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MORRISON, Dr George MA (Centenary History Text, 1961 Ch 3)

MORRISON, Dr George MA (Centenary History Text, 1961 Ch 3)

See Also MORRISON, George MA (1830-1898)

The following text is an excerpt from the Centenary History of the Geelong College published in 1961.

Chapter 3

DURING GEORGE MORRISON'S lifetime the College developed from its first tentative form to become a soundly based, well-managed institution commanding the respect of the community. No single step in this advance was more important than the move to Newtown Hill, the realization of the College for which the Principal had fought from the earliest years. To him Knowle House was never more than a temporary abode, and by 1869 its very success was an embarrassment. In that year an area of land was purchased, the present site of the main College buildings.

The original block ran back only about four hundred feet from Talbot Street, and its northern boundary was just north of the main gates which face into Prospect Road. It was a rough hillside with three gullies intersecting it. However, the Principal and his architects correctly gauged its possibilities. Building operations were begun in May, 1870, and by the end of the year the first stage had been practically completed. Mr. Morrison claimed that: "The New School, which is situated in the centre of a block of six acres, occupies unquestionably the best site in Geelong for a school. It is so far out of Town, that the air is as pure as country air".

A description of the work appeared in the "Geelong Advertiser":—

The buildings are in the collegiate form of architecture now so much admired at home. The Principal's residence—a mansion complete in itself—faces Talbot Street and the classrooms and dormitories front the bay. The outline is broken and picturesque, and a beautiful tower and spire, in keeping with the style of the building, rises to a height of 90 feet. The red bricks are relieved with moulded white bricks from Melbourne, and cutwork out of freestone from Waurn-ponds quarries. Mr Morrison deserves great praise for his enterprise; the building, when completed, will cost over £5,000, and it is to be hoped that he will be amply compensated for the outlay.

With the opening of the school year in 1871 the real College was established. The new building was filled by a great influx of pupils, including over thirty boarders, and the dining-room in the private quarters had to be used for classes. Today's room "B" was the main classroom, with a dormitory above, and the dining-room and the first room "C" were to the south of this section. (The latter is probably now the servery; it was then described as "dark and cramped, with strong kitchen odours seeping in".)

The pressure on space necessitated the immediate addition of two more classrooms, which do not seem to have been portion of the original scheme, but rather an improvisation to meet a critical situation. On the plan of extensions, they appear as Room "D" and another to the south of it. (This first Room "D" became the Masters' Common Room of the years 1917-1936 and is now part of the Senior Boarders' Sitting Room.) At the same time the wooden gymnasium was built on what is now the west end of the quadrangle. (It is still in use two hundred yards further west.) Gas was installed throughout the establishment. The garden was laid out and some of the lofty trees still adorning it today were planted.

In 1872 three more acres of land were bought; the grounds then extended from Noble Street to Aphrasia Street with the exception of All Saints' Church in the corner. The new section, corresponding approximately to the eastern half of the present main oval, was ploughed, levelled and sown with grass to provide a cricket field; later a turf wicket was laid down. This ground was not big enough for football, which was usually played on the Argyle ground, near the corner of Aberdeen and Pakington Streets.

The year 1873 brought a further increase in numbers, and Mr. Morrison saw his way clear to carry on with the extension of the north front, which was to feature a large ornamental oriel window over the front porch. This was actually built. The boys in free time formed the habit of congregating round the workmen and even helping with the work, one in particular revealed a genius for stone carving,and his work was incorporated in the porch. The window had been completed and the workmen were engaged on the walls behind it at lunch time one day. The crowd of admiring boys had just trooped in to dinner, when, without warning, the whole of the upper work of the porch fell out. Five minutes previously the boys would have been standing where it crashed, and a story of disaster might have been added to the history of the College. Fortunately no one was seriously injured. Investigations showed that the porch was not strong enough to sustain the weight of the oriel window, and the work was finished without it.

The north front, completed for the time being, had gained the entrance hall and Room "A", with sleeping quarters upstairs, bringing the total boarding accommodation to forty.

At Knowle House the boarders had been taken to the sea each morning, but the new school was too far away for that, and in 1874 a "swimming bath", fifteen feet by five feet, and four feet deep, was installed at what is now the southwest corner of the main locker hall. (It continued in use till 1910.) Its construction involved taking a passage-way across the corner of Room "D"—rather a crude makeshift—and the outside doorway can be traced by its worn stone step, bricked in to form the western wall of the present Senior Boarders' Sitting Room.

Water was laid on throughout the building and to the grounds and cricket pitch, and shower baths were erected. Until then, the main source of water supply had been a single pump over a well, the brickwork of which was once more revealed in 1936, when the foundations of the south wing were being excavated. The pump was situated close to the south-east corner of the modern cloisters; many Old Boys still remember its cool, clear water, drunk thankfully on hot days, or poured over their heads by a hostile "gang" regardless of the weather.

