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THOMAS STEPHENS, EDUCATIONIST, MEMBER ROYAL SOCIETY, TASMANIA

An unpretentious one penny Tasmanian postcard reveals an interesting story about the addressee, Thos Stephens M.A., Inspector of Schools, Davey Street (Hobart). It was postmarked with a HOBART/ 1 D/ NO 4/ 82 duplex (Figure 1).

The reverse has an interesting script message as follows: A Meeting of Boys Reformatory Committee will be held at the Bible Depot, Liverpool Street on Monday Morning next 6th Instant at 11o’clock 4/11/82 (Signed:) J. Mathers? Hon Sec (Figure 2).

Thomas Stephens was born on 4 October 1830 at Levens, Westmorland England, the second son of Rev. William Stephens, the vicar of Levens and his wife Alicia. He was educated at Marlborough College and Magdalen Hall, Oxford and graduated B.A. 1854 & M.A. 1864. He migrated to Melbourne in 1855, and the next year he went to Tasmania and became sub-warden of Christ’s College, Bishopsbourne until it closed in May 1857. He was appointed inspector for the Northern Board of Education and moved to Launceston where he also served on the Northern Board of Works, responsible for planning roads.

He went to Hobart Town in 1863 as inspector of schools for the whole island under the new single Board of Education, and in 1870 he was promoted to chief inspector. He became responsible for many reforms and advocated training and certification of teachers by a central body; increased salaries for teachers; systematic inspection of schools; and, properly arranged courses and testing of results. These views led him into conflict with the Board. Under the 1885 Act which replaced the Board of Education with a responsible Minister, he became permanent head of the new department as director, until he retired in 1894.

Stephens was known for many other accomplishments, including: wrote a history of Christ’s College; founding member of the Council of the University of Tasmania; its vice-chancellor in 1900-01; chairman of its faculty of science in 1905; a member of the Royal Society of Tasmania, providing 27 papers to its Proceedings most of them about the geography and geology of the colony, as well as councillor of the Society; contributed papers to the Linnean of NSW; and, was a fellow of the Geological Society of London. He died of heart failure at his home in Hobart on25 November 1913, predeceased by his second wife, and survived by 5 of his seven children.

The Boys’ Training School (Reformatory) for male juvenile prisoners was established under the Training School Act, and opened at Cascades in 1869, operating there until 1879 when it was removed to Hobart Gaol. The reformatory returned to Cascades in 1884, after renovations, and continued there until 1896 when the ‘delinquent boys’ were transferred to the New Town Pauper Establishment. The aims of the Reformatory included: reforming young offenders, and keeping them separate from adult criminals in gaols. Efforts were made to educate the boys, teach them trades and later find them apprenticeships.

As such, they completed about 3 hours of tuition in the 3R’s daily, with the remainder of the day given to instruction in agriculture, gardening or carpentry. A mark system was introduced with the aim of stimulating the boys to good behaviour and industry. The Reformatory was governed by a Board of Managers, which included Ministers of Religion and prominent members of the public, including the Mayor of Hobart. One can be certain that Thomas Stephens had a great influence on the education of these young boys.

Part of this paper relies on the entry for Stephens in the on-line edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.


 
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