The Influence of Education & Public Morality in Australia during 1788-1900
While Christianity played a crucial part in all aspects of Australian society throughout the pre-federation years 1788 to 1900, it had a significant impact on education and public morality.
Th influence of Christianity in education was evident through the establishment of a separate education system and, in public morality the formation of the temperance movement as well as other actions.
Education was greatly influenced by Christianity during 1788 through to 1900. Settlers concerned to leave religious divisions in Britain believed that ties between church and state should be eradicated and that churches be supported by their own followers. Subsequently, with numerous denominations supporting this idea, concerns were partly met by the granting of financial aid to the major religious groups, including the Church of England. Individuals churches used this aid to maximise its religious and educational influence. Governor Bourke later extended the state financial aid and attempted to introduce government schools based on the national system in his native Ireland. However, non-Anglican Protestants, who had formed in 1835 a society for promoting schools where the Bible would be a basis for general education, insisted on its wider use in the proposed national schools than was permitted in the Irish system. Catholics supported the Governor’s proposal which further angered the Protestants. The successive alliance between the Anglicans and the Protestant denominations favourably brought about an anti-Catholic move to condemn concessions to a religious minority at the expense of national school systems based on the religious teachings of the Bible.
In 1839, when Bishop Broughton’s agenda was completely revealed, it was brought public that he intended to include the teachings of Anglican evangelists. This was revealed when Governor Gipps attempted to enforce a Bible-based national system and separate Catholic schools. Broughton successfully organised a commotion against this plan in favour of the continuation of state support for Anglican schools. Using this success, Protestants called for government aid for their own educational programs. When an elite committee of the New south Wales Legislative Council proposed the Irish system in1846, Catholics, concerned that the schools could become completely empowered by Protestants, joined Anglicans and other denominations, especially Wesleys, in opposing it. A compromise in 1848 agreed to separate denominational and Irish-type national schools.
Although this view was strongly supported, some influential colonists wanted the financial aid to end in order to eliminate duplication and ensure that public instruction was controlled and financed by each colonial government. Christians and secularists combined with politicians to bring an end to this form of state aid.
This was a major knock back to the influence of the Protestant churches. Even though secondary schools and universities were to be strong influences on colonial powers, the Roman Catholic Church showed that a strong cultural and religious influence could be provided by their schools.
By the end of the nineteenth century an influential Catholic school system was in place in every colony, continuing the work of religious orders like the Australian-founded Josephites, the Marist and Christian Brothers who came to Australia at the invitation of bishops such as Polding and Moran. Lutherans also had their own school system, but in comparison to the Catholic system, was quite small. Many Protestants argued that such denominational schools were sectarian, but Catholics insisted that it was a matter of conscience to have schools based on religious principles in every part of the curriculum. They claimed that they were denied justice by the Protestant majority because they paid taxes for public schools that they could not in conscience send their children to, while at the same time having to finance their own schools.
This shows the influence Christianity had on education during 1788-1900 and how at times caused conflict between Christian denominations who were adamant to have ultimate control in Australian society and to enforce their own Christian teachings.
Many Australians wished to use the state to impose a moral order on the Australian people. One person who strongly supported this view was a Wesleyan Methodist layman, John Colton. He and other Methodists concentrated on transforming South Australians into more moral persons by raising the age of sexual consent, by promoting temperance from alcoholic drink, by preventing them from wasting money in gambling, and by maintaining a Sabbatarian Sunday. Methodists were strongly advised to always vote at elections ‘as a solemn trust’ to ensure true Christian influence in parliament.
In Victoria, there was a similar transformation of Protestant political into moral missionaries. A consequence of this crusade was a struggle between moral reformers and a growing coalition of opponents. A major conflict was pressure to break down previous sabbatarian laws by opening Melbourne Public Library, the Technological Museum and the National Art Gallery on Sundays. On this issue Christians divided. The Presbyterian Assembly organised a ‘very large deputation’ to call on the Premier, James Service, to urge the sanctity of the Christian Sabbath. The conflict ended when the Cabinet was able to keep the library, gallery and museum closed on Sundays well into the next century.
Unfortunately for evangelists, there were limits to the degree of evangelical Protestant control of the Victorian community. Temperance reform was limited. Pushing for reforms in the 1880’s were numerous temperance societies in Victoria. Opposed to them were the brewers of the alcohol and hostel owners.
Evangelicals in New South Wales had a harder task in stopping the erosion of Sabbath. By 1880, most Sydney people were using Sunday as a day of entertainment as well as rest. Evangelical Protestants were unable to persuade Parliament to abolish a motion passed 1878 to open the public library and museum on Sunday afternoons. A new government headed by high Anglican churchman , Alexander Stuart, resisted further evangelical pressure to ban Sunday afternoon concerts, he suggested to the deputationists that they were out of step with public opinion.
From this it is seen that Christian authority and influence was decreasing when it came to public morality. Towards the late 1800’s public morality was becoming of less importance in comparison to the early 1800’s. Despite this, Christianity still had a major influence on morality because Christian leaders had gained high status and power and therefore could exert pressure on people and enforce rules and regulations that all must abide by.