The Male Family and the Spring Grove School at Beaumaris

We take for granted institutions such as schools, but in the days of Victorian pioneers, no such assumptions could be made. This is the story of the Male family, a family of early pioneers of Brighton, their links to a school that once existed in an area of Beaumaris known as Spring Grove in the 1850s and its short and troubled history.

Thomas Male arrived in Port Phillip on the 23rd of July 1841, aboard the George Fyffe, with his wife Eliza and their two young children; Susanna aged 4 and William just over a year old. Thomas’s older brother Simeon and his family accompanied them on the voyage.[1]

Following their arrival, no record of either family has been found until 1843 when Simeon and his family were recorded as living in Brighton, a settlement commenced in 1841 through the efforts of Henry Dendy [2]. It is reasonable to assume Thomas and his family were also living in Brighton as the brothers worked together as sawyers. Assisted immigrants from South Petherton, a market town in Somerset, the Male brothers, started their new lives in Port Phillip District with very little, but they worked hard to improve their lot, and by 1847, each had managed to purchase significant acreages in Brighton, with Thomas holding approximately 15 acres around the junction of Church St and Male St in Brighton. [4] They were members of the St Andrew’s Church of England congregation and had become respected members of the community, evidenced by their service as jury members for a number of inquests held in Brighton during that early period. Although not well educated themselves, their children attended the St Andrew’s school in Brighton. [5] As life became easier, the brothers turned to less strenuous, and probably more lucrative occupations than sawing. Simeon moved to butchering while Thomas turned to farming. Brighton was a difficult place to farm because there were no watercourses in the area. It is little wonder that Thomas Male looked for more suitable land for his farm. By 1854, the area known as Beaumaris, was developing a reputation as an attractive location with an abundance of natural waterholes [6] – the land was ideal for farming and market gardening.

The Beaumaris and Cheltenham areas in the Parish of Moorabbin were not subdivided until the Crown land auction held on the 28th of January 1852. [7] Stephen Charman alienated his portion 46 at Moorabbin from the Crown in that year. [8, 9] Charman’s 160-acre block is the land now bounded by Balcombe Road, Weatherall Road, Charman road and a line passing through Marlo Grove. Charman named the property Spring Grove due to the abundance of springs in the area.

Sketch map of Charman’s portion 46 showing the location of the Spring Grove School ground and Thomas Male’s land.

In 1854 Thomas and Eliza sold some of their land in Brighton and purchased 20 acres from Stephen Charman, for the sum of one hundred and ninety pounds. The memorial of the conveyance was dated 21 November 1854. Male’s purchase amounted to a 5 chain-wide strip, running north to south, the entire length of Charman’s block, close to its middle. The family moved to Spring Grove late in 1854 or early 1855 to commence farming their newly acquired land. Since arriving in Port Phillip, Thomas and Eliza had had a further three children: Thomas (b. 1846), MaryAnn (b. 1850) and George (b. 1853) [10]. With the move to Spring Grove came the need to find a local school for son Thomas, daughter Mary Ann, and in time, George too.

Thomas Male, 1846 – 1920, one of the early pupils at the Spring Grove School in Beaumaris.

On the 17th of January 1855, the Reverend Samuel Taylor wrote to the Denominational Schools Board requesting funds for the establishment of a school at Beaumaris [11]. Enclosed with the letter was a list of subscribers with amounts pledged, indicating a possible 38 children as potential enrolments. Closer examination of the petition reveals both Thomas and Eliza Male as separate signatories, Sister-in-law Esther (wife of Simeon) and brother-in-law Joseph Stuckey. While numbers of the signatories were early residents of the Beaumaris area, some were known Brighton residents.

