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Sunday school

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Robert Raikes was the founder of the first Sunday school in England. Established in 1780 for factory children in Gloucester, Raikes was passionately concerned with the need for prison reform and believed that prisons were full of people who had endured deprived childhoods. He believed that education, especially religious instruction, would enable children to avoid the pitfalls of poverty and crime in adult life.

Children between the ages of five and fourteen were encouraged to attend, no matter what the state of their clothes. The Sunday school curriculum largely consisted of simple lessons in reading and spelling in preparation for reading the Bible, memorising Scripture passages and hymns.

In the early colony of Sydney it was the children of missionary families, the Hassalls and Marsdens who established and taught at the first Sunday school at Parramatta in 1813.

Sunday schools in New South Wales taught reading, writing and arithmetic, alongside spiritual subjects and often children’s libraries were attached to the schools. The State Library of NSW holds two Sunday school library collections: Bourke St, Darlinghurst Congregational Church Sunday school and St Matthias, Paddington Church of England. These collections represent typical Sunday school lending libraries that were in use in the mid 19th century through to the early 20th century. Most of the items were published by the Religious Tract Society and illustrate the social and religious attitudes of the time.

The inclusion of secular subjects continued until the introduction of the Public Instruction Act of 1880, which initiated compulsory attendance of children at day school. The centenary celebrations were the high tide mark of the Sunday school movement - then the largest youth movement in the world.

Thomas Hassall

Thomas Hassall (1794-1868) established the first Sunday school in NSW when he was nineteen. He was the eldest son of Rowland and Elizabeth Hassall who had been missionaries to Tahiti. The family left their ministry work in Tahiti and settled in Sydney in 1798. Rowland received a land grant of 100 acres in the Dundas district and the family lived in Parramatta.

Thomas opened up his family’s house (on the corner of George and Charles Streets, Parramatta) to Sunday school classes in May 1813. 

A small class of six or seven children, some of whom were children of convicts, soon increased to more than 200 children, including 19 Aboriginal children. Thomas asked permission from the Rev. Marsden to accommodate the school at St John’s church, Parramatta.

Teachers at the Sunday school included Rowland and Thomas Hassall, along with Marsden children, Ann and her younger sister, Elizabeth and Charles Simeon Marsden.

Once the first Sunday school had been established, many more followed, including schools at Concord, Prospect and Liverpool.

In a speech to Sunday school teachers in England in 1821, Thomas recalled how his interest in teaching children began. As a teenager, he had befriended an Irish boy called Jemmy Mullins in Sydney. Thomas spent every Sunday evening teaching Jemmy to read and write, using the Bible as his tool. Jemmy began attending church with Thomas, however he died shortly after. Thomas’ only consolation was his belief that he had been instrumental in bringing the boy to “a better world at his death”, and it was this friendship which had inspired him in his ministry to children.

