A Sometimes Teacher, Prospector, Anthropologist, Historian and More

[John Batt]

John Batt Talks About James Bonwick

John Batt gave an interesting insight into the life and personality of James Bonwick, a man with a passion for hard work. A man who became a teacher, a school inspector, an historian, a gold prospector, an author, an archivist and a journalist.

James Bonwick was the eldest of 4 children born to James Bonwick, senior, and his second wife Mary Preston. He was born on 8 July 1817 in Surrey, England into a family of clergyman, teachers and scholars. He went to school at the Borough Road School in Southwark, London and at the age of 17 began his teaching career at Hemel Hempstead, looking after a school of 100 students.

His students soon learned that he could control the class without the use of a cane. He advocated the Quaker method of ridicule and detention and reward for good work.

After moving to Liverpool, Lancashire in 1837, he converted to Nonconformity, and became involved in Temperance Societies. His nervous disposition caused him to swap and change jobs frequently and a year after his marriage to Esther Beddow in 1840 he took a position as teacher at the Normal School in Hobart Town, arriving in Van Diemen's Land on 10 October 1841.

[James Bonwick]

Following his resignation in 1843 due to poor conditions, he established his own school in 1847. With George Washington Walker he established the Hobart Town Total Temperance Society and in 1850 he moved to Adelaide, South Australia.

Lured by the prospect of discovering gold he next moved to Victoria in 1852. He had some success in the Victorian goldfields but tiring of mining he moved to Melbourne and settled in Kew where he established a school. In 1854, his parents, sister and brother arrived in Australia. They were shocked at the conditions under which James and his family lived. Their 2 roomed wattle and daub hut was cold. Cooking conditions were primitive and obtaining water was a chore. James's children however looked strong and capable.

During a long working career James Bonwick established several schools which were successful. Amongst these were the Boarding School in Kew (1856) and another Boarding School called Carlton House in St. Kilda. Worry, effort and restless energy resulted in bad health which forced him to sell at least 2 schools over a period of years.

James was a prolific writer of books. He wrote school text books, stories on bush rangers, mysticism, philosophy, poetry, Tasmanian Aborigines, geography and his life experiences. He published a little book called "Notes of a Gold Digger" and also a monthly magazine called "The Australian Gold Fields Magazine." When in later life he returned to England, he wrote about his travels in Egypt, Moscow, India and United States of America, etc. He wrote a book called "The Mormons and the Silver Mine."

He published the first Australian text book and a book he published in 1858 called "Western Victoria - Its' Geography, Geology and Social Conditions" is still in use today. A book first published in 1845 titled "Discovery of Australia and New Zealand" later earned him a Fellowship of the Royal Geographical Society.

Following a 6 month period of writing, his health improved and he became Inspector of Denominational Schools for Western Victoria. He moved with his family to Buninyong. Unfortunately a coaching accident prevented him from riding again and he returned to England where he lectured on the advantages of Australia, and wrote a book on Queensland's resources. He collected historical records for Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria and Sir Henry Parkes commissioned him to become the Archivist for New South Wales.

It is interesting to note that the first of his historical works was the "Discovery and Settlement of Port Phillip" and that when he returned to England he named his home 'Yarra Yarra.' His final book written in 1902, four years before his death was titled "An Octogenarian's Reminiscences." Although James Bonwick's father is buried in Melbourne, the rest of the family died in England. Esther had become quite homesick and they spent their final years in Southwark, Sussex, England.

(The above is a report on John Batt's address at the General Meeting on 12 May 2007.)

Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)

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