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News > Docco's Diary > Docco's Diary: 100th Anniversary of four Day Houses

Docco's Diary: 100th Anniversary of four Day Houses

2024 is the 100th anniversary of the first four Day Houses at St Peter’s College being named Short, Farrell, Da Costa and Hawkes after Founders and generous benefactors of our School in 1924.

Old scholars may be interested to know that 2024 is the 100th anniversary of :

Wait’s House (1920-1923) becoming Short House from 1924.

McMillan’s House (1920), which had become Price’s House (1921-1923), becoming Farrell House from 1924.

Hill’s House (1920-1921), which had become Wood’s House (1922-1923), becoming Da Costa House from 1924.

Irwin’s House (1920-1923) becoming Hawkes House from 1924.

We all know that one of the excellent features of St Peter’s College is the House system.

A previous Headmaster said: “If you have a good House system, you have a good School”. He was right!

Most boys take considerable pride in being a member of a House with a rich tradition at Saints and old scholars usually remember their House with great affection. They often develop strong friendships with others in their House. In some cases these friendships last many years after they have left. If they send their son to Saints, old scholars often want their son to be in the same House as they were! At reunions, old scholars often want to sit with those who were in their House.

The House system gives boys a strong feeling of belonging. It also provides wonderful leadership opportunities. Better pastoral care can be provided in Houses. Inter-House competition in a wide range of co-curricular activities (sport, debating, chess, mooting etc) enriches school life. In 2024 boys continue to wear their House ties and House tops with great pride. Winning House Colours, usually awarded for service to their House, means much to many boys. Winning the Sir George Murray Shield (reintroduced with wider criteria in 2007) for inter-House competition is a major highlight for members of a House.

Woodcock and MacDermott Houses began in 1937. Young and Howard Houses in 1963. Farr House started in 1987.

The numbers of boarders in our School has fluctuated greatly and the organisation of boarding houses has had to respond to the numbers of boarders in any particular era. In 2024 we have about ninety boarders and they are all in School and Allen House. In 1920 there were three boarding houses, School House containing 65, Wyatt’s House containing 31, and Brooks’ House 28 boys. There were also 26 boarders in the “Prep” (now Junior School).

Image: School House (Prep School) 1924

It is Headmaster Bickersteth (1920-1933) that we have to thank for our excellent ‘House system’. Reverend Julian Bickersteth had been appointed Headmaster of St Peter’s College in 1920 and he immediately introduced the House system. This replaced a “district system” in which boys were in one of four groups: Norths, Wests, Souths or Boarders for internal sporting competition that existed until 1919. The group a boy was in depended on where his home was.

Quoting from the May 1920 St Peter’s College magazine:

The House System

“At the beginning of the first term of the Headmaster’s regime, a change of considerable importance and in­terest to both present and past St. Peter’s boys was made in the School organisation. It was felt by many that the old “district system” had consider­able disadvantages, such as the diffi­culty of adjusting numbers, and the growth of local instead of School feel­ing amongst the contestants. The Headmaster’s proposal, therefore, that the School should follow the very suc­cessful “House systems” of such great “Day” and “Boarding” schools as Clifton and Melbourne Grammar was received with enthusiasm, and the time-honoured ‘“Districts” passed away with less regret than was expected.

Under the new scheme, there are three boarding houses, containing sixty-five, thirty-one, and twenty-eight boys respectively, and four Houses for the day boys, mustering some eighty boys each.

Each House is in charge of a Housemaster and Assistant Housemaster or Tutor, with a Head Prefect and Assistant Prefects. Every House is to be allotted its own buildings or classrooms for meetings and assemblies, its own playing grounds, material, and supervision of compulsory games. More important still, each boy is to be attached to a House from the beginning to the end of his school career, and his Housemaster is to possess a definite control over every phase of his school activities.

It is hoped that in this way a better guidance and direction can be obtained over the boys in a school which has now reached such large dimensions. Two masters and four prefects in a House of only eighty boys can interest themselves in character-building, intellectual development, and athletic progress in a way that is impossible when a boy passes rapidly from form master to form master, and from team to team.

The working of a House system in any great public school is in the hands of the boys — more particularly the prefects — rather than the masters, and the successful House is the one whose enthusiasm is an all-pervading and constantly burning fire.

The Headmaster has made the wise regula­tion that the teams in each House are all to be given the opportunity of scor­ing points towards the competitions for the Tolley Cup. No matter how small the boy, he can feel, this year, that even in the House third eleven, he is not only striving ulti­mately to win his House colours or blazer, but that he is actually helping his House to immediate success”.

The distribution of Houses in 1920 was:

Day House 1920 Housemaster Colours From 1924
Wait's Mr BP Wait Chocolate Short House
McMillan's Mr GA McMillan Purple Farrell House
Hill's Mr JH Hill Grey Da Costa House
Irwin's Rev WH Irwin Gold Hawkes House

The decision to name the Houses Short, Farrell, Da Costa and Hawkes was to recognise these four great Founders and benefactors of our School.

Augustus Short (1802-1883), was the first Anglican Bishop of Adelaide. He transformed the school which had been started at Trinity Church in Adelaide into the Collegiate School of St Peter, and on 24 May 1849 laid its foundation stone. Short House is named in his honour.

James Farrell’s bequest on his death in 1869 allowed the School to pay off most of its debts and embark on an extensive building and development programme.

Benjamin Mendes Da Costa has been the School’s major benefactor, but it was over 40 years after his death in 1869 until the Council of Governors gained full control of his estate.

George Wright Hawkes was elected a Governor in 1852. He was on the Council of Governors for nearly 50 years. He helped our School survive the difficult economic depression of the 1890s.

Many would say the strong House system has been one of the major reasons our School has become one of the finest schools in the world. Our School has produced leaders in all fields of life.

Surely we would all agree that Headmaster Bickersteth showed great vision in starting the House system in his first term - the First Term of 1920?

Surely we would also support the decision of The Council of Governors, who, in 1924, could see the advantage in giving these first four Day Houses permanent names, which would remain the same for 100 years, that would honour some of our main Founders and benefactors?

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. In 2023 David was made an Honorary Member of the St Peter’s Old Collegians’ Association.

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