Boambolo [1889 - 1897]
Boambolo is a sheep and cattle grazing district about 17 km south of Yass. In the wake of Hamilton Hume's expedition in 1821, pioneering farmers and graziers began claiming the best lightly timbered country and grassy flats close to the Murrumbidgee River. By the 1840s, rough tracks from Yass township to the area's sheep and cattle stations gradually became roads, one of which forded the Murrumbidgee at a rocky crossing called Boambolo. In time this became the parish name.
Some important early landholders in the district were Dr William Adye, owner of 'Boambola' station, Michael Cusack of 'Bellevale' and George Merriman of 'Ravensworth'. The 1861 Land Acts, aimed at releasing land from the squatters' domains brought more settlers to the district, on smaller acreages they conditionally purchased from the government. These 'free selectors' also included descendants of original landholders, buying back family leasehold resumed under the Land Acts. As the number of school-aged children increased, so too did requests for a government school.
The school's early years, 1889-1894
The first application for a public school at Boambolo came from the residents of Kitty's Creek on 8th June 1888. Referred to Inspector LE Lawford at Yass, it listed 27 potential pupils from 11 families: George Merriman's children, Susannah 13, George 9 and Walter 6; Thomas Madden's, Cisly 10 and Thomas 4; John King's, Amelia 9; John Garner's, Elizabeth 14 and William 10; Patrick Nash's, Michael 14 and Pat 5; George Frankum's, George 8 and Alfie 5; Henry Hearn's, Mary 9, Sarah 7 and Briget 4; Henry Carey's, Norah 9, Martin 7 and Henry 4; William Boyd's, Frederick 13, Charles 12, Edgar 10, Walter 8 and Kate 5; Thomas Wood's, Samuel 13, James 11, Margaret 7 and Albert 5.
(For all Dept. of Educ. records: 'Boambolo School', 5/14976.2, NSW Archives)
Inspector Lawford visited the district that month and met a gathering of parents and their children on the proposed site for the school – part of a Crown Land water reserve (Portion 246, Parish of Boambolo, County of Murray). The inspector's recommendation was a customary one for founding small bush schools at the time: a teacher would be appointed to a schoolroom built by the parents who would be recompensed up to ₤60 from the government towards the cost of the building. His report on 28th June 1888 was worded as follows: -
'This is an application from settlers on Kitty's creek at the back of Murrumbateman & about 5 miles distant. There are a good many children about 24 will be enrolled & will give an average attendance of 18. Most of the residents are likely to stay for some time. I saw most of the children mustered on the site yesterday aft. This is on a Reserve no 36 & I have shown the residents where to build the school & have left them a plan & specification. I recommend:
1. That a provisional school be established at Boambolo
2. That the residents be informed through Mr Frankum that a Teacher will be sent when they have built & furnished a school on the site shown them & in accordance with plan & specification left them, & that aid to the amount of ₤60 will be granted Messrs Frankum & Boyd to have the conduct of the building.
Usual forms herewith, except formal application which will be sent as soon as I get it.
L E Lawford '
The formal application was duly returned, signed by William Boyd 'Farmer' and George Frankum 'Selector'. Of the expected pupils, seventeen were of Church of England faith and ten Roman Catholic. Inspector Lawford noted that the 2-acre site was thickly timbered, and recommended that it be extended by 8 acres for a horse paddock. The parents received Departmental approval in July and had the building finished by December 1888. It was a weatherboard building, 17x14x8½ feet in size, with a corrugated-iron roof, fireplace, and two outhouses. As agreed, the Department contributed ₤60 towards the cost.
Miss Ellen Maher was appointed to open the school in January 1889. Aged 21, she was transferred from her first appointment at Merrill Creek (near Dalton) and accepted board at Mrs Frankum's, ¼ mile from the school. In May 1891 she asked the new Yass inspector, Patrick Sheehy, whether a female teacher could continue to hold her position after marriage. Uncertain about the matter, the Inspector sought higher advice and was instructed to inform Miss Maher 'there is no rule on the subject'. The next month, Ellen Maher forwarded her marriage certificate to the Department. She had married Thomas Clark of Murrumbateman, at St Clements, Yass, on 13th June.
The horse paddock that Inspector Lawford requested for the school never eventuated.
When his recommendation was unsupported, he re-applied in 1889 for a reduced 3-acre paddock, only to be informed by a chief inspector that the 2-acre site was sufficient. However in the case of a Boambolo parent who could not pay school fees, the Department was more compliant: when it was raised in 1892 that Thomas Woods, a labourer, was in arrears ₤1/ 7/3 owed for 6 months, Inspector Sheehy reported that Woods was in 'distressed circumstances' due to sickness. In this instance, the inspector was told to cancel the man's debt.
At a school inspection in 1890, Inspector Sheehy recommended that its furniture should be replaced, the ceiling lined and the building painted externally; which was approved. The accepted tender was from Mr Kelly of Yass, to supply 4 new forms 7ft 6ins long for the desks, install a ceiling and paint the school, at a total cost of ₤12/15/0.
The school's average pupil attendance of 11.3 in 1893 fell to 8.6 during the first quarter of 1894. As this was below the minimum of 10 required for a provisional school, and there was no other school that could operate half time with it, Inspector Sheehy recommended that Boambolo close on 2nd June 1894. For the teacher, Mrs Ellen Clark, it was a welcome decision, as she had wanted to be moved to a school somewhere near Goulburn for more than a year. Her transfer was to Weetangera where she was the teacher for twenty six years.