Transcript: 
Sir My Dr friends & etc, When a Child begins to walk he generally meets whith some severe falls however encouraged by his friends & parents- Now Sir you see me in the exact situation of a this poor little little child for I have neverer attempted to speak in so large an assembly to my recollection before and even at this time I would much rather be silent but I wish to obey and I also recollect that I am among Sunday School Teachers who are generally so fond of children and who would that they always raise them when they see them fall and this it is that makes me launch more boldly into the work because I think if I should fail they will bear with me & lift me up especially as I am from B- B- The simple remarks I think of offering on the present occasion will be the encouragement we derive from our work & the
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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Digital ID: 
a2004005
Transcript: 
necessity of going forward in it. The encouragement I intend simply to exhibit as by arise my own experience observation and trust they will not be tedious or unprofitable- About five years ago I was much taken up in employed in the the merchant service & my time very much occupied at the place where I lived was a little sailor boy an Irish lad of quick parts tho extremely ignorant I asked him whether he would like to learn to read he replied yes- and the Sunday night from nine to ten was allotted to instruct him- This being the only convenient time for him & myself Short as it may appear his progress was rapid & tho he scarcely knew his letters in the course of two or three or four months he read his testament tolerable well- His prejudices (for he was a Catholic & well versed in their doctrines) soon gave way- He attended Church & chapel as often as he possibly could & I have no doubts as far as we could judge from his life & conversation- entered a better world at his death which happened shortly afterwards.
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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a2004006
Transcript: 
from this single circumstance I date my own poor exertions in the schools of the colony & their ultimate success to have arrisen- A very few months after my his death I removed to Parramatta the residue of my family where I began upon an humble scale another S S consisting of 6 or 7 Children two of whom were convicts- We rapidly encreased & in the course of a twelvemonth we numbered upwards of two hundred Children in our Para- school- which considering the class of people amongst whom we resided was a considerable number- Since my departure I have had the fact most pleasing intelligence from time to time & the last letter I received was from one of the little boys who first entered the school joined us at the first [indecipherable] in his letter after speaking of the attendance etc. he says “we have all a blessed opportunity of being brought to the knowledge of [indecipherable]” During a long passage of about ten months I was still endeavouring to employ myself in the same good work though there my opportunity circumstances were confined my school was small
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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a2004007
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consisting of 6 schollars 2 children a Convict lad a Sailor boy & 2 Na[indecipherable] and my encouragement still less tho not altogether in vain. letters from [indecipherable] On my arrival in England in the course of Providence I was situated at Lampeter So Wales here was no Sund School- We sun soon began one which has gone on very well considering the circumstances we laboured under- My departure from all these places has been truly affecting for and I begin to think there is something there in that addage- Love begets love- The children We love the children & the children love us- so that it is not to be wondered at that we drop the affectionate tear of parting & perhaps for ever – I shall read a letter from this last place- These simple facts added to the rapid progress this institution has made and the consideration of the fulfilment of Scriptural Prophesies are quite sufficient for our encouragement- I proceed to the necessity – Philosophies say that there are thousands of stars whose light has never left reached us how far this is correct I will not take upon me to say this however is clear that there are thousands of Children with all your exertions that the light of the Gospel has never reached who I trust shall shine as stars
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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a2004008
Transcript: 
here & suns of glory hereafter & is there not a necessity to go forward & never to draw back- Has not the glimerings of Sun Schools exertions reached the most distant parts of the world even to the Antipodes itself & shall we not fan it into a flame that shall not only enlighten the christian but the heathen world- Then Sir in the name of all present (pardon my presumption if I go too far) I will vouch that we will pledge ourselves to the union that we will stride onward got give ourselves our talants and all that we possibly can to this glorious cause- Imitating our divine master we will stretch out our arms and gather in all the children of the earth to the bosom of that union which teaches them to cry out in holy raptures Hoshan Hosannah to the Prince of peace- Glory to God in the highest on earth peace good will to men- Hosannah to the of peace- To Close I shortly expect to cross your mighty ocean again & most probably
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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Transcript: 
will never have the pleasure of seeing you again- Let me then beg an interest in the prayer of every S S Teacher and of every friend to instruction that I may be abundantly blessed in this labour of love and though I now say to all my Dear Brothers & sisters farewel a long farewel in the beautiful language of Montgy to Mr Bennet I would say though I go ; thy spirit goes with me- Tho I go; My spirit stays with thee-
Hassall family - correspondence, Volume IV, 1811-1895
1811-1895
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Hassall family - Papers of Rowland Hassall 
Hassall family - Correspondence

Establishment

Three years after starting a class at his father's house, Thomas Hassall formalised the Sunday school movement, with requirements and rules established and printed for the guidance of teachers. A meeting on December 1, 1815 resolved to form the Institution 'for the Establishing and Promoting of Sunday Schools throughout the Colony, with a view to the Instruction of poor Children of both Sexes, to read the Holy Scriptures'.

As there was only one printing press in the colony, it was thought to be too costly to print Sunday school material on it. The Rev. Marsden set up the Missionary Press in Rowland Hassall’s house for the printing of Sunday school literature and this was used to print the first set of Rules and Requirements for persons engaging themselves as teachers in the Parramatta Sunday School.

The Institution was supported by voluntary subscriptions and donations by members.

Hassall family - printed leaflets of the Parramatta Sunday School and the New South Wales Sunday School Institution, 1816
1816
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a1936001
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Hassall family - printed leaflets of the Parramatta Sunday School and the New South Wales Sunday School Institution, 1816
1816
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Hassall family - printed leaflets of the Parramatta Sunday School and the New South Wales Sunday School Institution, 1816
1816
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a1936007
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Hassall family - printed leaflets of the Parramatta Sunday School and the New South Wales Sunday School Institution, 1816
1816
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a1936008
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View the Requirements and rules via the Library's catalogue

View the Requirements and rules via the Library's catalogue

Thomas Hassall's Anecdotes

Thomas Hassall recorded his memories from his time as Sunday school leader and described some of the children who were drawn to the school and their enthusiasm for learning, despite being reviled as "Methodists" by their peers.

