Bishop William Tyrrell, the first Anglican bishop of Newcastle, dreamed of having a three-tiered educational system operating in Morpeth an elementary school, a grammar school and a higher education centre to train his clergy and others.
Morpeth, with an 1851 population of 730 and a school age population of just 205, was never going to be able to meet Tyrrell's expectations even if they recruited outside the area.
At the elementary level alone John Dunmore Lang's mother wrote to the press in 1842 about the Morpeth Anglicans poaching the children of Lang's tenants. Presumably they were trying to avoid attending Lang's Presbyterian school at Largs.
From about 1844 the government was determined to replace the costly and inefficient denominational system with a National School system based on the Irish model.
The opposition was vehement and the government compromised.
In 1848, a dual system was introduced: denominational schools under the Denominational Schools Board and government schools supervised by the National Schools Board.
The National Schools mainly provided education for children in remote areas. It had little effect in the established areas other than to partly regulate them.
Tyrrell requested his Morpeth Denominational School become a Model School, where aspiring teachers received hands-on training.
This was granted. Almost immediately however, it fell over because of its small size and a revolving door of incompetent School Masters.
Choosing teachers was fraught with danger.
Tyrrell arrived in 1848 with a schoolmaster for Morpeth, Robert Bamford Haskew, and schoolmistress Hannah Wilcock. Presumably he took advice on their suitability.
He would have been disappointed. Haskew was an apprentice merchant mariner with little experience of teaching.
He was transferred to Hinton and quickly became a tobacconist in Mudgee. Wilcock moved to Muswellbrook and married the Chief Constable in 1849. Not much change out of that investment!
The arguments over the models continued with a significant bout taking place in 1851. In the red corner was Tyrrell and in the blue one John Hubert Plunkett, the Attorney General.
Although an Irish Catholic, Plunkett championed the Irish System much to the disgust of his co-religionists. Neither gave any quarter and Morpeth was caught amid a flurry of blows.
Tyrrell opened the bout by publishing scathing words about the Fort Street Model School's funding and its alleged production of ungodly teachers.
Plunkett replied that Tyrrell's diocese had employed school masters who were "drunken exiles, or . . . . utterly unfit for the office".
As well, his Model School had a quarter of the students of Fort Street and not a single teacher in training. Various classes were described as "indifferent", "middling" and "very deficient".
Plunkett finished with a stiff uppercut:
he confessed he did not feel any very great alarm at the pop-gun of the Lord Bishop of Newcastle and he confessed he was disgusted with the petty personalities and contemptible arguments indulged in by the right reverend prelate; which he should have thought were quite unworthy of him.
Tyrrell threw in the towel. He established Grammar Schools in Newcastle and Maitland (Devonshire St) but the Maitland one languished.
His elementary schools struggled against competition from other denominational and National Schools but after the coup de grace of the 1880 Public Instruction Act, most Anglican denominational schools closed.
Tyrrell died before this Act destroyed his dreams, but at least he outlived Plunkett.
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