Australia in the 1870s


The Education Act 1872 (Vic) made attending school compulsory for most Victorian children between the ages of 6 and 15. The principles of this Act were that schooling should be free, secular and compulsory, and the aim was to ensure that all children would learn the three 'R's' - reading, writing and arithmetic. The Act made provision for the creation of a government-funded education department to oversee the schools and the building of new schools. The government enforced strict guidelines as to the curriculum, teachers' and students' behaviour and activities that were allowed in the school grounds. Regardless of the location and number of enrolled students, the curriculum and rules were the same for all, but it was difficult to enforce compulsory schooling, especially in remote locations.

The colonial government also wrested responsibility for education from the churches and private providers. Privately run schools had been important in the colonies to supplement the inadequate public system schools. During the 1870s, more denominational and independent schools were established. St Patrick's is one of the oldest Catholic schools in Australia. It is a Marist College that opened in 1872 in The Rocks area of Sydney as a parish primary school for 130 boys. In 1875 St Patrick's opened a day high school for boys at a time when high schools were usually boarding schools. In Melbourne, Xavier College opened in 1872. Ruyton Girls' School was opened by Charlotte Anderson in 1878 as a non-denominational independent school for girls. In 1880, 200 Aboriginal children were enrolled in public schools in New South Wales.

In 1872, a school for disabled (deaf and mute) children was established at Newtown in Sydney by Thomas Pattison, a deaf migrant from Scotland. It initially enrolled 41 children, servicing deaf adults in the evenings. By 1880 New South Wales education was made free, secular and compulsory for able-bodied students. There was no provision for disabled children.

During the 1870s, Mother Mary MacKillop established 40 schools run by the Josephite Congregation across South Australia and Queensland. In September 1871 she was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church after refusing to disband the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart order. Although the Josephites were not disbanded, most of their schools were closed in the wake of this action.

College of St. Francis Xavier, Kew

A snapshot of 1878

  • January
    • The construction of the Ghan railway line commenced at Port Augusta in South Australia.

  • February
    • The telephone was used for the first time in Melbourne.

  • April
    • The Stawell Easter Gift, a professional foot-racing competition over 120 metres, was run for the first time on Easter Monday.

  • May
    • One thousand unemployed men marched up Collins Street in Melbourne demanding relief work.

  • November
    • The song 'Advance Australia Fair' was presented for the first time.

  • December
    • Seamen in Sydney went on strike against the employment of low-paid Chinese crews on ships. The strike spread to other ports in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. A mass anti-Chinese meeting was held in Hyde Park, Sydney.


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