Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Supervisor

Professor Harry Phillips


This thesis is a history of the politics of education in nineteenth century Western Australia with a particular focus on educational administration. It traces the activities of the educational pioneers in Western Australia and in particular synthesises research material from a wide variety of sources to demonstrate and explain: •How and why these pioneers established an education system in Western Australia; •The difficulties faced by the pioneers and how they overcame those difficulties; •Why the General Board of Education ("the Board"), which was formed by the early pioneers, was established in 1847; •How and why the Board was terminated in 1871. To properly explain these issues it has been necessary to research the general conditions faced by the early settlers in Western Australia. Chapters one and two of the thesis provide an overview of the circumstances faced by the pioneers in Western Australia both generally and specifically with regard to education. Chapter three of the thesis is unique in that it dwells upon the major internal and external challenges posed by the Catholic Church's opposition to the Protestant makeup and ethos of the General Board that significantly affected church/state relations and the performance of the General Board in a politically and religiously turbulent era. Chapters four through to seven deal mainly with the development of educational administration in light of the General Board's overall performance. In order to adequately trace its establishment and performance during its twenty-four years of existence 1847-1871, the development of the General Board from a mediatory body of clergy and lawyers, to its incorporation in 1856, into the Colonial Secretary's Office, is imperative. This singular event was to eventually lead, to the gradual erosion of the decentralised structures of educational administration, and the translation of the Board into a civil service agency. This ‘developmental' theme coincides with its establishment and, along with its performance, traces the achievements and failures of the General Board from two perspectives : the level of success achieved by the Board in relation to its original intentions; and secondly; the influence that external factors, such as the Colony's extreme isolation and poverty and the secular and sectarian nature of society had on the eventual policy outcomes of the Board. An exposition of these extrinsic factors emerges from an analysis of the interactions of the General Board and its members with those of governors and prominent clergy, and moreover, from an assessment of its pragmatic and altruistic aims. This thesis will not only attempt to provide a history of the politics of education in nineteenth century Western Australia, but would also serve two other purposes. Firstly, the role and influence of the general Board in determining the fate of educational administration and education generally, is to be conveyed. And secondly, its chief purpose or utility would be to provide the background or precursory information to policy initiatives that acted as harbingers of centralised control. Awareness of the importance of the latter is significant, once it is understood, that the General Board, worked in an era when decentralised control, for both political and philanthropic reasons, was much in vogue. The General Board's avid quest to maintain a system of decentralisation, along with public style education, was examined in terms of the struggle to overcome the autocratic and populist excesses of governors and some clergy, who attempted the thwart, the altruistic aims of the original Committee. It is in the struggle that the dichotomy between public and elementary education, becomes synonymous, with that of a sectarian and secular system and hence society. Throughout the thesis a comparative approach was adopted with the educational systems and developments in Great Britain and the Colony of New South Wales with those of nineteenth century Western Australia. From the comparative analysis it was concluded that both the centralization of education and its compulsory status by law were global trends that lay beyond the power of the General Board to arrest. As a consequence this educational apparatus of the State could no longer function as intermediary between the competing and complementary interests of governors, clergy and the general populace. This was made poignantly clear with the abolition of the General Board upon the passing of the Elementary Education Act 187l (W.A). As an assessment of the formative years in Western Australia of State controlled education, the thesis attempts to fill the void left behind in past and present literature on educational history in Western Australia. In relation to the General Board, such literature fails to adequately examine its role and significance, in providing the impetus for the system of education in vogue today. The research is entirely feasible, easy to manage within the constraints of the word limit and time frame for submission. It is made all the more easier with the ready availability of primary and secondary material. It is hoped, that in filling the void, by way of providing a small history of the politics of education in nineteenth century Western Australia, an original contribution to the current stock of knowledge will be achieved.