In 1855, Thomas Male instigated the commencement of the Spring Grove School by selling, for a nominal consideration, approximately 1½ acres of his land to the Lord Bishop of Melbourne, with the following condition:

Upon Trust for ever hereafter to hold the same and to be used as a site for a school for poor people of and in the Parish of Moorabbin to be conducted upon and in accordance with the principles of the ecclesiastic Church of England and for the residence of the master of the said School. Such School to be subject to the rules and regulations of the Denominational Schools Board. [12]

The document formalising the transfer was dated the 14th of August 1855; however, a report written by Inspector Budd suggests that building had commenced sometime before the 9th of March 1855 [13]

The proposed school needed a School Master. Parmenus Pearce Mudge, the schoolmaster at Brighton during early 1854, had moved to found the Church of England School in what is now Silver Street in Cheltenham. Mudge submitted the first statistical returns for the Cheltenham School to the Denominational Schools Board for the fourth quarter of 1854 and the first quarter of 1855. [14] He then undertook the effort of establishing another new school, the Spring Grove School. Perhaps his connections to Brighton, where he had been schoolmaster to Male’s children, had some bearing on his decision. Perhaps Male’s offer to sell a further 3 1/2 acres of his land, adjoining the school ground, to Mudge, may have made the arrangement more attractive. [15] Regardless of his reasons, Mudge moved to the Spring Grove School when it was complete, submitting its first quarterly return for the third quarter of 1855. [14]

Denominational School records show that a grant of £98. 17.2 was made by the Board on the 28th of September 1855 for the erection of a Schoolhouse and teachers residence, 36 x 20 x 12, a weatherboard structure with a double chimney. The school was also used as a place of worship for the local Church of England congregation with Mudge acting as lay curate. The Board’s grant matched the amount raised through local subscriptions. [16] The school’s committee members were listed as [17]: Messrs Male, Mudge, Francis, Porter, W. Wells and Nicholson.

Sketch of the Spring Grove School. Courtesy Eric Longmuir.

The statistical returns from the Denomination Schools Board [14] provide us with detailed information about the progress of the school:

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The school struggled and did not ever meet the Denominational Schools’ Board requirement of an average attendance of a minimum of 30 students per quarter.

Meanwhile, the Male family experienced a series of tragic events, which undoubtedly would have impacted on the tiny community of the Spring Grove School. On the 4th of December 1855, Eliza Male gave birth to a son, John. Neighbour Martha Wells, wife of Henry Wells, assisted with the delivery. On the 13th of December Eliza died of Puerperal fever. On the 8th of February 1856, Thomas laid his young son to rest with his mother at the Brighton Cemetery. John had died of a bowel blockage, probably induced from the lack of suitable foods available to the infant after the death of his mother. [18]

Thomas continued farming until the 11th of October the same year, when, while returning from the city in the dark, his cart hit a concealed stump at South Brighton and he was thrown from the cart, the fall leaving him paralysed from the neck down with severe spinal injuries. He was helped to a nearby house and brother Simeon, brother-in-law Joseph Stuckey and Parmenus Mudge were all summoned. Male remained conscious for approximately 24 hours, and during the time he dictated a will where he named Stuckey and Mudge as executors of his estate. Thomas Male died from the injuries he received in the fall on the 13th of October 1856. [19, 20]

Joseph and Ann Stuckey cared for the orphaned Male children. The couple had come from South Petherton in 1844, settling in Brighton with the Males. Stuckey and Male may have had business as well as family links and the Stuckeys were also involved with the formation of the school; however, their main abode seems to have always been Brighton. It seems most likely that Male’s children were withdrawn from the Spring Grove School late in 1856, to move back to Brighton and live with their Aunt and Uncle. At that time Thomas was 10, Mary Ann 6 and George just 3 ½ years old. Thomas’s oldest daughter, Susannah, had only recently married Thomas Rose and they remained in Cheltenham on his land in nearby Cromer Road.

With an average attendance below 30 the survival of the school became doubtful. The solution to the problem was an amalgamation with the nearby Wesleyan School in La Trobe Street, in the charge of Frederick Meeres. The combination of Church of England and Wesleyan sponsored schools was not welcomed by all members of the community but was necessary as both schools were struggling to achieve a sustainable enrolment. At the beginning of 1857, the two schools merged. Meeres became the Master of the combined school and submitted its first return covering the first quarter. It was the only combined school listed in the Statistical Register. [14]

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The Combined School operated as a boys school located in the newly constructed Wesleyan Building in the Charge of Frederick Meeres and the Spring Grove School building was used as the girls’ schoolroom under the charge of Mrs Meeres. [21, 22] The Register of Building Grants of the Denominational Schools Board [16] indicates that Spring Grove school building underwent repairs and renovation in August 1857. It was the last record of money spent on the building:

The school was lined 6’ high with boards. Canvassing was applied (presumably to the ceiling) and the upper parts of the walls were papered. New seats, blinds and mouldings were installed. The entire interior was painted with three coats of paint. One Joseph Porta signed the certificate. The cost was £40, of which the Denominational Schools Board granted £20 on the 22nd of August 1857.

