skip to content

< Early Canberra Government Schools

Yarrowlumla [1850 - 1855]

Murray's Experiment: the Yarralumla National School

Public education on the Limestone Plains had its beginnings in a private venture. In June 1849 Terence Aubrey Murray advised the newly created Board of National Education in Sydney that he had already established a school at Yarralumla for the children of his tenants and neighbouring families. Thirty-four children were in attendance. He had taken for his model the Irish National System that combined secular education with non-denominational religious instruction. At Yarralumla each denomination was taught its own creed separately. The schoolhouse was also open to clergymen wishing to instruct their own flocks. To reading, writing and ciphering for all Murray hoped to add agricultural training for the boys and household and needle work for the girls.

"A suitable building has been erected for the purpose in an eligible situation and I have attached ten acres of land to it. The schoolmaster receives from me a full ration of tea, sugar, flour and animal food weekly and the parents of the children pay him for each at the rate of sixpence or a shilling a week according to their age or the number coming from one family." (Gillespie 1999)

Murray asked the Board to take his school under its wing and it did, providing financial assistance from January 1850. Yarralumla became one of the earliest National Schools in NSW. In early 1852 however, attendance dwindled to twelve. The reason was not hard to find: most of the children were Roman Catholic and a denominational school, also subsidised by the government, had opened in Queanbeyan at the beginning of the year. The church was anxious to teach its own even at the cost of additional travel for pupils.
Murray's school closed in October but reopened in 1854 and struggled on for another year. It closed for good around the time that he left Yarralumla. No other National or public school operated within what is now the ACT until the 1870s.

[ L. L. Gillespie, Early Education and Schools in the Canberra Region, self-published, Campbell, 1999, p. 16]

"This is the most miserable school we have seen in the colony as regards the building, its furniture, appliances for teaching, and the attendance of the children. Established in 1850, it has accommodation for 42 children, but only 18 on the average attended. A bachelor, Thomas Kelly, trained in Ireland, and aged 34, supervised his flock, all of whom were Roman Catholic. His salary was ₤45 p.a. and he was also clerk of the church"

[Appendix to the 1855 Report from the Select Committee on Education (NSW), pp 59-60]

The school's location has been estimated from the description given of the land in the Deed Register of the NSW Department of Education. Two acres were provided for the school in the "north east corner of the Grant (2560 acres to T.A.Murray and T.Walker...bounded in the north by the Molongolo River....". This location can be clearly identified on the Narrabundah Parish map, and then transposed to the Federal Capital Commission's 1927 map of Canberra. The school site was almost certainly covered by water when Lake Burley Griffin was filled but would have been on the western side of Weston Park. Before that, however, the site was a matter of contention between the NSW and Commonwealth governments when the former requested ₤12 by way of compensation. A letter from the Prime Minister to the NSW Premier settled the matter by stating that the Commonwealth had no such liability.

A second 'Yarralumla' school opened in 1878, a few miles to the west. This later school was known locally as Bulgar Creek.

Location Map


NSW Government schools from 1848

< Early Canberra Government Schools

If you are able to assist our work of identifying, documenting, and celebrating the early bush schools of the Canberra region, please contact us or .