Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College


Related links
1865 Name-Change at Wesley
John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
Reverend James S. Waugh

(April, 2015, for Middle School Founders' Day Assembly, Elsternwick Campus)

150 years ago today, in 1865, Wesley College didn’t exist. 

 But, it was beginning to. 

A grand, two-storey, grey building was rising in a large paddock alongside the track leading from Melbourne to St Kilda, closer to St Kilda than Melbourne, and opposite wetlands which, since then, have been shaped into Albert Park Lake.

Back in January of that year, its Foundation Stone had been laid and it was planned that the building would receive its first students in about nine months’ time … in January, 1866.

In late April 1865, however, it had no students, no teachers and no Principal.  

The name it had been given was a bit of a mouthful … the ‘Victoria Wesleyan Methodist Grammar School’.

These words didn’t slip off the tongue quite as easily as ‘Melbourne Grammar School’ or ‘Scotch College’ ... two schools that did exist 150 years ago.

We don’t know why the new school’s name was changed … but, in October 1865, it was. 

It became ‘Wesley College’.

The name ‘Wesley’ is the name of a man who was born in England 312 years ago … John Wesley.  He lived to be 88 years old, before he died in 1791. 

Our school is named after him.

During his life, John Wesley became famous for many great deeds … most of which saved people from the misery of poverty, illness, addiction, unemployment, loneliness, discrimination and oppression. 

As well, Wesley very, very keenly established schools for all sorts of people, young and old. 

Not only did John Wesley want people to be healthy and happy but also he wanted them to use knowledge to be better people … for their own sake, and for the sake of others.

John Wesley inspired hundreds of thousands of people to follow his actions. 

Three of these people were living in Victoria at the time of the gold rushes, over 150 years ago.  

Their names were Reverend Daniel Draper, Mister Walter Powell and Reverend James Waugh, and they became the leading founders of our school, Wesley College. 

Daniel Draper was an active and clever Christian minister who was very proud that his Church, the Wesleyan Methodist Church, was providing many, many schools for young students throughout Victoria, but he wanted to build a school for older students as well.  There were very few schools for older students in Victoria at the time.

Walter Powell wanted exactly the same thing as his close friend Daniel Draper.  He was active, too, and was a very successful hardware retailer who had become rich during Victoria’s gold rush era and who was donating generously to the establishment of the new school … not just money, but equipment and books, as well.

For many years, Draper and Powell planned constantly for the building of Wesley College.  

In 1865 … whilst the building was continuing on the St Kilda track … they were in Great Britain seeking a Principal for the school and buying books for the library.

Now, though, let me introduce you to the third leading founder of Wesley, James Waugh. 

He had been a key planner of Wesley, too, and, in 1865, he was the top leader of the Wesleyan Methodist Church.

Then, when Wesley College opened its doors to teachers and students, in January 1866, James Waugh was the President of the College.  He wasn’t the Principal.  That was James Corrigan, selected by Daniel Draper and Walter Powell the year before. 

The Principal (he was called the Headmaster in those days) was in charge of the students and teachers only during class times. 

But, the President, James Waugh, was in charge of the whole school all the time. 

First, he was in charge of the Principal and, second, he was in charge of the large number of students who actually lived at the school because their homes were far off in the bush.  Finally, he also was in charge of all the money, buildings and equipment needed to run the school.

It was a very important job and to do it properly James Waugh lived at the school with his wife. 

When Wesley held its Opening Ceremony on the warm evening of the 11th of January 1866, James Waugh’s bold speech inspired all who heard it. 

Fortunately, we can still read Waugh’s entire speech and, to finish today, I would like to pass on some of his words to you.  His speech was long and you will be glad to know that I am going to quote only one short, remarkable paragraph. 

Remembering that Wesley was a boys-only school in those days, here is what he said about what a good school should be like:-

"The morals of all rightly conducted schools are carefully fenced and guarded.  They are conformed to the character of a happy, cheerful home as much as possible, so that every boy may feel that his teachers are among his best friends, and that the lines have fallen unto him in pleasant places."

Waugh believed his school should be homely ... be as happy, and cheerful, as possible.  Teachers and students should be friends.

The Elsternwick Campus of modern Wesley College knows something of these homely values.

After all, it’s unique life commenced in a family … as Cromarty School, run by the three sisters Annie, Jane and Louisa Day, using buildings owned by their family and named after their mother’s home town in Scotland.

Later, when Cromarty and Methodist Ladies College joined together, the school moved here … to a Gladstone Avenue family home, named Kooyong, purchased from Mr Robert Allen.

It’s quite significant, isn’t it, that your front entrance is a homely porch and front door.

You live closely together here, don’t you, and can all look out for each other … easily.

You have the marvellous opportunity to live the dream that James Waugh had for you …

  •       That your school life be happy.

  •       That your teachers are your friends.

  •       That the lines fall unto you in pleasant places.

I never taught at Elsternwick Campus but well I remember what those who did teach here said about their Campus. 

Always, they echoed strongly the sentiments that I have just mentioned … happiness, friendliness and pleasantness.

So, in honour of our School’s founders, I say to you now … quietly decide to keep on growing that happiness, here at Elsternwick, through your kindness with one other … and, seeking the kindness in one another.

Each day, in this place, play your part in continuing to bring James Waugh’s words true.

Related links
1865 Name-Change at Wesley
John Wesley : Doing All The Good He Could
Reverend James S. Waugh
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