Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

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1865 NAME-CHANGE AT WESLEY
(June, 2003, progression of thinking re the above in an email discussion with Andrew Lemon, author of A Great Australian School : Wesley College Examined - published 2004)

From one email to Andrew

David Dunn at GW has asked me to write a short piece re John Wesley and Wesley College.  A significant fact for David is the name-change from 'Wesleyan Methodist Grammar School' to 'Wesley College Melbourne' in late 1865 and I would like to make a passing reference to this in my piece.

In your research for your history, did you come across any documentary evidence that provides the reason for this name-change?  There are some theories, of course ...

*  Given the Methodist sects, 'Wesley College' was far more inclusive than the original name - and may have helped thereby to raise the additional funds required to complete the initial project.  (I think you may have mentioned this to me, but I'm not sure.)

*  It was a straight-forward marketing decision simply to broaden the enrolment catchment.

*  A combination of the above ... 'Wesley' personified the philosophy of the school rather than sectionalised it and opened it beyond Methodism; 'College' intimated a broader curriculum and this also opened up a greater field of students; all this matched the Wesleyan theological precept re the salvation of 'all' as opposed to the salvation of the 'elect'.  And, of course, it hopefully gave the school greater access to the education and philanthropic markets!!

From another email to Andrew

I think that the name 'Wesleyan Methodist Grammar School' was more than a working title for the school.  Also, I think that your note, that "Only when the building was under construction was the final name decided upon", is both correct and incorrect.

Saying this, I mean that certainly the final name 'Wesley College' was decided upon during construction but, also, it can be said that this was in fact the school's final final name!  It seems clear to me that the Committee well and truly had settled on the original name as the official name at the beginning of 1865.

In its 20/1/1865 edition reporting the laying of the school's foundation stone, 'The Wesleyan Chronicle' writes:-

(a)  "The centre of the front ... is surmounted with a pediment, in the tympanum of which is an ornamented device containing the inscription, 'Wesleyan Methodist Grammar School. Erected A.D. 1865.'" in its architectural description of the school; and

(b) "The Rev. Joseph Dare read a copy of the parchment scroll, which ... had been deposited in a cavity underneath the foundation-stone.  The following are the principal items:- The foundation-stone of the Victoria Wesleyan Methodist Grammar School was laid by His Excellency ... on the 4th day of January, 1865 ... " in its report of the ceremony.  (It is interesting to note the inclusion of the word 'Victoria'.)

To me, these references indicate the clear intention that the new school was to be named as stated in (a) and (b).

This then, in my mind, means that there must have been a quite considered decision made later that year to alter the name.

JS Waugh, in his January 1866 Inaugural Address, said "I wish now, however, to refer more particularly to the schools of higher education.  These come midway between the primary school and the university.  They are known as academies and grammar schools, and sometimes, but with less accuracy, as colleges."  Later in the Address he comments "Methodism in some other colonies has been before Victoria in the establishment of collegiate schools, but today she inaugurates 'Wesley College', for the purpose of a superior education."


I am beginning to hypothesise that Waugh's appointment as resident President of the College coincided with the name-change; perhaps it was he that instigated the new name.  It may be that it was thought that the title 'Wesley College' aptly matched the concept of a university college (with its master, fellows, scholars, students) that was envisaged as being paralleled at Wesley, with its resident President, its non-resident Headmaster, its two resident assistant-masters, its non-resident masters, its intended theological students (three in 1866) and its boarding and day students.  Given Waugh's comments above, I think it is fair to say that he would have been particular in applying the name 'College' to the new school.

All this may mean, then, that the name indeed was changed to designate status and to engender esteem and that both of these were substantial, not superficial. 

I have not mentioned the change to 'Wesley' here.  I would love to see documentary evidence of the reason for choosing the name, but I cannot help but think that this alteration, deliberately or not, lessened the perception of sectarianism and broadened the philosophy of the College.  Waugh, of course, lauds John Wesley as an education author and as founder of Kingswood School in his Inaugural Address.

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John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
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