster’s Study.

By 1854 the School contained 65 boys of whom 31 were boarders.

In those days boarders were not supposed to go into town without a cap and gown. On the 24th November 1853 the Adelaide Times wrote: ‘Most of our readers have seen boys passing along the streets in this hot weather with square-cornered caps on their heads and exposed to all the danger that such foolish headgear invites. They do not, perhaps, know that these poor fellows are scholars of the Collegiate School. Those with gowns are boarders as well as scholars’.

Image thanks to State Library c1914

Several people have written about their memories of boarding house life in those early years. Mr KHJ Rowe wrote: ‘I was born on the 29th May 1908 and started as St Peter’s in the 1st term of 1915 as a boarder. I was six years of age. I would not have been accepted at that age, but an exception was made as I had two older brothers at the school.’

‘We would go to the Intercols in horse-drawn ‘drags’. In those days we had to wear straw hats with the old metal badges. If a student did not attend these Intercols, on the following Monday at school he was thrown into the horse trough. This nearly happened to me because I was not with the other boys one year. However, I was saved from a dunking when someone admitted they saw me with a girl on the other side of the Oval!’

Image thanks to State Library c1920

In 1920 the new Headmaster, Mr Bickersteth, decided a ‘House system’ should be introduced to St Peter’s following well known English schools such as Clifton and Australian schools such as Melbourne Grammar. By then there were 124 boarders here and two new boarding houses had developed. There were 65 boys in what became known as School House, 31 in Wyatt’s House and 28 in Brooks’ House. For the purposes of sporting competition Wyatt’s and Brooks’ Houses were combined.

Mr Bickersteth, Headmaster of St Peter’s College from 1920 said in his Speech Day address at the end of 1923: “The boarding-houses have been full throughout the year and will be full again next year. I would point out that of rather more than 200 boarders we now have in the school, no less than 70 have homes in Adelaide or the suburbs. This, I think, is a fair indication that parents are realising the importance of the boarding system for the education of their children, and not using boarding-houses merely as a convenience, or owing to the distance they live from Adelaide”.

In 1936 School House boarders moved from Old School House to what was then New School House (specially built as a boarding house) – now called the Pentreath Building. There was a total of 82 Senior School boarders in 1936 and 47 Junior/Prep boarders.

Image: School House was built in 1936 and remained a boarding house until 1971. The building was renamed Pentreath in 1976

By 1937 there had developed two boarding houses: 1. “School” and 2. “Wyatt and Allen” and six day Houses: Hawkes, Short, Farrell, Da Costa, and then Woodcock and MacDermott.

It has often been suggested that there is a strong correlation between the number of boarders here and the state of the rural economy. Many boarders have come from country towns where the main industry is agriculture. As such, there have been times where boarding houses have combined or expanded to suit the demand.

For example the boarders at Athelney House (from 1965 onwards) had various names:


School at Athelney

School/Athelney and in 1983 they were renamed School House.

Image: Athelney House 1991

However, at the end of 2002 School House closed. Wyatt and Allen House was expanded across the old grass tennis courts to hold 90 boarders with improved accommodation and boarding was renamed “School and Allen” House.

Image: Boarders with Michael Gilmore Wyatt & Allen House Master in early 1990s

 “The Message of its Walls and Fields” by Katharine Thornton shows the number of boarders at St Peter’s College each year from the earliest years until publication in 2009.

There were always boarders at St Peter’s College in the earliest years 1848-1915 with a peak of 80 on 1909.

The Prep School (now called Junior School) had boarders every year from when it started in 1910 with a peak of 65 in 1926. The last year when there were at least 20 Prep School boarders was 1982.

There have been two times in the life of the School when the total numbers of boarders at St Peter’s College have been over 200.

1. Mid 1920s. There were 201 boarders in 1926 and 202 boarders in 1928.

2. Mid 1960s. There was a huge expansion in boarding numbers in 1964 when we had 170 senior school boarders and 57 prep boarders. This led to the operation of three boarding houses for a time (1965-1971): Athelney, ‘Wyatt and Allen’ and School.

