Opened on 1 October 1855, Geelong Grammar School was founded as a private venture intended to provide quality secondary education to the sons of Geelong’s burgeoning middle class, under the auspices of the Church of England. Five clergymen, including the first headmaster, George Vance, were founders and early supporters of the school.
In 1858, the school moved into grand neo-Gothic buildings in central Geelong, survived a period of closure from 1860, and reopened in 1863 under the great headmaster, John Bracebridge Wilson. By the time the golden jubilee was celebrated in 1907, the school was educating boys from all around Australia, and especially Victoria’s Western District. During this period, the school came to be regarded as ‘Australia’s Eton’, even adopting the same shade of blue for the school colour.
Public service and selflessness were ideals for which the school strived, and heavy losses during World War One demonstrated that these values were prevalent among the school’s alumni.
By 1911, it had become clear that the school had outgrown its inner-city location. Inspired by Eton and other English public schools, open space with room for playing fields was desired in order to promote the concept of ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.
Eventually the Council settled on a large expanse of land at Corio to the north of the city, with a beautiful outlook over Limeburners Bay, and the school moved into its new red brick buildings in 1914. Over the next few decades, the chapel and dining hall were completed, and more boarding houses and a Junior School were erected as enrolments continued to grow, especially under the long tenure of headmaster Sir James Darling from 1930–61.
Art and music schools, built in the late 1930s, demonstrated the value placed on a holistic education. The School has continued to expand on the same site, most recently with the 2015 completion of a magnificent performing arts venue known as the SPACE (School for Performing Arts and Creative Education).
The independent Geelong Grammar Preparatory School was formally acquired by Geelong Grammar School in 1933 and became known as Bostock House, after Thomas E. Bostock, an early supporter of the school. To assist further with securing enrolments directly from primary school, in 1947 the School also acquired Glamorgan Preparatory School in Toorak, which had been founded in 1887 and operated from 1893 to 1946 by Isabel McComas. A fourth campus, Timbertop, opened in 1953 in the Victorian alps near Mansfield, operating an outdoor education program inspired by the Outward Bound movement.
The first home of the Toorak campus when it opened in 1887 was a rented house in Wallace Avenue which belonged to “an old Welshman” who insisted that the name Glamorgan be retained.
The school was established by Miss Annie McComas, who had been a governess to Sir William Stawell, assisted by her younger sister Isabel, who in 1895 succeeded Annie as headmistress. Both day and boarding students attended.
One of the earliest boarders was Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who attended the School from 1891–95, and was Prime Minister of Australia from 1923–29. In 1919, Isabel McComas purchased 14 Douglas Street, which had been vacated by the all-girls Toorak College. Glamorgan almost doubled its numbers in the next five years, with 121 boys enrolled by 1923. Isabel McComas retired after 60 years as headmistress upon the School’s purchase by Geelong Grammar School in 1946.
In 1973, Glamorgan became co-educational and was renamed Toorak Campus in 2008.
The Geelong Church of England Grammar Preparatory School was established in Aberdeen Street, Newtown, in 1924.
Thomas E Bostock (1863–1922), after whom the school was named following its acquisition by Geelong Grammar School in 1933, was Mayor of Geelong from 1905 to 1908, founded the Barwon Heads Golf Club in 1907, and became a member of the Geelong Grammar School Council in 1909.
Bostock House outgrew its Aberdeen Street location and moved to farming land beyond Highton on the slopes of the Barrabool Hills in 1962, where it shared a site with The Hermitage (Geelong Church of England Girls Grammar School) and Marcus Oldham Farm Management College, becoming known as Highton Campus.
In 1998, following the closure of the Highton Campus and the expansion of the Middle School at Corio to include Years 5 and 6, the Geelong primary campus up to Year 4 relocated to its current location in Newtown at 139 Noble Street, and was renamed Bostock House. The heritage-listed building was erected in 1916 as a residence for Edward G Gurr, Mayor of Geelong, and from 1954 to 1994 housed a private primary school, St Andrew’s.
The Timbertop campus began as the vision of Sir James Darling (headmaster 1930–61), who was inspired by the Outward Bound movement, founded in the UK by Kurt Hahn, headmaster of Gordonstoun in Scotland. Darling championed outdoor education as a means of developing stamina, courage, adaptability, persistence, enterprise and other desirable character traits: “Boys will have to learn to look after themselves, to find their own occupation, and develop their own capacities”.
Land at Mt Timbertop in the foothills of the Victorian Alps near Mansfield was purchased in 1951, and in late 1952 boys helped to construct the timber buildings, known as “units”, in which they would live. The campus opened in 1953, and a dedicated outdoor education program was established in 1955. Students assisted with the construction of the beautiful chapel of St John the Baptist, which opened in 1958 and remains the centrepiece of the campus.
Following the introduction of co-education in 1972, the first girls attended Timbertop in 1975, and from 1975 to 1976, Timbertop transitioned from a Year 10 to a Year 9 campus. Since its inception, the philosophy of Timbertop has remained true to Darling’s original vision.
