This unpretentious 1930s two-storied cream
brick block of 13 flats fronted with five shops (188A-E), conceals a remarkable
survivor: an early purpose-built private bluestone school and brick residence
built by James Bonwick.
(1817-1906) was an extraordinary and tirelessly entrepreneurial figure: teacher,
author, historian and anthropologist. He built and operated the private school
here, the HofwylHouseAcademy,
from 1862. It never received any government funding, but became very
prosperous, with an enrolment of over 150 boys.
The brick building, also behind the flats,
presumably Bonwick’s residence was built first, in
1865-66 and the ten-roomed Gothic bluestone school, over 1866-67. Later, a rear
brick wing was added. The school was designed by important Melbourne
architects Crouch and Wilson (8). Bluestone buildings are rare south of
the river, due to cartage costs of the stone from the western suburbs.
Plan of former HofwylHouse
No other non-denominational boys’ private
school is known in St Kilda, but the Priory (28),
Oberwyl (27), and Wattle House (23) operated as private
schools for girls.
The late Vida Horn has noticed the curious
similarity between the name ‘Hofwyl’, (in German,
hofmeaning ‘court’, or ’smallholding’ and
wyl, a place name suffix) and ‘Oberwyl’,
(ober, in German, being ‘higher’).
Oberwyl was a girls’ school named two years later,
in 1867, after its founder, Madame Pfund’s
birthplace in Switzerland.
Apart from their location in the same street, no connection between the two
private schools; one for boys, the other for girls, is known (27).
In 1869, Bonwick
travelled to England,
making the mistake of leaving the school in the charge of his son, William. He
soon mismanaged the school and Bonwick had to return
to arrange a lease of the school operation in 1871. Later, it was known as
finally sold the school and its property in 1875, but it continued operating as
a private school into the twentieth century. In the 1930s, a block of flats was
built across the front of the bluestone building.
Crouch and Wilson
(1854-89), founded by Thomas James Crouch (1833-89) and Ralph Wilson (active
1865-89), were particularly prolific architects of churches, banks, public
buildings and houses. Over 358 buildings are known and a further 90 by Crouch
alone. The Albert Street, EastMelbourne
Synagogue (1877 & 1883), and 196 Little Bourke Street Mission
Church (1872), are examples of their work. This little bluestone school is one
of the first known works of the practice. In 1876, 1881 and 1892, Crouch and
were in the vicinity again, doing repairs at Linden
was born at Lingfield, a big village in the Surrey
Weald, north of East Grinstead.
He was the son of a carpenter. The family then moved to Southwark, South London
where James was educated at the BoroughRoadSchool.
At 16, he went straight from school to teaching and had charge of several
primary schools. He took the temperance pledge to abstain from alcohol.
In 1841, he and his wife were engaged to
manage the new chief government school in HobartTown.
Two years later he resigned, due to poor conditions at the school and
established his own boarding school in Hobart.
He began writing his own textbooks.
He was a founder of both the HobartTown
and Van Diemen’s Land
Total Abstinence Societies. He became interested in the study of the
aboriginals, mysticism and freemasonry. In 1850 he opened a private school in
and became first secretary of the first Australian YMCA and founded an
association for teachers.
His school-building had left him in debt, so
in 1852 he left for the Victorian goldfields. After a brief stay, he settled in
working as a lecturer and proprietor of TheAustralian Gold
Diggers’ Monthly Magazine, and Colonial Family Visitor. He opened a land
agency and lectured for the Colonial Association, who radically sought to
‘unlock the lands’. He helped found the Victorian Liquor Law League, aiming to
introduce legislation to prohibit alcohol.
The land agency failed and he opened a private
school at Kew, which
closed the next year. From 1856, he continued publishing books and was
appointed an inspector of the Denominational Schools Board, in Victoria.
For three years he toured western Victoria
on horseback, visiting schools. After a serious coaching accident he used his
300 pounds compensation to return to England.
Back in Melbourne
in 1862, he founded his Barkly Streetschool. Four more books were published by 1870, on
the early colonies, John Batman and the Tasmanian aboriginals. The Queensland
colonial government appointed him as an immigration agent in England.
Over the years 1882-83, he travelled in Europe.
He began researching Australian topics in
and was amazed at the wealth of archive material available there. He offered to
transcribe it for the Queensland
government. He continued producing transcriptions for South Australia
(1885), the Melbourne Public Library (1887), New South Wales
(1837-1902) and Tasmania.
All of the NSW archive transcription was published.In 1902 he published
his memoir An Octogenarian’s Reminiscences before dying at Southwick,
His biographer, Guy Featherstone, describes
him as amiable and quick to make friends, full of nervous energy and with a
passion for work. Yet for a mind of such breadth, it had little depth. Like his
slightly younger contemporary, Dr I.E. Watkin of
Ulimaroa (48) he was elected a fellow of the
Royal Geographical Society in 1865 (Watkin was its
honorary secretary), and of the Anthropological Institute in 1869.
Though he often gave evidence to select
committees on education, his philosophy was derivative, stemming from an
overbearing belief in the potential moral regeneration of educational
facilities. He absorbed myriad facts, without imaginative analysis. Yet as a
teacher, he pioneered new methods which encouraged pupils to experiment and
observe, rather than learn by rote. He was unable to manage his finances and,
despite a life of work, he died poor.
His brother, Walter (1824-83) was a talented
music teacher: one of the first employed by the Board of Education and the
Education Department of Victoria. He published several song collections and
The Australian School Song Book (1871?), known to generations of scholars.
There are fine portraits of James
Bonwick in the TasmanianMuseum
and in the Royal Historical Society of Victoria.
David with Wilson Sayer Core Pty.Ltd.
St Kilda Conservation Study.Area 2.(Undated).