Transcript: 
2yr of Report London May 1818 Dear Sir Your Reports have stated the establishment of Sunday Schools in New South Wales accordingly to your desire. I beg leave to state two or three occurrences that took place during the time I had the pleasure of being engaged in that important & beneficial work – Trusting you will have the kindness to correct any error that may appear in the following account I remain Dear Sir Your Affectionate Brother & friend TH About febry or March 1818 one of the Girls was taken ill and violently afflicted with fits. I often visited and talked with her and she attributed that peace of mind and comfort which she enjoyed under her affliction to the salutary instructions received in the Sunday School and she could not help expressing her thankfulness that she had ever been a Sunday School Girl – Language fails, when I strive to record the sensations of my soul heart upon the affecting occasion – especially (indecipherable) I am to See the good old Soldier, (her Father) her affectionate mother, and two dear Sisters bending over her bed expecting each struggle to be the last – Twas pleasing however to behold her patience & resignation and particularly when the violence of the spasm was past, and nature resuming its functions; at these times her heart o’er flow’d with gratitude and her mouth uttered the praises of God in a train of scripture language that made the beholders weep afresh for you and pray that
Anecdotes concerning Sunday schools in Parramatta... by Thomas Hassall View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a2003003
Transcript: 
that God would in much mercy make this a season of refreshing to her’s and the souls of those around her – God seem’d to hear prayer on her behalf and since this time herself and one of her sisters have been received as teachers amongst us. To encourage teachers to attend to their scholars when they meet them in the course of the week as well as on the Sabbath I state the following account which hope will prove acceptable – Anecdotes for New South Wales A teacher one evening hearing a boy from the was laying in wait for the purpose of beating another boy who had spread some unpleasant report against him; sent for them & enquired into the causes of complaint – after which he shewed them the great evil of spreading evil tales (however true they might be) that would tend to injure their fellow creatures. Both appeared stiff, the elder boy seemed determined to have his revenge & the younger persisted in stating what he heard to be true. Another boy was soon after brought as being the founder of the report. He altered the case materially in favour of the elder – who to our great astonishment burst into tears and cried “O Sir I might have done these things and worse before “I came to the Sunday Schools but I am sure I have never done so since.” The teacher then shewed the evil of sin as manifested in our wicked tempers more especially in that of anger and revenge; pointed to the Saviour who said – ‘Do good to them that hate you Bless them that curse you – Pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you – 7 Matt 44. and led them to
Anecdotes concerning Sunday schools in Parramatta... by Thomas Hassall View collection item detail
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a2003004
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the Saviours dying words “Father forgive them” etc. The subject was interesting & the teachers heart appeared to be warmed with holy fervour. They stood just without the church, where the little ones had assembled to sing their Redeemers praise. Their little tender voices appeared sweet & heavenly; and the sound vibrating through the air seem’d to Swell’d & sink and swell again Dead on the walls, but live to God – Close by, stood the bell Post Post, and from the top thereof, many had been summons’d to the light and labours of another day- Summons’d to the House of God, yea I would hope to the very gate of heaven – Here too, the awful knell of dying & funeral solemnities had oft saluted the ear – the pale moon surrounded by thousands of resplendant stars shone as the Queen of night while the lengthened shaddow proclaimed about in majestic silence, the uncertainty of all sublunary happiness. These things seem’d to fix the attention and solemnize the mind – All present appeared to feel the Saviours love and forgiving forever but how was this heightened when the elder boy again came forward burst into a fresh flood of tears stretched forth his hand asked his school fellows pardon pardon & forgiveness, while the younger lad melted with the scene readily begged forgiveness in his turn and the third joined in shaking hands and begging that they might be firmer friends for the time to come. There
Anecdotes concerning Sunday schools in Parramatta... by Thomas Hassall View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a2003005
Transcript: 
were two other teachers present who could not but feel sensibly on the occasion – We joined our hands with them, and while our cheeks were wet with tears, we could not but hope that by and by we might all receive pardon from our offended maker, and be received up into Glory through our forgiving Saviour – Surely if the Angel’s rejoice over one sinner that repenteth they did rejoice to see the our flinty hearts thus softened at the Saviours name. A short time after the this above we heard many pleasing accounts from England of the usefulness of Sunday Schools and of the blessings derived by many children instructed therein. The Teacher in giving an address was led to enquire whether the children could not make themselves useful in Parramatta also. Not long after we heard that two of the Girls had began a little evening School for Girls that could not read and that one of the Boys had been searching for a place where he could assemble with a few more of an evening for the purpose of prayer & reading the scriptures – a place was found. The children put their pence together to buy candles light & when they first met there were 16 or 17 present. The boy that formerly permitted anger & malice to to rage lurk in his brow now opened this little meeting with praise & prayers. for On the day following he was reviled called a Methodist or [indecipherable] Parson & other names as terms of reproach – this came to one of the teachers ears who on the Sabbath following chose an appropriate hymn and addressed them upon
Anecdotes concerning Sunday schools in Parramatta... by Thomas Hassall View collection item detail
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a2003006
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upon the subject of calling ill names & he felt warm and many seemed much affected. He said that he wished, yea rejoiced to think, that some might arise out of that school as missionaries to the heathens and not be ashamed of owning Christ as their Lord & Saviour – after School he went to the boy and enquired the reason he did not come and mention the behaviour of those boys who had been calling him names – He burst into tears an said “why Sir when they called me those names I remembered it was nothing to what Christ endured was suffered; so I did not mind what they said” His parents Father & Mother were both wicked drunken people and as he found no peace in his Fathers House with he was anxious to leave it. [indecipherable] as soon as an opportunity offered. His wishes were soon answered, for an opportunity offered & he left the colony with a pious family, and we trust he will make a good servant and a useful man. We also earnestly hope & sincerely pray that Teachers may be encouraged to “Go Forward” in every good word and work and that the Dear children may be trained up in the fear nurture & admonition of the Lord.

