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Scotch – 160 years in five pages

A potted history of Scotch's first 160 years

Words: Mr Paul Mishura and Mr David Ashton

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The school's second site at 61 Collins Street (corner of Spring and Collins Street) was formerly a two storey hotel

The history of Scotch is quite unlike that of most other schools.

Whereas Melbourne Grammar School’s predecessor ceased due to the lack of a principal, and Geelong Grammar School failed and closed from 1860 to 1863, Scotch’s history is one of steady and strong progress with only comparatively minor downturns and blips in its history. Hundreds of schools – some of them sizeable and significant in their time – have come and gone in Scotch’s time, while many others which remain today only do so having survived major crises and plummeting student numbers during the 1890s downturn and the Great Depression.

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Although Scotch owes its existence and success to many people, it is the Rev. James Forbes who is usually acknowledged as the man most responsible for Scotch’s birth. Arriving in Victoria in 1838, much of his 13 years here were spent establishing schools and promoting public education.

In 1850 he called on the Free Church of Scotland to send out a teacher who could run a Presbyterian school which would provide more than rudimentary levels of education. Readers of The Argus of Tuesday 30 September 1851 saw an advertisement entitled ‘MELBOURNE ACADEMY. The Inhabitants of Melbourne and the surrounding districts are hereby respectfully informed, that an Academy will be opened (D.V.) on Monday, the 6th of October next, for the training of Young Men. In the course of Instruction the Classical and higher departments will be systematically combined, with all the other branches of study which are essential to the education of every young gentleman ...’

D.V., or Deo volente, means ‘God willing’. God willed that the school which was to become Scotch College should open on 6 October 1851.

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Robert Lawson was the first Rector (Principal). A married but childless Scotsman, he arrived in Melbourne almost a month after the death of Forbes, whose request to Scotland had sent him forth. Boarders lived with Lawson and his wife Isabella at 198 Stephen Street, Melbourne (now Exhibition Street) and the first classes were held at 155 Spring Street, in a single-storey bluestone cottage that had been the former Chalmer’s School.

The renumbering of city streets means that these numbers do not match modern addresses. A plaque on the west side of Spring Street between Lonsdale and Little Lonsdale Streets now commemorates this first site. Scotch’s first building subsequently had many uses. It was partly damaged by fire in 1943, sold, and presumably demolished soon afterwards. The photograph with Scotch boys standing in front of it was taken in 1911.

Lawson’s immediate success with the Melbourne Academy meant that by December 1851 it was moved to larger premises at 61 Spring Street, on the north-west corner of Spring and Little Collins Streets. The building was a two-storey hotel which was later called the New Treasury Hotel. Boys studied in the main bar of the hotel.

Each major religious denomination was given a grant of land for a school, and in 1853 Lawson’s school was granted land on the corner of Grey and Lansdowne Streets, East Melbourne, on what was known as Eastern Hill. In January 1854 the Academy moved into its new building, which was to be the first of many built on the one-hectare site, crowding the small site with buildings and boys. The Fitzroy Gardens were used as a playground.

In 1855 the first published reference appears to ‘Scotch College’. By November 1856 Lawson had resigned in frustration at a lack of support in dealing with wild boarders, vicious gossip and being the subject of two probing investigations into allegations against him by boarders’ parents. He took about three-quarters of the boys with him to his new school, taking also the records of their details. Accordingly Scotch has no written admission register before 1857. Lawson died at sea in 1869 in what is generally regarded as suicide.

The Rev John Stevens Miller was appointed as the new Rector. For reasons which are unknown, he has never been considered a Principal of Scotch, despite his appointment as Rector and not as Acting Rector. He remained in office only until the arrival in July 1857 of Alexander Morrison, the man who would set Scotch on unshakeable foundations. A lesser man might have failed to continue Lawson’s successful school, which was now a quarter of its size.

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A 184cm tall black-haired Scotsman with pale blue eyes, Alexander Morrison had a commanding presence and was a canny businessman. When Morrison arrived at Scotch on 3 August 1857, he found boys in the schoolyard for whom no details were available. One by one, he called them to his desk and recorded their details in what is Scotch’s earliest admissions register. James Donaldson Law, who would become general manager of the Bank of Victoria for 25 years, had been at Scotch since 1855, but the first proof of his attendance is his appearance in this register. He was the first boy to ‘interview’ Morrison, and is no. 1 in this register.

