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St Peter’s Denominational School

The Church of England was the official denomination of 19th century Australia. This being the religion of the ‘mother country’ (Britain), it was therefore adopted as the official religion in the Australian colonies. St Peter’s School at Sovereign Hill represents the kind of education provided by the Denominational Board in Victoria.

The denominational schools on the Ballarat goldfields were strong and at least a dozen emerged in the 1850s, indicating the size and influence of church-going communities in the developing township.

St Peter’s Church of England School in Ballarat West was one of these early denominational schools. Its first school building was erected in 1858, near Yuille’s Swamp (which was later enlarged to create Lake Wendouree). It served as a church as well as a school and commenced with an enrolment of 35 children.

During the next few years, the growing congregation placed pressure on the building in its dual capacity as church and school. In 1860, the Reverend John Potter approached the Denominational Board for a grant to assist in the building of the first official schoolhouse, stating that it would continue to be used as a place of worship. The grant was eventually received and combined with money raised by public subscription to erect a suitable building (believed to have been at the corner of Mair and Pleasant Streets) for a cost of £200. The original plans for this building were used to construct the National School at Sovereign Hill.

Constructed of humble weatherboard, the building was designed by the architect H.R. Caselli, who later designed the Ballarat Town Hall, the Ballarat City Fire Station and several other local churches.

In June 1862, The Common Schools Act abolished the Denominational and National Boards. St Peter’s Church of England School became Pleasant Street Common School No. 695. In 1872, the State was made responsible for free, secular and compulsory education and, in 1874, St Peter’s/Pleasant Street Common School became Pleasant Street State School No. 695.

In 1877, a new school for 404 children was built on the same site, next to the old school, and extending along Pleasant Street from Mair Street to Lake Wendouree.

The old school house and Church Reserve were sold to the government. The money from the sale of these buildings was used to build a schoolroom close to the new St Peter’s Church, which had been built in 1865 in Sturt Street, by then the main thoroughfare of the city. This St Peter’s Church still stands in Sturt Street, Ballarat, today.