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History of MGS

Melbourne Grammar School's origins lie in the early days of the Colony of Port Phillip

Charles Perry, who arrived in 1847 as the first Bishop of the Church of England, was as committed to education as he was to establishing the Christian faith across Victoria. He worked tirelessly to realise his vision of new schools which would meet the growing educational needs of the colony and where children could achieve their full potential.

Bishop Perry dreamed of starting a grammar school based on the great English Public School principles. Offering a 'sound Scriptural and general education', it would be open to everyone without distinction and dedicated to the highest educational standards. Perry wanted a boarding school which would serve the dual purpose of keeping interfering parents at bay and of avoiding the need to send children 'home' to England for education.

Within two years of arriving, in 1849, he started an experimental Melbourne Diocesan Grammar School at St Peter's Eastern Hill (East Melbourne) but it did not thrive and was suspended at the end of 1854.

At the same time, Bishop Perry was planning for the diocesan 'experimental' school to become permanent, although on a larger site and not under his direct management. In 1853 he set up a committee of eminent men to consider the task.

The first School Council was elected in 1854 to take over from Perry's committee. It set about drawing up a Constitution, finding a Headmaster and a new site.

Other locations were considered, including Carlton, Prahran and St Kilda, but Governor Charles Hotham finally approved a land grant of 15 acres facing St Kilda Road. This is the inner South Yarra land now occupied by Senior School and Wadhurst, next to the Royal Botanic Gardens and a stroll from the central city. At the time - 1855 - it was considered relatively isolated and remote.

The Council chose architects Charles Webb and Thomas Taylor. (Webb later produced other magnificent bluestone designs, including the original Wesley College in 1864.)

Bishop Perry laid Melbourne Church of England Grammar School's foundation stone on 30 July, 1856. The first Headmaster, Dr John E Bromby, opened the new school on 7 April 1858 with 77 pupils. This swelled to 136 during the first year. Four students were Dr Bromby's sons and about one quarter of the pupils were boarders.

The first 40 years were a struggle, exacerbated in the 1890s by economic depression, financial concerns and changes of Headmaster. Senior School enrolments fell from 272 in 1889 to 117 in 1894 prompting a group of former students to do something "to save the old School". They formed The Old Melburnians Society in 1895, "to be the means of bringing together many former schoolmates, reviving pleasant recollections, and at the same time benefiting the life of the School as it is today." Old Melburnians have been active in the School community ever since.

Two developments stand out from the late nineteenth century. The first was the recognition that on a limited site, one storey buildings were not a wise use of space. A move began, continued now, of adding second stories or replacing buildings with two or three level structures.

The second was the dedication of the Chapel of St Peter in 1893, the first school chapel in the colony of Victoria. Although an Anglican school, Melbourne Grammar has never been a school exclusively for Anglicans and its rich life has stemmed from a diverse clientele. Enrolments increased in the new century and the School's future was assured. The Jubilee was celebrated in 1908.

Day boys had become used to dividing into suburban demographic groups for internal games and this was formalised as the House system in 1914.

Hundreds of former students enlisted in the Great War of 1914-1918, as they had in the South African War. More than 200 did not return.

The 1920s were relatively stable and the School maintained high academic and sporting results, but the 1930s were an anxious and unsettling time. The Great Depression put pressure on individual members of the Grammar community while administrative instability affected the whole community. Between 1935 and 1938 the School had three Headmasters and two Acting Headmasters. The outbreak of war in 1939 meant building plans were put on hold. As in previous times, Old Boys enlisted in the services, this time some 3,500. School buildings were commandeered by Australian and American forces with some students dispatched to the country and others doubled up in crowded quarters.

An enduring theme in the School's history has been the need to accommodate increasing numbers in limited space. Expansions, extensions and renovations have been mostly crammed into Dr Bromby's original 15 acres but by the 1950s it was clear the School would burst at the seams. One solution has been a steady acquisition of neighbouring properties to provide the facilities for a combined Wadhurst and Senior School student population of over 1100.

In the early 1950s the School embarked upon a far sighted building programme which it was thought could take 30 years to complete. Senior School, Wadhurst and Grimwade campuses all received attention.

Post war prosperity brought pressure for new facilities to cope with heavy demand - increasing student numbers plus an expanding curriculum in academic, cultural and outdoor and sporting areas.

The Centenary Building Campaign of 1958 began this expansion. The Grammar Foundation, established in 1974, now meets the School's ongoing needs. Numerous support groups, most notably the Friends of Grammar, involve the wider school community.

In 1986 the Council decided on a staged restructure of the School. Until then, Wadhurst, established as a preparatory school in 1886 and Grimwade House, opened in 1918, had operated as two parallel feeder schools taking students through to Year 8.

Grimwade's boarding house closed in the mid 1970s, leading to debate on the best use of the newly available space. It was decided to introduce girls at primary levels at Grimwade House. Now Grimwade House caters for girls and boys up to Year 6 and Wadhurst for boys in Years 7 and 8.

The 1980s and '90s were times of building on sound foundations. The outdoor programme expanded with three permanent campsites at Breakfast Creek near Licola, Woodend and Banksia Peninsula on the Gippsland Lakes. Community service, expeditions interstate and overseas, student and staff exchanges all served to make the School more conscious of the world.

In 2008, the year of its sesquicentenary, the School opened a multi-million dollar Centre for Learning and Leadership on the Domain Road boundary. Adoption of sophisticated information technology throughout curriculum, co-curricular activities and administration has helped keep Melbourne Grammar at the forefront of education in the 21st Century.

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