Although Scotch was a Church-run public school, Morrison took a share of its profits. He was not paid a salary, but received all of Scotch’s revenue on the basis he met running costs and paid the Church up to 10 per cent. Such was his income that he funded many building developments. It was in his interests to expand Scotch and make it strong. He quadrupled enrolments to 201 in his first year and by 1874 had 340 students.

Within two months of arriving he asked for two new rooms, and then asked for more. His request for a new building was met in 1860. Morrison opened a Junior School in 1862. He developed Speech Day and delivered annual reports to market his school. Sport became organised, and Scotch played in the first Public School cricket, football and rowing contests in Victoria. Cadets began in 1884, although drill sessions preceded them.

Morrison was a great fan of corporal punishment, which may have convinced more parents to send him their sons than it turned away (Melbourne Grammar School boys’ humour often centred on his penchant for corporal punishment in comparison to their own Dr Bromby, but that Scotch had many more boys might be telling!). The three-storey bluestone building and two-storey Principal’s house which dominated Scotch’s East Melbourne site were built in 1873.

Scotch boys excelled in Melbourne University’s Matriculation examinations, with the Classics being Morrison’s forte. Scotch is believed, however, to have been the first school in Australia to have had a Science laboratory. During Morrison’s long reign he saw his boys go on to achieve greatness and bring further glory to Scotch. Enrolments inevitably declined during the post-boom period of the 1890s and into the turn of the century, but while this closed or endangered many other schools, it did not threaten Scotch. Although Scotch probably showed some signs of Morrison’s likely lack of attention in his later years, it was in a strong position when he died at Scotch in 1903.

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Although Morrison put Scotch on a strong footing, it was – in the end – but one of his many business interests. His successor – the red-haired, bearded, stout Scotsman, William Still Littlejohn – is arguably Scotch’s greatest Principal, for wholeheartedly investing all his energy, passion and creativity into Scotch and making it even greater than in Morrison’s time.

He was principal of Nelson College in New Zealand from 1898 until 1903, and in 1904 he took up his appointment as Scotch’s third (recognised) Principal. His impact on Scotch was felt immediately. Catching up with many other Public Schools, Scotch introduced the Prefect system and a school magazine (other magazines failed after short periods).

In 1906, to distinguish Scotch’s cardinal and blue from the many groups using those colours, he added gold. The existing colours dated back to at least the mid-1880s. Whereas there was previously no school uniform, Littlejohn began introducing one in stages, culminating in him personally designing and modelling our famous Scotch blazer, which he introduced in 1932. He inaugurated the Foundation Day Concert which this year celebrated its centenary, and in 1913 called the meeting which led to the creation of the Old Scotch Collegians’ Association.

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From that time, Old Boys played an increasingly important role in Scotch’s progress, as key Old Boys such as Sir Arthur Robinson (1887) led the move to buy land at Hawthorn. By 1919 Scotch had 1,000 boys crammed into its one-hectare site and needed room to breathe. The land was purchased in 1914, at the end of which year ‘Patriae’ was added to the school motto in consequence of World War I.

The move to Hawthorn began in 1916, with Junior School boys starting classes in the rooms of the classic 1870s mansion, Glen House. The following year the House system was introduced, and the Junior School was the first building built by Scotch at Hawthorn. OSCA became more active as it led the fundraising for building the Senior School, which was considered in its entirety to be a memorial to those who died in World War 1.

Boys from East Melbourne were gradually moved to Hawthorn, and most new enrolments were made at Hawthorn. At the end of 1925 the East Melbourne campus was closed. Its famous ‘No. 1’ – the 1854 building in which generations of Scotchies had assembled – was used by St Andrew’s Hospital from its opening on 14 January 1935. In September 1959 No. 1 was demolished, and soon after they were photographed in 1976, the 1873 bluestone buildings were also demolished. The last trace of Scotch at East Melbourne was removed with the demolition in the early 1990s of the newest Junior School building.

Littlejohn announced that it was his intention to retire at the end of 1933, but he became ill and died in School House on 7 October that year. He left behind a school which had become the biggest in the British Empire and whose boys were making an ever-increasing positive mark on Australian society. He gave it many of its modern symbols, colours and traditions. Shortly before his death he chose the site for the chapel which came to bear his name. His ashes rest under the foundation stone.

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Another Scotsman, Colin Macdonald Gilray, became Principal in 1934. A rugged rugby player, he brought that sport to Scotch, but also brought in John Bishop, the flamboyant music teacher who would take Scotch music to another level. The second phase of construction at Scotch began under Gilray, with the building of the Chapel, Monash Gates and Lodge, the hospital, Arthur Robinson House, Mackie Hall and other lesser buildings.