The union of the two schools failed quite abruptly. On the 14th of January 1858 the Wesleyan Reverend Theophilus Taylor wrote to the Denominational Schools Board, stating that the Bishop of Melbourne had suddenly ended the existence of the Combined School. He went on to confirm that the Wesleyans were not party to this action. [22]

The Bishop’s Registrar confirmed the dissolution in detailed correspondence dated 15th February 1858. [23] The strict wording of Male’s deed of gift of the land – that it was given for the purpose of a Church of England Denominational School only, was cited as the basis for the need for separation. The combined school was, legally speaking, a breach of trust. The Bishop was bound to separate the school when called upon by members of the Church of England. It would seem that this had occurred.

Immediately after the separation, Meeres continued teaching the boys who remained under his care in the Wesleyan Church while Mrs Meeres re-located to private accommodation to teach the girls who chose to stay with them. [24]

On the 30th of January, the Reverend Samuel Taylor wrote, with apparent reluctance, to the Denominational Schools Board stating ‘under the circumstances of the case, which has been throughout a peculiar and most unpleasant one, I have come to the conclusion that it was the best and wisest course to appoint Mr P.P. Mudge’ as master for the Church of England School at Beaumaris (Spring Grove) if approved on examination by the Inspector. [25] Mudge was conducting school at Spring Grove with between 18 or 20 children when he wrote to Inspector Budd requesting exemption from this examination just a few days later. [26] It is not known if his request was approved. He continued as schoolmaster, without any financial support from the Board until early in 1859.

It was Frederick Meeres who wrote to the Board on the 3rd of March 1859 to inform them that:

...Mr Mudge has finally given it up and the school has been closed for over a month. I have however just heard that Mr Courtenay, the Master of the Cheltenham school has just placed his sister there... [27]

Miss Courtenay was still in charge a year later when Inspector Budd visited in response to the school’s application for funding from the Denominational School’s Board. Inspector Budd’s report of 1860 described a wooden schoolroom with a teacher’s residence attached and an unfenced playground. The parent population was described as ‘small market gardeners of the superior kind.’ Courtenay continued as School Mistress until the middle of 1860, when the school closed for the last time as a result of being unable to attain the required average attendance. [28, 29] A list, dated 21st March 1860, provides 29 names of pupils attending the school, only 10 of which were aged 5 years or above.

Meanwhile, Meeres had been dutifully submitting the required returns for the Wesleyan School, number 533, at Beaumaris:

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This school was re-named Beaumaris Common School No 84 in 1863 and eventually moved to the site of the present day Cheltenham Primary School in Charman Road.

The school building at Spring Grove was in use only for Sunday worship in 1861 [33], but had been vacant for some time when, in 1866, the committee for the Beaumaris Common School, during its search for more suitable accommodation, unsuccessfully attempted to purchase it. [34] The building was taken down in late 1873, with the intention of being re-erected on the grounds of St Matthew’s in Cheltenham, although it was never re-built. [35]

Parmenas Mudge married Ann Amelia Ring in 1859 and moved to teach at Baringhup, in the Maldon/Castlemaine area. [10] He sold his block of land at Spring Grove to his brother, Burnet Patch Mudge, who had been acting as schoolmaster of the Church of England School at Little Brighton throughout the mid to late 1850’s. [4] He later renounced his role as joint executor of Male’s estate. Male’s land was sold to Thomas Bent in 1874 and later subdivided. [4]


