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1879 & 1915 Rules for Teachers

Caveat Lector

Mea Culpa - I must confess that I when I put these lists on the web I did not check their source. Recently a sharp eyed reader asked me if I had found a source and I had to reply that I had not checked, and had not found any source.

I am indebted to Glen Bermingham not just for asking but also for pointing out that the 1915 one is most likely from the USA. He also gave me a link to a USA website which shows a somewhat similar list of rules dated 1900. The link is attached below

I am retaining the lists for the time being in the hope some reader may know a source and/or may know of some rules that actually applied in Queensland in those times.

The 1879 List of Expectations of the society of the time


  • 1. Teachers each day will fill lamps and clean the chimneys before beginning work. (The lamps had glass chimneys or globes)
  • 2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session. (Did the teacher supply their own bucket and coal scuttle? Probably. Was the water to douse a fire?)
  • 3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the children. (It seems that they were using quills, probably from the local chookyards. The teacher had to have a penknife.)
  • 4. Men teachers may take one evening a week for courting purposes or two evenings a week to attend church regularly. (Could they do all three? Then they could court regularly.)
  • 5. After ten hours in school, you may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books. (After 10 hours in school the teacher would be in an exhausted sleep.)
  • 6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed. (Since when was marriage equated with unseemly conduct?)
  • 7. Every teacher should lay aside, from each day, a goodly sum for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society. (What were the 'hers' supposed to do? Marry a teacher?)
  • 8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool and public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop, will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty. (I suppose this was the unseemly conduct refered to above in No. 6)

The 19th Century saw the beginning of widespread education.


When the 1879 set of rules was drawn up times were hard, work was hard and the hours were long. Teaching was better than manual work but at the same time it was not an escape; a teacher was expected to conform to much the same rules as the ordinary working people.

Much was expected of teachers because they were responsible for their charges and parents expected much of them. Their conduct had to be beyond reproach.

Just who made up these rules? It was a time when governments were very concerned with moral conduct but these rules extend into much more that working time.

Slowly conditions improved with the advent of Unions and better training methods.

By 1915 the Teacher's List suggests that women are becoming more important

  • These rules seem to be for female teachers. It would be interesting to see how many applied to teachers at Chermside.
  • 1. You will not marry during the term of your contract. (A married woman should be in the home. My mother, a teacher in NSW resigned when she married in 1929. )
  • 2. You are not to keep company with men. (That made it harder to find a husband in a society which valued marriage and family.)
  • 3. You must be home between the hours of 8pm and 6am unless attending school functions. (This would not have applied
  • 4. You may not loiter down town in any of the ice cream bars. (My mother boarded in one of the pubs in Greta NSW and helped out in the bar on the miners' pay nights)
  • 5. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have the permission of the Chairman of the Board. (There was no Board in Greta or anywhere else other than in Sydney NSW)
  • 6. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he is your father or brother. (They were the traditional guardians of the females in the family.)
  • 7. You may not smoke cigarettes. (That was not a health regulation.)
  • 8. You may not dress in bright colours. (Even in the 1960s female teachers were advised not to wear red as it was supposed to excite the males.)
  • 9. You must wear at least two petticoats. (In the Queensland summer?)
  • 10. Your dress must not be any shorter than two inches above the ankle. (Most women dressed this way at the time. And they probably wore lace up boots.)
  • 11. To keep the school neat and clean you must:
  • * Sweep the floor at least once daily.
  • * Scrub the floor at least once a week with hot soapy water.
  • *Clean the boards (chalk board) at least once daily.
  • *Start the fire at 7am so the school room will be warm by 8am. (When I was studying at the Hamilton Evening College in Newcastle, NSW there was a fire in the class room during the winter nights of 1955.)
  • One wonders if Rule 11 applied to male teachers?

Time Changes Rules, Slowly.


The 1915 rules reflects the attitude of society towards women. It was a time when women were beginning to form a significant part of the teaching service. However the 'Working Woman' was a relatively new phenomenon in Australia and Society did not know how to deal with them.

They had to be protected as they were usually away from the family home. And that was not as silly as it seemed; at that time it was not uncommon for men to beat their wives and nothing was done about it. Society 'turned a blind eye' and the same went for child abuse.



They had to be watched in case they got themselves into trouble. The idea that women were not as intelligent as men was prevalent in many places.

Their pay was considerably less than a male teacher although they did the same work.

The Bush Teacher of the 1880s


She may not have worn this dress in the daily teaching but when a photo was taken in those 'far off days' everybody dressed up.

Beneath that sweet exterior the Bush school teacher of the 1880s was

More than just a pretty face

She had to be able to:
Set a broken leg in a crisis
Patch the shingles on the school roof
Cook lunch on an open fire
Wall paper the residence with newspapers to keep out the winter winds and snakes
Stay fresh all day from a weekly swim in the dam
Teach a class of children aged five to fifteen
Ride a horse side saddle four miles to school and maybe carried a couple of pupils.
Fight off swaggies who attempted to camp in the school
Keep the school property free of goats and cattle
Study at night for her end of year examination.

ALL THIS, AND MUCH, MUCH MORE

(Centenary Supplement Courier Mail 7-5-1975)

Interesting Official Letters


These letters come from the Centenary Times, a 12 page supplement published by the Department of Education of Queensland in the Courier Mail Monday April 7th 1975 to celebrate the centenary of The Education Bill 1875.