There was a bad drought in 1968 which led to a fall in boarding numbers in 1972 (133 Senior School boarders and 19 Prep boarders). This meant that only two boarding houses (Athelney and ‘Wyatt and Allen’) were operating from 1972.


Interesting comments on boarding

The late Betty Archdale, famous as the Headmistress of the Sydney school, Abbotsleigh, claimed in her autobiography, that boarders ‘made’ the school.

Mr RJ Stanley has written: ‘Those who live and work closely together develop, as individuals, strong, lasting friendships and, as a unit, an enviable ‘esprit de corps’, which effectively means House spirit. Boarders develop both of these qualities. Any school, without boarders, loses a great deal of character.’

Someone once wrote that ‘boys under private tuition are preparing to live, but at boarding schools they live’.

The 1897 St Peter’s College magazine refers to the boarders as the nucleus of the school. What is an atom without a nucleus?

Former Headmaster Dr Shinkfield always said that he felt that every boy would derive great benefit from a year in the boarding house.

I have always thought that a school is not much of a school without boarders. Is not the spirit of camaraderie experienced in a boarding House unique?

Dr Arnold, the famous Headmaster of Rugby School in England, is looked upon by many as the greatest influence on public school education. And, as explained in the St Peter’s College magazine of July 1895, Arnold considered there were three dominant principles to be observed. They were: a system of government by the prefects, a strong corporate spirit, and education not only of the intellect, but of the character – the whole man. I argue that these three parts of education are best done in the boarding environment, because for a boy who is only at school between about 8.30am and 4.00pm, there is a limit to what can be achieved outside the classroom.

The school magazine of 1895 also describes the sort of man produced from good public schools and I feel much of it remains applicable to a man who has been educated in a well-run boarding house in the year 2023 over 128 years later. I quote,

‘the man has self-reliance, he can make himself useful in the world, he has learnt a reasonably true measure of himself and others, and he has had his conceits, his vanities and his angularities rubbed off. When required to accept responsibility, he does not shrink from forming a judgment, and acting on it, and he can show sobriety, independence and courage in the service of others.’

Mr AG Greenwood (Head of School House 1991-2002) has written about a structured, supportive and caring educational environment in which a dedicated team of people encourages the development in boys of aspects of outlook and character, which will benefit them in the modern world. He has written about  ‘the courage to do the very best you can in all you undertake’, ‘to broaden your experience as much as possible’, ‘to reach your potential in your work’, ‘to participate as widely as possible’. He has described the core values as ‘Trust, personal security and cooperation with others’.

Image: School House in the early 1990s

And surely a good boarding house is the best place to learn these values, as well as developing social skills, developing tolerance and sensitivity to the needs of others, developing a sense of community, understanding the importance of giving service to your various communities: family, House, School, local and national?

Image: School & Allen students compete in Summer House Games 2022

St Peter’s College has a reputation for producing leaders and where better to learn to lead than in the boarding environment? Even in junior years, boys are expected take on managing groups of boys in carrying out various duties and that this process of developing leadership skills culminates in senior years with the appointment of House Prefects, who have considerable independent authority for running the House. Also important are the opportunities provided for learning about the Christian faith and putting Christian principles into practice by serving and helping others.

Researched and written by David Docwra
David Docwra retired from St Peter’s College in December 2015 after 37 years’ service and is fondly remembered by many as a dedicated teacher, a committed coach of squash, cricket and soccer, and most especially as a passionate Head of Hawkes House for 21 years. David remains connected to St Peter’s College and regularly provides historical articles for the St Peter’s Old Collegians newsletters.

All former St Peter's College boarders are invited to attend a special Boarders' Reunion on Friday 4 August. We encourage you to also attend the White & Blue Ball the following evening in Memorial Hall with your partner. More details can be found for both events here.


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