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News > Docco's Diary > Docco's Diary: 175th Anniversary Old School House & Big School Room

Docco's Diary: 175th Anniversary Old School House & Big School Room

175th anniversary of the laying of the Foundation Stone of Old School House and the building of The Big School Room, which was hurriedly constructed in 1849 in preparation for students early in 1850.
Old School House and Big School Room c1862
Old School House and Big School Room c1862

Image: Groundsman on Main Oval c1920

We have recently been celebrating the 175th anniversary of the first day in the life of our School on July 15th 1847.

But old scholars may be interested to know that 2024 is the 175th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone of Old School House (the ‘Main Building’ of St Peter’s College) on 24 May 1849. It is also the 175th anniversary of the building of the Big School Room, which was hurriedly constructed in the last three months of 1849 in preparation for the arrival of boys early in 1850.

This date may have been chosen because it was Queen Victoria’s 30th birthday. She was the monarch at the time. The “South Australian Register” newspaper of 26 May 1849 describes the occasion indicating that the stone was laid in the north west corner of what was to become Old School House by Dr Augustus Short, the first Bishop of Adelaide. Bishop Short laid the first foundation stone, using two blocks from the old city bridge. Though the foundation stones are unmarked, they stand out due to their noticeably larger size compared to the surrounding stones, making them identifiable to those with a keen eye.

Image: Bishop Augustus Short

Image: Newspaper article reporting “the First Stone of the Collegiate School of Saint Peter’s, Adelaide”, 26 May 1849.

Other members of the Council of Governors present at the ceremony included:

Sir Henry Edward Fox Young, Lieutenant Governor of South Australia
William Allen, a major benefactor for the building of Old School House
Reverend James Farrell, who had become the Colonial Chaplain after the death of Reverend CB Howard in 1843
Reverend William James Woodcock, incumbent at St John’s Church, Halifax Street
Marshall MacDermott, a principal founder of our School
William Wyatt, a governor of our School until his death in 1886
The first Headmaster of St Peter’s College: Reverend Theodore Percival Wilson

The walls of Old School House rose steadily during 1849 and the front part of it was eventually completed in 1851.

If you had come to our School in the mid-1850s, you would only have seen The Big School Room and the front part Old School House.
Old School House was extended in 1870 with the additions of the northern and southern wings. In 1897 the north wing was continued over the archway and joined to the Big School Room. Many old scholars will remember taking music lessons in the North wing of Old School House.

Image: Old School House 1870 with wings seamlessly constructed.

The step on the southern wing addition is said to have been installed for Rev. George Farr, Headmaster from 1854 to 1878. Being a shorter man, he needed a boost to mount his horse.

Over the years there has been much speculation about the heads on Old School House. Guy Maddern (MAC 1974) in his last year as a boy at our School, when he was editor of the School magazine, tried to identify these heads and published the following pages in the 1974 School Magazine.

2024 is also the 175th anniversary of the building of the Big School Room, which was constructed in just over three months from the laying from the foundation stone on 10 October 1849. It was opened on 23 January 1850. During 1849, the Trinity School Room, next to Holy Trinity Church in the city of Adelaide, where boys were having their lessons, had become badly overcrowded because of steady stream of new enrolments. The Council of Governors “decided that it would have to begin the erection of a new schoolroom at Hackney immediately even this meant delay in completing the main building………..” The architect used humble and locally sourced materials to design an inexpensive but attractive building.

Hastily constructed:  Big School Room with the walls constructed with calcrete ‘raised on the collegiate estate, well grouted with quick lime and sharp sand of the Torrens’. Local brick surrounds the doors and windows with etchings of past students still visible today.

The architect also ensured that the east and west doors were exactly aligned with the east and west doors of Old School House so that when all doors are opened it is possible to look right through both buildings.

Image: View from Big School Room to Main Oval

The Big School Room has been used for a large range of school activities in its life of 175 years. These have included its use as a classroom for the teaching of lessons, school assemblies, Blue and White Dances, debating, mooting, chess and meetings of all kinds. In 1938 it became used as The Stow Memorial Library. This was the gift of Mrs. Stow to the School in memory of her husband, Mr. Percival Randolph Stow, who died in 1937. It was used as a library until the Miller Library was opened in 1977. Visitors to St Peter’s College in 2024 may be interested to see that it has recently been transformed into a modern learning space that celebrates its history as the oldest classroom still in use in Australia.

During Old Scholars’ Week, old scholars are invited to attend the free History Unlocked: Old School House Heritage Walk on Thursday 25 July. Bring a guest and delve into the School’s history with Mrs. Elisabeth Bramford, Archivist, and the student-led Historical Society.
Register here.

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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