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Halifax State School is the oldest State School in the Herbert River district, having existed continuously since 24th September 1883. However, the Queensland Board of Education was first involved in moves to establish a school in the Lower Herbert region in 1873.

Just six year earlier John Davidson had explored the lower end’ of the Herbert River Valley.(1) By 1870 settlers were arriving in the district, most entering the valley by way of an inland route over the ranges. Land was taken up in the prospect of establishing a sugar industry based on the large plantation system(2). In 1873 three plantations Gairloch, Macknade and Bemerside were crushing cane at their separately sited mills. The region generally known as Lower Herbert was a series of separate and in most respects, independent communities.

Thomas Millar, the manager of the Avoca Plantation, was the first to approach the Board of Education.(3) However, it was not until November 1874 that a local petition was organised requesting the establishment of a public school.(4) In reply the residents were informed that the initiative for establishing a school rested largely with them.(5) This involved procuring the services of a teacher and finding a building suitable as a classroom.

In March 1875, Catherine Millar, wife of the plantation manager opened the Lower Herbert Provisional School in the living room of her house(6) Located just down stream from the present-day site of Ingham township, the school opened its doors to 15 children. Such was the optimism that by April the School Committee(7) had applied to the Queensland Colonial Government for a grant of twenty acres for the purposes of erecting a permanent school building.(8)

However, by October there was evidence the attendance was likely to fall. The fledging sugar industry was threatened by a severe epidemic of rust. The anticipated growth in the population of the region, necessary to support a more substantial school had not eventuated.

The 1876 school year began with little improvement in the facilities available. The accommodation and basic school furniture was still supplied by Mrs. MiIlar; prospects of increasing the enrolment were dim. By July when the average attendance dropped below ten the Board of Education threatened to close the school.(9) That action proved unnecessary as Mrs. Millar notified the Board of Education in December that the dwelling which had been used as the school was no longer available.(10) She had shouldered much of the responsibility and cost of establishing and running the school and in a letter remarked that the Lower Herbert was the most expensive locality in civilised Australia.(11) The first attempt to establish a public school in the Herbert River valley bad failed.

By 1879 the main sugar plantations had re-established their crops; the industry was assisted by a strong demand and relatively high prices (12) until the mid 1880’s. In 1880 the CSR Company’s Act permitted the purchase of land by CSR in the Lower Herbert region. In the same year land to the east of Cordelia, previously thought to be unsuitable for agriculture, was surveyed and selected by August Anderssen and Francis Herron.(13). The settlement on Palm Creek was named lngham in 1879, but other communities were developing in the region.

By 1881 a store and hotel (14) existed where Halifax township now stands; wharfs on the adjacent Herbert River served as the port for the export of sugar.(15) The small settlement was known as Lower Herbert until 1885 but a distinct township began to develop after 1881 when Anderssen subdivided some of his land close to the existing store and hotel and sold them as township allotments.(16).

The dramatic slump in sugar prices in 1885-86 challenged the accepted wisdom of the self-contained plantation system. Over the two decades that followed larger plantations were gradually broken up(17). The failure of some of the larger companies and the sale of additional land by the Colonial government encouraged smaller holdings.

The collapse or sale of the smaller mills eventually resulted in a central milling arrangement,(18).

At the 1886 Government Land Auction the small and growing settlement was named Halifax after the adjacent bay named by Captain James Cook in 1770.

The steadily increasing population in the Herbert River valley in the early 1880’s again rekindled the enthusiasm fors some of the trappings of a permanent settlement. In 1881 residents met and petitioned the Colonial Administration for the establishment of two part-time provisional schools.(19). On 19 March, 1881 a public meeting elected a Building Committee of four - E. Wailer, F. Neame, J. Hull and G. Elliot. It was proposed to construct two buildings, one on the town reserve of lngham and the other at Lower Herbert, now Halifax; the teacher would travel between the two schools, each operating on a half-time basis.

It seems that much of the impetus for the establishment of a school was the result of the efforts of Edwin Wailer of Cordelia Vale. When difficulty was experienced in raising the money necessary to construct two school buildings it was decided to concentrate efforts on one full-time provisional school on the Lower Herbert town reserve.(20). A Building Committee meeting on 26 April, 1883 decided to call for tenders for the construction of a school building; 20 children were claimed to be ready to attend the reconstituted Lower Herbert Provisional School.


This section was sponsored by the Halifax rifle Club.

