St John's Schoolhouse Museum

...take a step back in time and get in touch with Canberra's early history

Step back to the days of slate boards, slate pencils, blackboards, chalk and inkwells at the St John’s Schoolhouse Museum, situated adjacent to the historic St John’s Church and churchyard. 

 

Canberra’s first schoolhouse was built in the first half of the 19th century by Robert Campbell of Duntroon for the education of workers’ children. Consisting of a schoolroom with five attached rooms it served as the residence for the schoolmaster and his family.

The building was constructed from rubble and bluestone quarried locally, with shingle roof and the walls being two feet thick to afford protection from Canberra’s harsh climate.

 

Children walked across the fields to attend school and pioneering families on the school roll include the Blundell children who lived in Blundell's Cottage, one of the few stone buildings of its type to have survived intact in the ACT.

The school's first 30 or so years were far from easy. Suitable teachers were hard to attract to small rural communities and retaining them was difficult. Reports from teachers during these early years reflected the hardships they experienced, including meagre funding and social isolation.

The first students arrived in 1845 and it closed as a school in 1907. In 1969 it opened as a museum. It is set up to depict schooling in the 1870s.

 

Today’s children like to ring the school bell, sit at the old desks, gaze at photographs of 19th century school pupils and play simple but entertaining children's games of an earlier age.

Visitors will find extensive photographic displays which show the growth and development of Canberra from a scattered farming community to the national capital.

 

Scrapbooks dating from 1954 to the present are held at the Schoolhouse. They consist of newspaper cuttings, brochures, photos, letters and journal articles relating to the Schoolhouse, St John’s Church, other Canberra churches, the Campbell family and the history of Canberra. Royal visits, heritage issues and other local interest stories are also included.

The museum is staffed by volunteers and is open on Wednesdays 10.00 am to Noon and Saturdays and Sundays 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm.

 

School excursions and group tours at other times are by arrangement.

 

Tel: 02 6295 8732 or 0427 430 158

schoolhouse@stjohnscanberra.org 

 

Entry for individuals is by donation.

There is a charge for groups. 

St John's School class photograph in 1872. Teacher Mr James Abernethy is seen here with his daughters Kate and Mary who assisted their Father at the school. 

Ringing the school bell

Children playing knucklebones

The Schoolhouse thanks ACT Heritage for the receipt of an Emergency Grant of $17,155in 2018 towards the cost of damage done by termites. Click here to see photos of the damage done by termites, for a donation form and information.

 

Bushrangers, hold-ups and convicts

What were people talking about  in 1845 when St John's Church was consecrated and the Schoolhouse was built and funded by Robert Campbell, a wealthy pastoralist and owner of the adjacent Duntroon Estate?

Australia was still very much a convict society and it was to be another six years before the discovery of gold transformed the colony. The total European population was just over 300,000 people. Nobody knew how many Aborigines there were.

1845 was a bad year for bushrangers in the Canberra and Goulburn districts. Almost daily, the columns of the press carried stories of hold-ups and robberies. A Frenchman named Pierre Poidevin, who kept an inn at old Collector, was believed to be in league with the bushrangers and kept them informed of the movements of the troopers.

On the Limestone Plains people might be gossiping about the adventures of William Klensendorlffe. His residence was about where the Hyatt Hotel stands today. He had a bad reputation for savage cruelty to his convict servants.

When one of his men was attacked by a bushranger Klensendorlrre went to investigate. He found himself bailed up by the bushranger Jacky Jacky with a pistol at his head. He was forced to hand over his money and watch and, most humiliating of all, he was compelled to strip and walk home nearly nude. - Robert Wilson

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