Faces of Tamworth: City’s first teacher William Henry Porter

English-born William Henry Porter came to Australia in 1838 at the age of 20.

His family claims he later qualified as a barrister but did not practise.

Before coming to Tamworth, he seems to have spent some time in Sydney as a correspondent for a journal called Bell’s Life and had worked on a Queensland cattle station, according to A Chronological History of Tamworth.

In 1847, he decided to try something completely different and became Tamworth’s first school teacher.

“Somewhere up on the hill in West Tamworth” is the only location given for the school.

While it was thought to have been a private one, it was within the A.A. Company’s area and may have been part of the company’s commitment to its charter obligations regarding education.

Mr Porter was a strict man over scholars. He had only to look at them. They were afraid of telling a lie to him. If they did, they were severely punished and would not tell any more untruths again to him.

The Wallabadah Manuscript

On May 21 in the following year, Porter married Isabella Jane Robson, the widow of James Robson.

She had found her former husband speared by Aborigines on June 6, 1845, at Goonoo Goonoo, in what was the only known case of its kind in the immediate Tamworth area.

Information about the school is very scant.

The Tamworth Observer of June 11, 1904 says:

“Mention of the early days of Tamworth reminds us that Mrs W. B. Walters arrived here with her parents in 1849, fifty-five years ago. She went to school in a two-roomed bark hut on the hill at West Tamworth, the master being the father of our respected townsman, Mr Donald Porter (K-2)”.

Mrs Walters was then Harriet Brown. As well as telling us something of the school itself, The Wallabadah Manuscript also throws some light on Mr Porter and the problems he faced:

“Mr Porter was a strict man over scholars. He had only to look at them. They were afraid of telling a lie to him. If they did, they were severely punished and would not tell any more untruths again to him. ... The writer was in the bark school one day; there was a stockyard about fifty yards away. They were firing at a bullock. They missed him and the bullets came through the walls of the place passing between me and a girl about six inches off our heads and going through the other wall - a narrow escape! I heard the noise of it quite close to my ear. Mr Porter ran out and spoke to them. They ceased firing, taking the beast away to some other place to kill him.”

Mr Porter soon found himself teaching in Bundarra and then, during the 1860s, at the Nundle Denominational School where his annual salary was £70.

Because of his academic qualifications, he soon became Registrar for Births, Deaths and Marriages; Registrar for Affidavits; and Clerk of the Small Debts Court.

As a result, much of his time was spent at the Court House, leaving his untrained, grown up step-daughter to conduct the school.

This naturally led to increasing dissatisfaction and an application was made for a public school at Nundle under the Government Council of Education, successor to the National Board of Education.

Accordingly, he closed the Denominational school on October 22, 1870 and retired to Tamworth.

His home, “Waratah”, was on the Byrnes Avenue corner of Roderick Street.

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