By 21 July, 1883 the school building was completed although the Surveyor-Generals Department was still opposing the grant of land on the basis that twenty acres was too large.(21). The small building was the common “design of a “two-roomed cottage’’ without the internal divisions (22) but with an additional back verandah to serve as sleeping accommodation for the teacher. The classroom measured thirty feet by twelve feet. A few months earlier in April, Edwin Wailer had written to the Department of Public Instruction seeking assistance in securing the services of a teacher. (23) In August the Department (24) recommended Daniel Courtney, a 23 year-old immigrant from County Kerry, Ireland, then resident in Toowoomba. The Building Committee had the final responsibility for nominating a suitable person and it seems that they were seeking a person already resident in the North.(25)

However, when no suitable local candidate was forthcoming, Courtney was accepted. The School Committee had procrastinated for several months over the appointment in an attempt to avoid payment of removal expenses for a more distant applicant. Courtney only received compensation for travel from Townsville to Lower Herbert, a small portion of his journey from Toowoomba. He took up his appointment on 24 September, 1883(26). His salary was £90 per annum paid by the Department and with an additional £30 per annum provided by the School Committee. (27).

On the morning of Monday, 24 September, 1883 the school opened its doors to a student population of ten girls and seven boys. (28) The total enrolment. which in that first year eventually reached twenty three, came from just eight families.(29)

For the remainder of 1883 and into 1884 the school developed steadily. In 1884 the number of enrolled pupils reached twenty seven (30) and in October of that year, Courtney, applied for admission to Department of Public Instruction as a permanent and certified teacher(31)

In support of his successful application, a testimonial signed by eight parents stated;

Since his arrival in our midst now more than twelve months ago, he has conducted this school to our greatest satisfaction and has advanced the children who were in a very backward state beyond our most sanguine expectations.

He possesses the qualities requisite to a successful teacher — temperate habits, a mild disposition and a

pleasing tact of imparting his knowledge to the young. (32)

In the same month the School Committee agreed to increase their contribution towards his stipend by £10 to £4O. (33) The first departmental inspection of the school by Walter Scott in November 1885 was also generous in its praise of the teacher.

It stated:

The general condition of the school is highly creditable to the zeal, assiduity and professional skill of the teacher.(34)

In July 1885 Edwin Wailer resigned from the School Committee and a new committee was elected. (35) The school adopted the name of Halifax, the name given to the adjacent settlement.

The Halifax Provisional School had made an impressive start. The student population had grown steadily to reach thirty-four by the beginning of 1887. (36) With further emphasis on small holdings increasing the local population, the potential for further growth seemed assured. However, bitter personal conflict intervened; for two years the energies that were responsible for the schools development were sapped.

Within little more than two years of the resignation of Edwin Wailer there were five separate elections for members of the School Committee with attendant accusations and counter-accusations of rigged elections, invalid voting rights, incorrect meeting procedure and a myriad of other lesser complaints. At the height of the conflict in early 1877 it was alleged that some children were withdrawn from school due to the Head Teacher’s involvement in the conflict. (37)

The conflict centred on the personal rivalry between two members of the 1885 School Committee, In February 1886 J.M. Beatts leased a portion of the school reserve as compensation for clearing it of heavy timber. (38) A.W, Carr the Secretary of the Committee requested Beatts resignation due to an alleged conflict of interest. (39) In July a harmonium purchased by the School Committee in the previous year was transferred from the school to the newly-constructed Anglican Church. (40) Carr, who defended the action, was the spokesman for a group of parents who were involved in both the school and the church. Beatts, a Scottish Presbyterian, and Courtney, a Roman Catholic, were vocal in their opposition to this group. The control of the School Committee alternated between representatives of the two groups. Claims of malpractice followed every new election. The Under Secretary to the Department of Public Instruction adjudicated from afar; ordering a new election each time a complaint was made.

The issue of the harmonium was finally settled by a decision in the lngham Court in January (41) 1887. The harmonium was returned to the school and promptly sold. In the same year both of Beatts’ children left school and he was no longer eligible to serve on the committee. His lease of the school grounds was terminated in 1889 and the grounds cleared of all substantial timber by J. Deloughry. (42)

Courtney’s support for Beatts bad cost him dearly. In 1887 the proposed £10 increase in his salary was withheld by the School Committee. (43) Courtney left the district in December 1889 to take up a teaching appointment at Watsonville. (44)

Although his replacement George Routh was to stay less than two years in Halifax, fundamental changes occurred during his brief sojourn. On 24th August, 1889 the Committee created to organise the building of a new school applied to the Department of Public Instruction for the establishment of a State School. Prior to the establishment of a State School it was necessary for the provisional school to demonstrate that the average daily attendance was in excess of 30 pupils. (45)

Hopes for government assistance in a building program was an essential element in this application. The 1875 Education Act specified that the Department would provide four-fifths of the cost of the school building. (46) The remaining one-fifth was to be provided by residents of the district, generally by subscription or donation although in the case of Halifax the Department of Public Instruction had intimated at an earlier date, (47) that the dwelling used as a provisional school could be offered as part of this contribution. However the Building Committee’s early optimism, that the sturdy construction built just seven years earlier would cover their contribution to the new State School, was shattered in January 1890. After an inspection of the building, the Foreman of Works reported;

The school is built of sawn hardwood joists, flooring, studs and weatherboards bush style. The top plate and rafters are of pine, the white ants have got into the building from the ground, up the angle studs into the pine top plate, which they have eaten away. (48)

This Section Sponsored by Motel Ingham and M Filei.