  1. Passenger List for the George Fyffe, arrived at Port Phillip on the 23rd July 1841.
  2. Baptism certificate for Mary Elizabeth Male, daughter of Simeon and Esther Male, dated 16th October 1843.
  3. Bate, W. A. A History of Brighton 2nd Edition, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1983, page 47.
  4. Land Records held at the Office of the Registrar General.
  5. VPRS 123 Reel 16, Vol 2 Administration Expenses of Port Phillip, 1849, lists the children of Thomas and Simeon Male among those enrolled at St Andrews Church of England School in Brighton.
  6. The Argus, 28 January 1854, carried an article about Beaumaris.
  7. Allom Lovell & Associates, Bayside Heritage Review: Thematic History, 1999, page 11, lists the results of the Auction Sale of the 28th of January 1852.
  8. There is some confusion about the numbering of Charman’s allotment. Many parish plans refer to it as portion 50, however the original documents refer to it as portion 46.
  9. Crown Grant Certificate dated 4th September 1852, for 160 acres of land in the Parish of Moorabbin for the sum of £328.
  10. Victorian Pioneers BDM indexes.
  11. VPRS 61, Unit 4, document 55/78.
  12. Memorial of Conveyance, No 833, Book 35, Between Thomas Male and the Right Reverend Lord Bishop of Melbourne, dated 14th August 1855.
  13. VPRS 61 Unit 4 Document 55/261, Inspector Budd’s Report to the Denominational Schools Board, dated 19th March 1855, stated the construction of the Church of England School ‘to be in a very forward state.’
  14. VPRS 59 Unit 1 Denominational Schools Board Statistics 1848 – 1857 .
  15. The land transfer, from Male to Mudge, was formalised in a memorial dated the 26th May 1855.
  16. VPRS 886 Unit 1, Denominational Schools Board, Register of Building Grants 1853-1863 page 93.
  17. VPRS 61 Unit 5, File 55/596 Account of Subscriptions and Expenditure in the Erection of the Spring Grove (Beaumaris) Church of England School.
  18. Information from Victorian Registry of BDM; Brighton Cemetery Records.
  19. VPRS 24/P Unit 35 file 654, Inquest into the death of Thomas Male.
  20. VPRS 7591/P1 Unit 6 File 2/433 Will of Thomas Male dated 13th September 1856.
  21. VPRS 61 Unit 14 File 57/1821 Request for renovations to the girls school room at Spring Grove.
  22. VPRS 4826 Unit 2, Denomination Schools Board Received Letter Register Jun 1857 – Dec 1859, Folio 479, item 58/141.
  23. VPRS 61 Unit 17 file 58/367. Letter from the Bishop’s Registrar to the Denominational Schools Board.
  24. VPRS 61 Unit 17 File 58/141 Letter to Demoninational Schools Board dated 14 January 1858.
  25. VPRS 61 Unit 17 File 58/219. from Rev Samuel Taylor to the Denominational Schools Board dated 30 Jan 1858.
  26. VPRS 61 Unit 17 File 58/333 Letter from PP Mudge dated 5 Feb 1858.
  27. VPRS 61 Unit 25 Fie 59/524 Letter from F. Meeres to the Denominational Schools Board dated 3 March 1859.
  28. VPRS 62 Unit 36 File 60/1691 Letter from Inspector John Sircom to the Denominational Schools Board advising of the school’s withdrawal of application for funding.
  29. VPRS 61 Unit 34 file 60/1860 Report from Inspector W. T .Budd about the Spring Grove School dated May 1860.
  30. VPRS 1409 Unit 1 Statistical Register of the Denominational Schools Board, 1858.
  31. VPRS 1409 Unit 2 Statistical Register of the Denominational Schools Board, 1859-61.
  32. VPRS 1409 Unit 3 Statistical Register of the Denominational Schools Board to 31 August 1862.
  33. VPRS 61 Unit 42 File 61/1768 Inspector Miller’s report on the state of the school buildings (Spring Grove) dated 27 June 1861.
  34. Letter dated 28th Oct 1866, from Henry Wells, correspondent of the local committee of the Beaumaris Common School to Kane.
  35. Polites, Sue. Pioneers of Faith: St Matthews’s Cheltenham, 1867-1992, 1992, page 7.
Kay McCullough
27 June 2018
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