Geelong Grammar School was an early adopter of co-education, admitting girls to the fifth and sixth forms in 1972 on the initiative of Tommy Garnett (headmaster 1961–73).
In 1976, two girls’ schools, The Hermitage (Geelong Church of England Girls’ Grammar School) in Geelong, and Clyde School in Woodend, amalgamated with Geelong Grammar School. Students from both schools moved to Corio, and two new girls’ boarding houses were created. 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of co-education at the School.
Each House has its own history and traditions, all contributing to the wider story of Geelong Grammar School. Perry, Manifold and Cuthbertson are the original three Houses, founded in 1914 and named after notable contributors to the school’s early history, followed two decades later by Francis Brown House, named after the fourth headmaster. These four houses are all senior boys’ boarding houses. The four senior girls’ boarding houses pay homage to the history of girls at the school: The Hermitage House and Clyde House, named after the two schools which amalgamated with Geelong Grammar School; Garnett House, named after Tommy Garnett, the principal who introduced co-education; and Elisabeth Murdoch House, founded in 2009 and named after one of Australia’s most distinguished daughters, a former Clyde student.
The two senior co-educational day boarding houses are named after significant staff members: Allen House, originally known as Geelong House but re-named after long-serving chaplain Rev. Joseph Allen in 1972; and Fraser House, originally home to junior students, named after Doug Fraser, former head of the junior school.
History was made in the Middle School in 2021, when the three original boarding houses, Barrabool, Barwon and Connewarre, were amalgamated into two new houses: the girls’ house Kunuwarra (meaning black swan) and boys’ house Parrwang (meaning magpie), both of which are named for animals significant to the Wadawurrung people and to the local area. The co-educational day houses are named Otway and Highton, after the Otway region and the former Highton campus, which existed temporarily from 1976 to 1987.
An enduring tradition of our school is the commemoration of Founders’ Day on or close to 24 June, which is the date in 1857 when the foundation stone was laid for the building of the old school in central Geelong. This same foundation stone is now built into the wall of the clocktower at Corio. Celebrations have taken various forms over past decades, but have generally included a guest speaker, a service of thanksgiving and a dinner.
Today, we commemorate Founders’ Day at Corio with a chapel service followed by a formal lunch in which all students participate, and to which they may invite members of staff as guests at their tables. The Principal reads the Sentences of Commemoration, which acknowledge those people “whose devotion founded and preserved Geelong Grammar School” and pays respect to the original custodians of the lands on which our four campuses stand. The school choir leads the whole school in singing the school song in Latin and calls for three cheers for the Founders.
As part of the centenary of the Corio Campus in 2014, the School produced a book ‘100 Exceptional Stories’ to celebrate the lives of 100 exceptional past students who attended Corio between 1914 and 2014. The book profiles an eclectic and interesting group of people who have achieved in an incredibly diverse range of fields, and a series of videos were produced to share the stories with our community.
In 2020, our School marked the milestone of 165 years since foundation.
Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, public celebration was not possible, so the School sought inspiration and strength in the past putting together a commemorative video that honours our foundations and the people who have shaped our history.
‘The pages of our story are ours still to write”.
Our School is home to a remarkable collection of artefacts and ephemera that have been accumulated over more than 165 years of our history. We are the custodians of maps and plans, sculptures and paintings, letters and diaries, silverware and bone china, medals and antiquities, memorials and plaques, curiosities and clothing — all of them contributing to the exceptional story of our School.
Please enjoy this cabinet of curiosities.
The Geelong Grammar School Archives and Heritage Collection is made up of a unique collection of official and unofficial documentary records, art and artefacts, manuscripts, maps, rare books, furniture, photographs and film. Exhibitions are regularly mounted in the Perry Quad at Corio Campus, which our community and visitors are warmly welcomed to view.
Geelong Grammar School’s motto and crest express our historic foundation and purpose.
The school’s first motto in 1855 was sancte et sapienter, “holiness and wisdom”. In 1863, headmaster John Bracebridge Wilson chose a new version of the original motto, Christus nobis factus sapientia, meaning “For us, Christ was made wisdom”. The motto is taken from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 30: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”.
Michael Collins Persse, school historian for many decades, suggested that Wilson chose the motto as an expression of his regard for truth as well as his reverence for the divine. Wilson was a noted natural historian and scientist, with “a freshness about his thinking” that influenced his pupils. The motto refers to the capabilities of humankind but ultimately the overarching transcendence of God.
For a contemporary audience, we interpret our motto as “Enabling wisdom”.
The school badge (commonly referred to as a crest) consists of a shield quartered with the royal lions of England (a reference to John Bracebridge Wilson’s ancestry) and the Southern Cross constellation, beneath a bishop’s mitre. The school colour, Eton blue, borders the shield. As a whole, our badge expresses important aspects of our identity: the influence of British educational traditions, our Australian roots and our Anglican foundations.