The Hornbrook Ragged School in Prahran gave a ‘dirty, disorderly group of neglected children’ a chance at education. Like many of the Hornbrook schools, the Prahran school provided a basic education in the three R’s, as well as introductory Bible study. This school registration document also shows that the school provided instruction in needlework for girls and geography for boys.
Public Record Office Victoria, VPRS 10300/P 1, unit 2Contributors
Uneducated children, if ‘left uncared for, would inevitably grow up to be pests and outcasts of society’.
– 6th Annual Report of Hornbrook Ragged School Association.
In the 1860s, Melbourne’s officials noted a growing number of destitute and neglected children, unable to afford an education. Common and National schools charged a fee, ranging from 3 to 10 shillings a month, a price too high for Melbourne’s poorest. Even those families who could spare a school fee struggled to provide their children with the neat clothes and shoes necessary for admittance into a local school.
Dirty, ill-clothed and poor, these children were quickly excluded from respectable schools or were simply unable to sacrifice precious time needed for begging or selling matches. For these families, education was a luxury they could not afford.
The solution was to establish a system of Ragged Schools, named after the ragged appearance of the pupils. These schools were ‘designed for the children of the very lowest class among our population – those who, from extreme poverty (the result too often although not always of intemperance and vice) are unable to take advantage of ordinary existing schools’.
In 1859 the first Ragged School was opened in Smith Street, Collingwood. By 1863, the Hornbrook Ragged School Association had established 10 schools in Melbourne, and other charities followed its lead. These schools welcomed the street urchins shunned by other schools, providing them with a basic education, often for the first time.
Hornbrook Ragged Schools:
The ladies of the Hornbrook Ragged School Association had established 12 schools by the end of 1867, with over 800 students on their rolls. Volunteers and teachers were nearly all women. Although these women were excluded from managing the finances and higher administration, ‘there could be no doubt that all the success that had been realised were [sic] owing to the action taken by the ladies connected with the schools’.
The Prahran Hornbrook Ragged School, established in 1862, taught 40 students in a small hall, measuring only 7 metres wide and 11 metres long.
The school provided not only a place to learn, but also a place to play. Generous members of the public donated toys, food and clothing and organised Christmas concerts and summer picnics for the students.