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Useful And Fantastic: A Goldfield Schoolmaster - 4

Val Yule continues her account of one of the mosty gifted teachers in Nineteenth Century Australia.

McCombe liked his students to be fired by a noble ambition, thinking and reasoning, drinking deep from the Pierian Springs as though to converse with the mighty dead, who rule us from their urns.

They should ascertain their particular forte and pursue it with diligence, rather than being like many persons who labor without aim.

“We have teachers at the present time who regard a smattering in ordinary subjects as being a comprehensive education. The teachers of old appear to me to have studied the characteristics of youth more accurately than we do in this so-called enlightened age.” Quintilianus, the “prince of schoolmasters” liked a boy who “roused at praise, profited from encouragement, cried at defeat, fired by ambition, stung by reproach, and animated by preference.”

McCombe said that he liked to use the blackboard since “the eye retains a lasting impression and assists the memory, or as Herodotus says, the ears of men are less to be trusted than the eye.”

He added “It would be better that this great island continent should be laid desolate and covered with thorns and briars, than that the minds of the rising youth should be sapped by the pestiferous weeds which spring from ignorance.”

“The second part of the entertainment “ (as Brennan described it) “consisted of songs, recitations, speeches by rote, and selections on flutes and cornets. Mr McCombe evoked much applause by his song about “Napoleon, Napoleon. . . thou art dead, Napoleon “.

“This concert did much good in the district, and for about a year after, the other five teachers attended his Saturday lectures. “ On one occasion Brennan attended his lecture on geology, and made lengthy notes. The session commenced with an inspection of the huge granite rocks close to the grove, and a discussion (reported at some length) which included the nature of granite and its crystalline aggregates, a classification of the other primary rocks, how rocks disintegrate, the other elements they may contain, how what had been said about those two boulders applied to all granite formations in the universe, including the white porphyritic granite in Wales, whose clay was used in porcelain, and the feldspar crystals in the West and South of Ireland, and then circling back to the other minerals of the district and the formation of the gold fields, which gave employment to hundreds of thousands.

Alas, this pedagogical paradise did not last. McCombe was invited by an influential friend in Paris to visit there, “where he was appointed lecturer in philosophy at the Sorbonne “. Two of his former pupils at Kangaroo Flat subsequently graduated in honours at the Sydney University, but whether one of them was Miss Lee, Brennan does not say.

But the alluvial diggings around Kangaroo Flat were exhausted, the miners left, and the school was closed. When Brennan passed the place a few years later, “the ruthless hand of the settler had wantonly destroyed the famous grove or academy, as well as the school buildings and the geometrical figures. Nothing except my memory was left to recall the scholastic glory of the place. “

Brennan lauded McCombe as “probably the first teacher in the Colony who pursued a course of his own over an untravelled teaching route; hence he became a leader and a guide to teachers and to pupils alike, and demonstrated in his own person that culture was a great end of education, and that a knowledge of the sciences and arts refined the manners and made men to be mild and gentle in their conduct. “

“I have known hundreds of teachers in the Colony since, many University men, but found no one gifted with Mr McCombe’s aptitude...“ And Brennan quotes Cicero in Latin, with his own translation, “Yes, the divine inspiration is the indispensable factor “.


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