Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

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A HISTORY OF THE SCHOOL
(1977, for Fundraising Appeal Case Statement)

"The new institution is to be conducted, not on sectarian, but on general and catholic religious principles.  In subservience to this, it is designed to afford the youth of our colony a first class classical and commercial education, as well as instruction in the higher branches of literature.

('The Argus', 11/3/1858, announces plans for a Wesleyan grammar school)

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Through the mid-1860s columns of their Church's 'Chronicle', education-proud Wesleyan Methodists in, as one wrote, "golden Victoria - the richest and most populous of the Australian colonies" tartly berated the Committee of Wesley College for the lengthy delay in building the much needed school.  On 18 January, 1866, however, when its classroom doors opened, its ideals were intact and ready for practice.

To parents of the boys in his charge, James Waugh, the President of the College, said, "Give your children a comprehensive education.  Cultivate their minds and their consciences.  Endow them as far as you can, with a better fortune than gold or silver.  Equip them for the duties of the coming time."  On Speech Day 1866, his Headmaster, the bright young Irishman James Corrigan, reported that "We aim steadily at training into healthy development the whole nature of the pupil, physical, intellectual, and moral."

And so, on these foundations, grew the school on the road to St Kilda, imposingly grey in its coat of Portland cement, amidst paddocks of grass, dotted with gum trees.

The school grew rapidly in its first five years with an enrolment in excess of 200 and new building improving the facilities offered to the clientele drawn from Victoria and all its neighbouring colonies. 

Through M.H. Irving, successor to Corrigan in 1871, Wesley grew even stronger.  In his first report to the school, Irving clearly delineated his priorities:  sound moral training, fluency and accuracy in English useage, rapidity and "perfect accuracy" in arithmetic and the study of Latin (and, secondly, of Greek) were of supreme importance.

Hence the promising start was consolidated.  More and more boys matriculated, well qualified teachers were appointed, inter-school games became more frequent and the good physical health of the constituency prevailed.

Towards the end of the century, however, the early optimisms had soured and the depression of the 'nineties deepened an already sagging trough in the school's fortunes.  It was to this dilemma, in 1902, that Wesley's now famous Headmaster, L.A. Adamson, brought his energy.

In twenty "strenuous" years and ten "sentimental" years, as the school's centennial History describes them, Wesley matured and rounded its character. 

It was Adamson's Wesley, with its inward pride (its 'new' purple and gold, its sporting successes, its marvellous array of school songs, its Adamson Hall) and its outward service (its veneration of individual contributions to the public good, its Headmaster's involvement in community life, its offerings for war service) which flowered in a vigorous display of educational leadership and also provided the germination for the dedicated and selfless service to Wesley and the community generally of such teachers as W.D. Kennedy, G.D. Hattam, A.A. Frank, P.L. Williams, L.E. Lesser, E.A.Wells, R.G. Hulme, J. Rush, A.J. Dodd, A.W. Mitchell, W.A. Schuster  -  all old boys of the era, the latter two, members of the staff still.

Housed in the new buildings provided through the generosity of the Nicholas brothers in the early 'thirties, the values of the old school were carried forward by these, and other such men, under the leadership of Adamson's protege, Harold Stewart, and then Neil MacNeil, W.H. Frederick and T.H. Coates.

In 1940, MacNeil encountered a school set in its ways and his changes met with grudging acceptance in their initial years.  Nonetheless, following a war-time sojourn at Scotch College, the school had laid the groundwork for a new era.

The school was to unfurl once again its calling to expand its vision. 

It was during these years of growing State secondary education that Wesley looked to the service it could offer.  More space was needed.  It was found at Syndal and Healesville.  Wider participation in the school's affairs by more people would be fruitful.  It came from a new Parents' Association and Students' Representative Council.  A closer application of personal care within  the school and within society ought be encouraged.  A school counselling  bureau was created and Community Service was launched.

As leading educationalists, Frederick and Coates provided the life and the sensitivity to stimulate the growth of the modern Wesley community.

The most recent years have brought some fundamental changes to the structures of the school.  As Mr D.H. Prest completes his sixth year as Headmaster, he has seen 

  • a dramatic change in the size and nature of the academic and administrative staff, 
  • redefinition of the size, operating and composition of the Council, 
  • the appointment of a new Bursar, 
  • a greater need for the examination of the school's professional role induced by the publication of the Karmel Report, 
  • a vast increase in the size and function of the library, 
  • non-streaming of classes, 
  • the total renovation of the Prahran buildings, 
  • the re-establishment of Forms One and Two at Prahran and 
  • the provision of a lower primary school at Syndal with the consequent introduction of co-education.
In such a time, it is significant that a committee of academic staff, charged in 1976 with the preparation of a revised set of goals for the school, was moved to use familiar, though more specific, terms when it wrote "Wesley College will help each student to become a whole person" and then went on to define the qualities of wholeness.

In the 112 years of its life, Wesley College holds firm to its founders' commitment to the personal and individual well-being of its charges.

Related link
A History of the School, written in 1990
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