The value of the school building and a small play shed was assessed at £50. In March cyclonic winds removed a section of the roof on the building. Recovering from their diappointment, by June the Building Committee had raised£130. Thus able to offer £180 towards an estimated building cost of £900, school plans were drawn up by the Department of Public Instruction. (49) On 12th December, 1890 the tender of Page and Sherlaw for the construction of the school building was completed (51) and on 17th September a new teacher John McKeon was appointed Head Teacher of the Halifax Mixed State School.


(1) J Wegner, hinchinbrook, Masters Thesis in preparation (James Cook University).

(2) The plantation system was generally a large holding land generally accompanied by a mill for crushing the cane.

(3) Avoca plantation was situated a few kilometres downstream from the present site of lngham township.

(4) Correspondence to Board of Education.

(5) The Board of Education agreed to pay a teachers salary of £70 per annum and supply the necessary requisites for the daily operation of the school.

(6) Lower Herbert Provisional School. Correspondence to Board of Education. March 1875.

(7) The members of the commiitee were Messrs. Anderson, Harrison, Boyle. Stewart and Millar.

(8) Portion 38. County of Cardwell. Kennedy District.

(9) Board of Education. Correspondence to Lower Herbert Provisional School. 7 July. 1876.

(10) Lower Herbert Provisional School Correspondence to Board of Education, 18 December. 1876.

(11) Lower Herbert Provisional School, Correspondence to Board of Education, 26 February. 1876.

(12) J. Wegner, op.cit.

(13) B. Shepherd, The Herbert River Story. Manuscript, Herbert River Express. The other selectors in the region downstream from

Cordelia in 1880 were John Alm. Henry Beardsworth, and Harold Hoflensetz.

(14) ibid.

(15) Sugar was shipped from the Halifax wharfs until the tramline was extended to Lucinda in 1896.

.(16) B Shepherd. op.cit.

(17) J Wegner, op. cit.

(18) The actual attempt by the Colonial Government to introduce such a scheme in 1885 was opposed by cane producers in the Lower Herbert.

(19) E. Weller. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 1 February. 1881

(20) E. WaIler, Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. 23 November. 1882.

(21) Surveyor-General, Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. 22 August 1883.

(22) P. Bell, Houses and Mining Settlement in North Queensland 1861 - 1920, (Ph.D. Thesis, James Cook University, 1982).

(23) E. S. WaIler. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. 21 July, 1883.

(24) Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, Correspondence to E. S. WaIler. 9 August. 1883.

(25) They initially favoured Mr. Archibald Heywood from Cardwell but he declined the appointment

(26) E. S Waller. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 29 September. 1883.

(27) Lower Herbert Provisional School. E. S. WaIler. Correspondence to Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 29August. 1883,

(28) Halifax State School Admission Register.

(29) ibid.

(30) ibid.

(31) Lower Herbert Provisional School, D. Courtney. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 25 October. 1884.

(32) J. Beatts etal, Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 22 October, 1884.

(33) School Committee, Correspondence to Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, October 1884.

(34) Inspector’s Report Department of Public Instruction, 1885.

(35) The committee was Messrs. A. Carr, J. Aim. N. Rosendahl and.J Beatts.

(36) Halifax State School. Quarterly Returns, 1887

(37) A. W. Carr. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 13 May, 1887.

(38) Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, Correspondence. To .J. M. Beatts, 19 February, 1886.

(39) A. W. Carr, Correspondence to Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 20 July, 1886.

(40) R. Shepherd. op.cit.

(41) Halifax State School. D. Courtney. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, 18 January. 1887.

(42) J Alm. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. 7 December, 1889.

(43) H. Hoffensetz etal, correspondence to Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 13 May, 1887.

(44) Oueensland Education Department, History Unit. Manuscript.

(45) E. Wyeth Education in Queensland. (A.C.E.R.,pp 122-124).

(46) bid p127

(47) Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. Correspondence to.J Alm, September. 1889.

(481 Foreman of Works. Correspondence to Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction. 27 January. 7890.

(49)J Alm. Correspondence to Undersecretary, Department of Public Instruction, 14 April, 1890.

(50) Under Secretary. Department of Public Instruction, Correspondence to.J Alm, 12 September, 1890.

(51) Page and Sherlaw, Correspondence to Inspector of School Buildings, 6 April. 1891

This section sponsored by E.C. Row Member for Hinchinbrook

Written by Mr Robert Knight.


Bell,P Houses and Mining Settlement in North Queensland.