He saw Scotch through the difficult period of World War II, accommodating Wesley at Scotch, and even making the same offer to Melbourne Grammar School (an offer which was politely declined). Gilray appointed many notable members of staff who would serve into the 1980s. His staff appointments and the construction of Mackie Hall gave Scotch drama a greater prominence. Gilray became the first Scotch Principal to retire.

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Scotch received its first English Principal (and its first Anglican Principal) in Richard Selby Smith in 1953. He steered Scotch through the years of great Australian prosperity, but gave it a greater diversity of staff and encouraged teacher training. Selby Smith also made some significant appointments, including that of George Logie-Smith, who further enhanced the role of music at Scotch.

Although several minor buildings were completed during Selby Smith’s time, modern fundraising was commenced which would provide the funding for buildings commenced after his time. He convinced Scotch to accept some government funding for the first time since 1853, which assisted the building program. Selby Smith resigned in 1964 to become professor of Education at Monash University.

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Another Englishman, Colin Oswald Healey, became Principal in 1964. He presided over Scotch during its transition through turbulent years of social change in Australia. A significant building program took place which included the addition of the Science Building. Healey’s legacy includes his involvement in creating the concept of the Scotch Family and the Scotch College Foundation, which formalised structured fundraising at Scotch. Great Scot was introduced in 1971 and he greatly enhanced the structure and use of the House system. Healey retired in 1975.

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Philip Anthony Vere Roff became Principal in 1975. He came to Scotch immediately before the most turbulent period in its history following the union which saw most Presbyterians join the Uniting Church. As some Presbyterians remained with their church, the issue of the ownership of Scotch became important, and resulted in lengthy legal proceedings which lasted most of Roff’s reign as Principal.

Though short, Roff’s seven-year tenure was characterised by an expanding voice for staff in the day-to-day management of the school, the establishment of a Foundation Office at the school – based on Healey’s concept, under the direction of a Development Officer – and the widening of the House system to provide greater depth in pastoral care. As well, the Science Building was opened in 1976, the current Junior School House system was introduced in 1978, and work started on the Glen Centre, which opened in 1982.

But there was a deepening dispute over the ownership of the school. In 1980 the decision was made to incorporate the school and a new Council was appointed. On 12 August 1981, Scotch announced Roff’s resignation.

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Roff’s successor, 37-year-old Dr Gordon Donaldson, vice-principal of Wallace High School in Northern Ireland, came to a school that was deeply divided. Donaldson set about healing rifts, rebuilding morale and launching a comprehensive building program, which was achieved without creating debt. It included the renovation and expansion of the Junior School and Sub-Primary Building, the construction of the Lithgow Centre, the Cardinal Pavilion, the Language Centre, the Randall Building, and the undoubted jewel in the crown – the James Forbes Academy, opened in 2005, with its superb facilities for music and drama. Other highlights included the introduction of information technology, with its associated educational changes, maintaining Scotch as a one-campus school, introducing team teaching, and encouraging research into the School’s functioning.

As Archivist Jim Mitchell wrote at the time of Donaldson’s retirement in 2007: ‘Today the school is united and successful. Morale is high. The Scotch community is proud and energetic. The building program is surely astonishing, and has been achieved without debt. Academic, cultural and sporting successes abound. Extracurricular activities range ever more widely. Prospective parents demand admission for their sons ... [Dr Donaldson] has led Scotch steadily, firmly and with distinction for two and half decades.’

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On Monday 14 July 2008, Ian Thomas Batty was installed as the ninth Principal of Scotch, coming to the school from Eton College in the UK where he was a housemaster. The early years of Mr Batty’s tenure have seen the introduction of a new House-based pastoral care structure in the Upper School, which began at the start of the 2011 school year. This was a major change from the ‘horizontal’ system which had previously been in place. There are now 12 Houses in the Upper School, with about 80 boys in each House. Heads of Houses have become the primary school-based reference for guidance, pastoral support, continuity of care and discipline. Feedback on the new House system from boys, parents and Heads of Houses has been most positive.

Greatscot _dec 2011_09b The school's first site at 155 Spring Street
Greatscot _dec 2011_09c Principal Bill Littlejohn models the new school blazer in 1932
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The school's third site in East Melbourne

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The Junior School was the first facility built on the Hawthorn campus

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'New Scotch College, Glenferrie' in Views from an Aeroplane of Melbourne and Geelong (Whitcombe and Tombs, Melbourne 1921).

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Glen House in 1917

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The Class of 2011 pictured in front of the Littlejohn Memorial Chapel

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The Quadrangle and Memorial Hall today