It was close to 9am one morning in 1789, and Isabella Rosson was busily engaged in converting her poorly furnished room from a bedsitter to a schoolroom. Her personal possessions were put aside. She placed a few poor books on the table, arranged some wooden stools for her pupils and took her only teaching aid from a drawer. This was a horn book - a sheet of paper about 8 inches (20cm) long by 5 inches (13cm) wide, pasted on a thin piece of wood, and covered with thin transparent horn.

On this sheet was printed the alphabet, figures from 1 to 9 in Roman and Arabic numbers, a few simple words and the Lord's Prayer.

Preparing thus for her day's work, the first Australian schoolmistress could contemplate with satisfaction her situation in the colony. Here she was, at the age of 35 years, the proprietor of a "Dame's School", the First in Australia. Only 2 years ago on the 10th Jan, 1787, she had stood in the dock at the Old Bailey and been sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing household furnishings to the value of 12 shillings. She had endured the long sea voyage as a convict in the "Lady Penrhyn", a transport in the First Fleet. Now she was free and able to earn a living by passing on her meagre knowledge.

The official attitude to education was that it was important, but that it was essentially a task for the church to undertake. The colony's first Chaplain, who came out on the "Golden Grove", was Rev. Richard Johnson. He was a well educated man who had been a teacher in England before entering the ministry. In the first years, he taught some children himself, and later, he was made responsible for the supervision of all schools. In 1793, when Johnston's church was erected, a schoolroom was incorporated. The first teacher was William Richardson, a First Fleeter who had been transported on the "Alexander", He had married Isbella Rosson of the first Dame's School. The school did well and soon had 3 teachers and 150 pupils, the children of N.S.W. Corps members, settlers and convicts.

Soon schools were being established in other districts. Some were government orphanage schools, some were private academies and many church schools, all of them attending to the educational needs of the young Australians of the early 19th Century. They were building on the foundations laid by the First Fleet Educators.
Author unknown - Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters


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