The stable, coach house and cow shed stood at the back of All Saints' Church. North of the Church there were servants' quarters and a fowl yard. Hugh Mackay, Mr. Morrison's factotum, had planted another piece of land nearby with vegetables and fruit trees, which remained there for a quarter of a century. Raids on ripening fruit and the kicking of footballs into Hugh's pear trees produced some of the major crises of the period.

Hugh had persistently urged Mr. Morrison to acquire the area west of the main school buildings, known to generations of Collegians as the Cow Paddock. This rough piece of land was finally bought in 1880. For many years a row of pine trees showed the boundary between the original block and the Cow Paddock, on a line running south from the western end of the present pavilion.

The grounds in those days presented a very unfinished appearance in comparison with the delightful ovals and surroundings of the present time. In 1891 the Cow Paddock, which had remained completely in the rough since its purchase, was cleared, filled and graded to a more or less uniform slope, and became the senior football ground. The Argyle ground in Aberdeen Street was no longer needed for practice. Second and middle teams used the front area facing Aphrasia Street. (There was not then a full oval in front of the College: the western end of the present main playing field was a Chinaman's. market garden, a further source of refreshment—and trouble—to some boys, particularly during the tomato season.)

The later nineteenth century was a period of comparative political and economic calm throughout the world, a stately pause preceding the plunge into the modern age. In keeping with this, the College changed very little for twenty years after its move to Newtown Hill and the initial building phase. The number of boys on the rolls increased slowly; candidates continued to earn good results at external examinations, ten or thereabouts passing at Matriculation in most years; for a time there was a Post-Matriculation class which took the first year of Arts in the University without leaving the school; sports teams were enjoying considerable success. But Speech Days came and went with little difference in the appearance or content of their printed programmes.

The school year was at that time divided into four quarters, with a few days off at Easter and Michaelmas, a longer break at midwinter, and eight weeks at Christmas. Cricket was played in the first and fourth quarters, football in the second and third; the College regatta was held in April, the tennis tournament in November and the athletic sports in December after the matriculation examinations and immediately before Speech Day.

In 1896 the school was numerically still quite small, one estimate giving "boarders about twenty-eight, and the day boys possibly seventy". There were only three full-time assistant masters, Messrs. J. B. Kerr ("Joker"), H. K. Walker ("Don") and C. Stanton Crouch. Mr. Kerr went on to devote the remainder of his life to service in the College. Mr. Walker was cricket and tennis coach. Visiting teachers included Miss Young, who taught music in the small room to the left of the entrance hall (today the Chaplain's study), her pupils' efforts arousing frequent outbursts from the sufferers in nearby Room "B". Miss Sasse took a small class for drawing. (She was the daughter of "Toby" Sasse, the original drawing teacher at Knowle House in 1861.) Mr. Lupton instructed in elocution, and Mr. Metzger in gymnastics.

It is interesting to consider that the school of that period functioned without assembly hall (roll-call being held in Room "B") , masters' common room, preparatory school, library, chemistry or physics laboratory, hospital or sports pavilion.

The residence for masters—single men—was the most easterly of the cottages in a terrace at the top of Prospect Road, due east of the College main gates, and Hugh Mackay occupied another of these uninspiring buildings (replaced about twenty-five years ago by attractive modern homes).

The boat shed was near the start of today's mile course, and the regattas, not very exciting affairs, consisted entirely of four-oared events which were rowed upstream from Pakington Street. There was no inter-school competition. But racing was not the principal purpose of the boats. One of the earliest College traditions was that of "three meals Saturday", when parties of boys, provided with substantial rations from school, set off on expeditions to favourite spots in the district. Many of them spent the day down the river, going as far as "the Willows" or the Lakes, or even right through to the Heads. Sometimes Norman Morrison, the youthful Vice-Principal, was a member of one of the crews, and on such occasions he was full of pranks, a "boy" among boys, enjoying the day as much as any of his pupils.

Walking and cycling "crews"—all Saturday parties were termed "crews"—also were numerous, for the town was out of bounds, and generally these found their way to such places as the Dog Rocks, the Viaduct, the You Yangs, the junction and Spring Creek (Torquay). Egg collecting, a habit not now encouraged, was then a popular pastime and the collection of specimens was placed in charge of the boys themselves, the College showcase assuming some importance for the variety of its exhibits.

During the 'nineties, the College completed one-third of its first century of service; it had accumulated traditions and discovered its own legendary figures; its pupils had won renown in scholarship and sport, and Old Boys were spreading its influence across a widening circle of public life.

Sources: The Geelong College 1861-1961 by G C Notman and B R Keith. Chapter 3, pp 14-19.
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