TH.

[indecipherable] School Teacher

Anecdotes concerning Sunday schools in Parramatta... by Thomas Hassall View collection item detail
Digital ID: 
a2003007

Picnics and Celebrations

The social highlight of the year was the annual Sunday school picnic day. This tradition had begun in England alongside the development in rail transport. Urban children were transported to the countryside on race day, in order that they avoid 'the demoralising fascination of the race-course day'.

The first Australian Sunday school picnic was organised by Thomas Hassall in 1821, where the children were served a picnic dinner of roast beef and plum pudding.

For many years the Sunday school picnics were a popular local pastime, held on Parsonage Hill at Parramatta, a particular favourite of the Rev. Marsden.

Series 03 Box 5: Australian Indigenous Ministries pictorial material : Cherbourg/Barambah, Northern Territory itineration and cattle stations and the Mobile Bible School, 1930s-1970s
1930s-1970s
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a729001
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William Taylor's horsedrawn bus leaving the Methodist Sunday School Hall for a Sunday School Picnic - Cobar, NSW
c 1915
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bcp_05697
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Tug-of-war at a Sunday School picnic, quite popular events at picnics in those days. The Nelungaloo homestead property was owned by H K Hock who became a member of Parliament - At Nelungaloo homestead, NSW
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bcp_00350
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St. Mathew's Sunday School picnic - Albury, NSW
1878
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bcp_00969
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Children were transported to Sunday school picnics on hay wagons, paddle-wheelers, steam trains, ferries as well as on foot. The picnics would begin with hymn singing before lunch; grace was then said, followed by grand feasts of turkey, goose, sandwiches, puddings, tarts, cakes and buns. Afterward there were nut and lolly scrambles, foot races, tug-of-wars, croquet and cricket matches.

By the mid 19th century, the largest Sunday school in Sydney was St Barnabas’ Broadway which had 1,750 children and 300 teachers in its heyday. All traffic came to a standstill on George St west when the children of St Barnabas and their teachers left for their annual picnic. Carrying banners and accompanied by a brass band, Sydney’s main streets would be closed to traffic until the parade had passed.

Garden Plalace centenary celebrations

In July 1880 worldwide celebrations were held to mark 100 years of the Sunday school movement, which had been founded by Robert Raikes in England in 1780.

In Sydney over 10,000 children, representing 61 schools, were mustered in Hyde Park and marched with banners down Macquarie Street toward the Exhibition Building singing hymns.

This impressive structure had been built to house the International Exhibition of 1878-1880 and encompassed a huge seven and a half acres of floor area with four massive towers supporting a central dome. It dominated the city during its short life. It was destroyed by fire in 1882.

On the afternoon of the 26th of June, 1880, the Naval Brigade Band and the processing children filled the Garden Palace to capacity. The space was so limited that some children were accommodated in the orchestra area and some climbed on to the Governor’s platform.

Hymns and speeches by guests of honour, including the Governor, were conducted and appropriate mottoes and inscriptions were displayed in front of the galleries. The celebration was generally viewed as highly successful and very well organised, considering the numbers of attendees, estimated by newspapers as being 30,000.

Separate centenary celebrations took place in Newcastle and at St Leonards on the North Shore, 'For some reason or other the Sunday school workers on the other side of the harbour did not find the arrangements of the general committee sufficient for their purpose and they resolved upon a special celebration on their own account.' Town and Country journal, July 3, 1880.

Made possible through a partnership with Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation