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Horton College - Its Founding and History


One of the most interesting pages of Tasmanian history is the record of Horton College Ross, an institution which, founded and conducted upon the lines of the great old English public schools, and allied to the freer and more independent atmosphere of Australia, was in the latter half of the 19th century famous all over Australia. The property, which belongs to the Riggall family, of Ross, is now being demolished, and the news of its passing will be received with genuine regret by many professional and public men, not only in Tasmania but in every State of the Commonwealth, who are old boys of Horton. During its 38 years of useful work the college was the home of a great succession of boys, and many of Tasmania's most successful doctors and barristers, best known clergymen, most enterprising merchants and many others in different walks of life, in addition to the sons of many of the older country families were educated there. It was definitely closed in 1894, so that very many old boys are still alive, not a few being comparatively young men. The roll book of the college provides most interesting reading. Inscribed therein are the names of all the boys who attended the school, from the name of the first boy enrolled - John Manton - until the college was closed. The list includes 770 boys, and contains the names of most of the best known families in Tasmania, including the Headlam, Shoobridge, Kermode, Davies, Gibson, Hutchison, Archer, Brownell, Lyne, Crosby, Page, Crowther, Riggall, Burbury, Parramore, Stackhouse, Keach, Pitt, Lempriere, Meredith families and many others. Many well known individual names include those of the late Sir George Davies, Hon. C. E. Davies, M. L. C., the late Hon. A. B. Solomon (once Premier of Tasmania) the late Hon. W. H. Burgess, late Mr. William Crooke, and Mr Cecil Allport.

Horton College was founded by the late Captain Horton, of Somercotes, Ross, and the foundation stone was laid on January 26, 1852, in the presence of about 200 people. It is situated on the main road from Hobart to Launceston midway between Ross and the Mona Vale estate. The buildings stand upon rising ground and have long been regarded as the landmark of the district. They are built of brick and consist of wings on either side of the main building, extending beyond and forming a quadrangle at the back. The front of the main building was broken by a hand- some two-storeyed porch with a tower above, which gave the building a fine appearance. This central block contained the main school hall, the dining hall, class rooms on the ground floor and on the first floor two large dormitories known as the chapel and No. 13. The north wing contained the president's quarters, the kitchen, the matron's room (known to the boys as No. 6) and some of the smaller bedrooms. The southern wing was the residence of the headmaster and contained also the master's room, more class rooms and boys' bedrooms and bathrooms. The large playing fields provided more than the necessary accommodation required for outdoor games and sports, such as cricket and football, and another healthy form of exercise for the boys was the cutting up of the large wood heaps to provide fuel to feed the roaring winter fires in the hall and kitchens. Right away in one corner of the grounds lie the remains of the great old founder of the college, Captain Horton, who died in 1867. A story is told of Captain Horton which shows of what true blue stuff he was made. In the days of Tasmanian bush-ranging Martin Cash, the noted outlaw, visited Captain Horton's home, Somercotes, and bailed him up. Captain Horton said, "You may shoot me, Cash, but God will protect me." Bullet marks in the cedar walls of one of the rooms caused by shots from the outlaw's pistol were objects of awed interest to such of the boys who saw them. Somercotes was also the residence of the Riggalls, relatives of the captain, and scholars of the college.

Three years passed by after the laying of the foundation stone before the school was opened. ln the meantime a conference was held in Sydney, and the Rev. J. A. Manton (it was his son who was the first scholar) was appointed governor and chaplain of the college, and the management was placed in the hands of a committee of gentlemen under conditions which provided that, if ever the building was not used for the purpose intended by the founder, the property was to revert to his relatives, and that is what became of it after 1894. The college was opened in October 1855 and Mr. Manton remained in charge for about three years, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. Quick, who remained for 13 years, but it was the next two presidents, the Revs. Richards and Neale, who reigned between the years 1872 and 1880, who saw the most successful period of the college's history. The experience of the college, as far as its first headmasters were concerned, was unfortunate, and there were frequent changes. Mr. J. W. Corton and Mr. S. Fiddian, both from England, were the only ones who remained any length of time with the college. Mr. Fiddian was a noted mathematical master. He was succeeded in 1863 by Mr. W. W. Fox and the success of Horton College as one of the most famous Australian private schools was due very greatly to his diligent care in the training of hundreds of boys who, during a period of 36 years, passed through his hands. Mr. Fox, who is now 83 years of age, lives in Launceston, his daughter being the head mistress of the Ladies' College in the Elphin-road.