Fluctuating school numbers, 1895-1897
Whether Boambolo's school-aged children attended any other school during their school's closure for just over a year is not recorded. Then in July 1895 George Frankum applied for the school to be reopened on grounds that there were again sufficient pupils. Inspector Sheehy supported the application, stating that there were now 8 families in the locality with 21 children aged 5-14. Approval to reopen was granted and in August 1895 the new teacher, Mercy V Brandon, transferred from Sydney to Boambolo. As her predecessor had done, Miss Brandon accepted board with the Frankums.
Miss Brandon passed her 3A certificate in October 1895 and taught for a year at Boambolo before resigning in September 1896. Her replacement was Mary A O'Donnell, aged 28, who had eleven years teaching experience and who had previously been teacher at at Bedellick and Toual. As usual, she took lodging at the Frankums. The next year she sought to be moved to another school as her 3B classification was provisional on obtaining proficiency in drawing (requiring a mentor's supervision). Inspector Sheehy recommended that her request 'be noted', as the school's declining numbers meant that it was likely to close that year.
By November 1897 the school's average attendance was consistently less than 10. In light of this, Inspector Sheehy informed the Department: -
'Only 6 children live within 2 miles of the school, and one of these is 15 years of age. There are 7 others enrolled, but their distances are from 3 to 3½ miles. The current attendance for the 7 weeks ended 12th inst. is only 7.7. As there is no prospect that the attendance will increase, and there is no small school within reasonable distance with which Boambolo could be worked as Half-time, I recommend that the school be closed.'
The school was closed that month. Mary O'Donnell left the school key with George Frankum who was engaged by Inspector Sheehy to take charge of 'the Department's property' until its future was decided. Frankum was paid a small sum to cut long grass around the building over summer, and George Merriman did the same the next year after Frankum left the district. Both had informed the Department that the building was at great risk during a bushfire if sticks and long grass were not removed.
Two attempts to have the school reopened
In December 1900, Alfred Thatcher, a resident close to the school, was spokesperson of a move to have the school re-opened. The formal application had six signatories: Alfred Thatcher 'CE, Station Manager for the Bank of New South Wales'; John Ellison 'CE, Boundary rider'; Thomas Clarke 'CE, Farmer, lives at Cooradigbee'; Henry Hearn 'RC, Farmer'; Harry Williams 'RC Farmer'; and John Sheehan 'RC, Farmer'. (CE: Church of England, RC: Roman Catholic)
Attached were the names and ages of their children: Alfred Thatcher's children, Isabel 11 and Thelma 4; Caroline Hearn's, Charles 13, Caroline 10, Lilian 8, Annie 6 and Maud 3; Ellen Sheehan's, Ellen 6 and John 4; John Ellison's, John 12, Ada 11, Alice 10 and George 8; and Thomas Clarke's, Eliza 12.
Inspector Sheehy, however, recommended against re-opening the school. Attached to a carefully drawn map of the district and residents, he reported: -
'Boambolo, which is locally known as Kitty's Creek, is about nine miles from Yass. The school there was closed on 30th June 1894 on account of small attendance. It was reopened on 20th August 1895, but was again discontinued on the 19th November 1897.
Only three families with 9 children live within two miles of the school. ... two are under 5 years, and one is over 14 years of age. Two others do not live in the locality but are to reside with relatives if the school is reopened. I estimate the enrolment at 12, and average attendance at 8.
The number is insufficient for a Provisional School, and there is no small school within reasonable distance with which Boambolo could be worked as Half time.
I recommend that the application be declined, and that Mr Alfred Thatcher be informed that the number of children ... within a two mile radius is insufficient to warrant reopening of the school.'
Regarding the state of the school buildings, Inspector Sheehy reported that the fireplace and chimney needed to be rebuilt, the tank tap was loose, and the spouting not connected to the tank.
In April 1902 there was a second and final attempt to reopen the school, this time in half-time operation with Warham School at Warroo (4 miles away), which had also closed due to insufficient pupils. Henry Dodds, a prominent Yass citizen, prepared the application on behalf of both localities. The parents applying from Boambolo were Mrs Hearn, Mrs Ellison, Mrs Thatcher and Theophilus Howell (a farmer employed by grazier Hugh Vallance); and from Warroo, Mrs Elizabeth Brassil (farmer) Mrs L Sidebottom (laundress), James Bullman (grazier) and John Styles (farmer). Each locality listed 9 children who would attend if the schools opened. However, as the expected attendance at both schools was insufficient, the application did not progress.
In January 1904 George Merriman wrote to the Department of Public Instruction, offering to buy the derelict school building at Boambolo for ₤5/14/-. The offer was referred to Inspector Sheehy who visited the site and reported that the building was in a poor state: the chimney had fallen down and the whole building was leaning sideways. There was, however, some school furniture that could be reused, and a pine ceiling, pine door, iron roof, six windows and a 400-gallon tank were of some value. Taken as a whole, he valued the school at ₤10.
There appears to have been no bartering with George Merriman. In December 1905 it was sold to William McClung for ₤7; minus the blackboards and easel, which were retrieved for Murrumbateman School. Thereafter, only the school's 2-acre block remained government property. In 1908 Inspector Fraser at Yass reported that the site was no longer required for school purposes.
(Contributed by Keith Amos, former teacher at The Mullion, out of Yass)
[Gillespie, L. L. 1994. Early Education and Schools in the Canberra Region. p.61]
- Clark (nee Maher), Mrs Ellen Agnes
01/1889 - 06/1894
- Brandon, Miss Mercy Victoria
08/1895 - 09/1896
- O'Donnell, Mary Ann
09/1896 - 11/1897
NSW Government schools from 1848
- Boambolo (external link)
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 .