NB: When I was writing the History of Chermside State School in 2005 I asked Education Queensland for permission to quote from the above document. The Department replied that they did not have a copy of the Centenary Times so I had to photocopy the Chermside and Districts Historical Society Inc copy and mail it to them; they gave me the permission I needed.
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Coats on Gentlemen

SIR - I have the honour to intimate that the Department is of opinion that it is not desirable that male teachers should appear before their classes without coats. Members of your Association may obtain the relief they seek by wearing coats of suitable material. During the warmer months professional men in the northern parts of the State wear white trousers, singlet, and a light white coat, and the Department sees no reason why this form of dress should not be adopted by male teachers.

I have to add that at a meeting of the Inspector's Association it was unanimously resolved that, in view of the dignity of the teacher's position, and having regard for general decorum, it is desirable that teachers should wear coats whilst actually engaged in their work.

To Honorary Secretary, Queensland Assistant Teachers Association. From Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 1924
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Explain Please

SIR - Complaints have reached this Office that you keep and train race horses in the school grounds at Goombungee, that you race the horses under the name of another person, that you take a prominent part in connexion with the local Race Club, that you are appointed handicapper for the forthcoming race meeting at Goombungee, and that on the 17th March last you assisted in working the totalisator machine.

It is also complained that you keep the best water in the school tanks for the use of your horses, that the water in the tank which you compel the children to drink is not good and that several of the pupils have been ill as a consequence thereof, that you use intemperate language to the children, and that you are not sober in your habits.

By direction of the Minister: I call upon you for an explanation of the complaints as specified above.

To Head Teacher, Goombungee. From Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 1901
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Pay Up the Extra

SIR - In forwarding the returns from your school on the 18th instant, you affixed to the envelope two duty stamps of the value of one penny each instead of two penny postage stamps. As a consequence of your action the Department has had to pay two pence for deficient postage and two pence as the amount of the fine imposed by the Post Office Authorities. You are requested to forward to this Office the amount of four pence in stamps, and are admonished to affix the proper stamps in future.

You have written on the envelope the impertinent remark. "Left open for inspection by inquisitive postal employees." The Minister, whose attention has been directed to the matter, directs that you be reprimanded and warned for your unbecoming and unseemly conduct.

You are hereby reprimanded and warned accordingly.

To a Head Teacher. From Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction, 1901
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Boys Will Be Boys

SIR - Two carpenters were recently sent to a small school near Beenleigh to carry out improvements to the building. Their work consisted of the pulling down of a wall at the rear of the school and the construction of a window in its place. It was a double wall, its lining having been constructed of tongued and grooved boards. Two of the latter, owing to shrinkage and decay, bore a small fissure, just large enough to enable an arithmetic card to be passed through. When the two workmen completed the task of demolishing the wall they found, to the dismay of many of the scholars (particularly the back benchers) that the floor space between the two walls was littered with arithmetic cards.

The head teacher when told of the discovery grinned, and said that past pupils of the school (he could not speak on behalf of the present) had ended their worries by passing the most difficult cards of the pack "down south". Many of the cards bore various messages of farewell and appeared to have been lost for many years.

I remember being responsible for the mysterious disappearance of several cards.

To the Editor 'The Standard'. From Old Boy, Beenleigh, 1926
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The Teacher's Garden

SIR - I have the honour to inform you that a letter has been addressed to this office by certain residents of Cleveland complaining of your conduct in beating and even poisoning their cattle, pigs and fowls.

They state further that the ground set apart as a playground for the children is cultivated by you as a garden while the children are set adrift on the street or in the bush, and also that you have a piece of Government land enclosed with a cockatoo fence which is not sufficient to keep out cattle and pigs, and that when any of these effect entry they are beaten by you unmercifully. I shall be glad to receive from you any statement you. may deem it expedient to offer under the circumstances.

To Headmaster, Cleveland School. From Chairman, Board of General Education, 1873
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This excerpt by the artist Lloyd Rees AC CMG (1895-1988) would have been about his school days in the very early 20th Century and Chermside would have been a rather similar place.

As a boy, I attended school at Ironside, St. Lucia, when the whole area was bush and sparsely settled farm land.

This little school had then only recently changed its name - a pity - from the more interesting "Indooroopilly Pocket" to the prosaic "Ironside". We had two masters in our time. The first, John Croston, died very suddenly one morning within a few months of our first attendance, and was followed by Joseph Wagner ("Joe", of course, behind his back).

Joe was an interesting man: part farmer, part teacher; a lover of music; and a fervent military man as well. Sometimes the whole school would assist with his farming, clearing land of stones, cutting saplings for fences, and so on. On occasions the love of his farm would lure him from his duties as a teacher, and he would set us some work to do and make for the beloved plot. We would immediately post sentries and proceed to have a whale of a time until a sentry hissed the password "Kaiser", when we would all dive back to our seats again - pictures of innocence

During one of his absences, a pig got into the classroom, much to everyone's delight!

The school as I see it now meant far more than academic beginnings, and provided all sorts of experiences, especially at the Hands of Nature. For there the bush seemed to predominate over all else. On one occasion we were in grave danger from a raging bush fire, and the whole school was sent out to clear away the undergrowth. Fortunately, it was not an explosive fire, or school and schoolhouse would have gone. But it passed right around them, which meant we had to follow the long road home instead of our usual short cut through the bush: and even so, there were fallen logs burning on the road.

It was a bad area for snakes, and it seemed necessary, if unpleasant, to kill them whenever possible. Going to school through the bush one morning, we disturbed a big one and refused to give up the chase until we had killed it. This took some time, and we were late.

We received the cane, not only for being late but because one of the girls had reported the Rees boys for chasing snakes. All this gave spice to life, but a more gracious memory is of the gunyahs we were permitted to build in the bush just outside the school grounds. We would even go to school early, just for the delight of sitting in their cool shade under the sparkling gum leaves, the air scented with eucalyptus.

Adapted from The Small Treasures of a Lifetime by Lloyd Rees (Ure Smith Publisher)
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