At one time in the late 60's and the beginning of the 70's, the school was reduced to 15 or 16 boys and Mr. Fox and the president, Mr. Quick, who was a minister of the Campbell Town circuit, and received no pay, from the college, did all the work. In 1872 a period of unexemplified prosperity set in. There were 86 boys attending the school, there was a comfortable credit balance at the bank, and a scholarship reserve fund of £500. Great improvements were made to the place, the old roof of shingles was covered with iron, the old tower was demolished, and a new and much finer one was built, and the whole front of the building was repaired and greatly improved, while a very large iron gymnasium and play shed was built. Some 570 boys passed under Mr. Fox's guidance and tuition and the great majority of these have succeeded well in life, and now entertain the kindliest memories of their old master and the familiar old haunts round about Horton College. Mr. Fox had to resign through ill-health in 1889, and the Rev. J. de Q. Robin acted for three years, in the dual capacity of president and headmaster. The college was then let to a Mr. Steer, but he did not make a success of it, and in1894 the school was definitely closed, and it was decided to hold a sale of the materials in and about the property to liquidate the debt which had fallen upon it. It vanished as a school amid the regrets of all but not before it had per formed splendid services in the cause of education.

The life of the boys was free and pleasant. Sunday was a welcome day, as it is in such institutions all over the world. One main reason was that the rising hour on Sundays was 7 a.m. instead of 6.30. After slipping on their clothes and slippers, for boots were not allowed in the dormitories, the boys took their place at their desks in the school room as on other days, and when 8 o'clock struck they were marched into the dining-hall, where the president joined them and said prayers. Breakfast was the next item, the boys being seated at three long tables with masters at the heads. An hour after breakfast the boys used to walk three or four abreast into Ross, two and a half miles away, to church, where they occupied the gallery and regaled themselves on the sly with a sort of raspberry squash drawn through a straw out of a bottle in an inside pocket. Lunch was at 1, and then the boys were free for the afternoon, to read or write letters, or roll about outside in the sun, and tea was at 5 30, after which the president conducted service, at which many of the neighbours often attended. An "early to bed" policy was followed at the college, and all these lusty young Australians were packed off to their dormitories or bedrooms at 8.30 p.m. On week-days the boys were up at 6.30 a.m. and taken out for drill and short bursts of "double quick" on the main road, while one boy was detailed each day to go into Ross for the mail bag. The baker who supplied the college with bread, "doughy," so-called by the boys, used to call twice a week and the college "tuck shop" was supplied by visits of a chaise cart loaded with 6d. packets of sweets, and once at the stand-still, horse, cart, and salesman used to be very nearly smothered by eager customers.

Bathing in the Macquarie River was a favourite sport of the boys, and they were often on hot days allowed to leave school at 3 o'clock instead of 4 for this purpose. Another popular way of spending spare afternoons was for small parties of two or three to make for one of the "cabooses" - small huts made of stones with roofs thatched with grass - and to spend the day after the style of Stalky and Co. Al fresco meals of chipped potatoes, with a rabbit boiled in a billy can, and a damper made on the stones were events of high delight. Boys of to-day will be glad to learn that boys of that generation were no better, and probably no worse, than they are now, and some of the Horton College boys used to indulge, as boys always do, in surreptitious smokes. One old boy, at present in Hobart, tells a story of a schoolmate who produced a couple of clay pipes and some fig tobacco, and persuaded him to master the gentle art of smoking behind a wood fence. That same boy later in the day was called up to the master's desk to have his attention directed to mistakes in an exercise, and he was exceedingly glad to get back to his desk unsmelt.

Holidays were not frequent at the college, because it was a boarding-school, and most of the boys were so far from their homes, but Queen Victoria's birthday was always celebrated in very special style, finishing with a huge bonfire behind the college, with fireworks. This bonfire was prepared on a gigantic scale. A straight green tree would be selected, and all the boughs lopped off except near the top. Dead trees would then be dragged with chains by the boys to the spot, and leant up around the centre tree and securely fixed. All this was then thatched with green pieces cut from the native cherry trees, and left for a few days to dry. It would then burn freely, and a lady was generally given the honour of lighting the pile with a torch, prepared for the occasion. The other life of the boys was much like that of the scholars of an English school, with conditions slightly altered to meet Australian conditions. There were the usual midnight suppers, pillow fights, and so on, and during the spring a bird-keeping craze always came down upon the school, and the large shed in the playground was generally, at this season of the year, lined with boxes containing young magpies, jackasses, parrots, crows, and hawks, and many of the boys made some splendid collections of eggs.

An interesting relic of the old days of the school was the find made the other day by some of the workmen who were tearing up the flooring of the old building, of a number of cricket bats and balls, which had evidently been hidden there in the old days and forgotten. Many of the old boys have made a point of securing some little piece of cedar or other memento from the college now that it is being demolished. 1

  • 1. HORTON COLLEGE - The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) 27 December 1920: p7
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