In April 1842, William Keeler Hawkes and his wife Martha arrived in Van Diemens Land from England on the ship Indian. Shortly afterwards the established a boarding school for boys at the property now known as Franklin House at Franklin Village near Launceston. The property was leased from Mr Britton Jones, an innkeeper and brewer, licensee of ‘The William Wallace Inn” nearby.
The school was conducted in a single storey room added to the northern side of the main house. It quickly became one of the leading boarding schools in the colony, in 1847, being one of five in the north and eleven in total in the colony offering a classical education.
The school catered for an enrollment of up to 26 boys aged generally between 8 & 14 years, all of them sons of successful Launceston business men and graziers from the Northern midlands. However, the school was so well regarded that pupils traveled from as far afield as St Mary’s & Hamilton to be educated there, a long and arduous journey for that period. Whilst private schools in Van Diemens Land often modeled themselves on the public schools of England, such as Rugby & Eton, and offered a classical education, many of the colonial schools balanced the classical with a more practical commercial education. Thus Mr Hawkes called his school, “The Classical and Commercial School”. It became more popularly known as “Mr Hawkes Academy”.
Subjects taught were Latin, Greek, Mathematics, French and English Composition, Writing, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geography, History, Logic & Rhetoric. A very comprehensive range of subjects indeed. Martha Hawkes assisted with the teaching duties and for a short period, Mr George Anderson was employed as a teacher of classics & mathematics. Fees were set at 45 guineas a year, maintaining the exclusivity of the school and much higher than its main competition, Launceston Church Grammar School, established in 1846, at 13 pounds a year.
Holidays were taken twice a year in Dec/ Jan and again in July. The hours were long, reportedly from 7am until 6pm on six days a week. On Sundays, the boys walked to church and Sunday school near where the Breadalbane Airport roundabout is now located. However, in 1845, after representations from the local Franklin Village community and supported by Mr Hawkes who assisted with fund raising, the Franklin Village Chapel, now known as St James Church, was erected opposite the school and the boys attended Sunday school and church there. With lessons and other duties, the boys had little leisure time and were encouraged to write home regularly to their parents. In one letter home, a student reported that they had been playing “Bushrangers” in the bush near the school. This was a pastime that would not have been unusual in those colonial days.
Mr Hawkes was said to have been a hard task master and often ill tempered. It was a time when schooling and discipline were strict and beatings were common. Beatings were common but not just in school. For a boy in the army or navy or even in some form of apprenticeship or servant, poor workmanship or idleness would be met with a physical punishment. This type of corporal punishment would have been a factor in maintaining strict order at Mr Hawkes Academy.
After a period lasting 25 years, a relatively long time for a private school of the era, Mr Hawkes’ Classical & Commercial School closed in 1866. Competition from other schools such as Horton College at Ross, so conveniently located for Midlands families, probably contributed to the closure. After closing the school, Mr Hawkes entered politics, being elected to the legislative Council in 1871. He retired from politics in 1877. By 1882, his health was failing and he died quietly at his home at Franklin Village in 1882. He was buried in St James Church cemetery across the road from Franklin House and the Academy classroom..
In 2004, a gathering for the descendants of boys who attended the Classical & Commercial School was held at Franklin House, many descendants came from within Tasmania as well as from interstate to learn, contribute and exchange information about the lives of their ancestors, particularly after they left school and entered the community. It quickly became obvious that in adulthood in many communities, the “Old Boys” had made considerable contributions in social, political, economic and spiritual life. Tribute was paid to the role of the school in establishing a sound foundation for the future adult life of the students. Visitors to Franklin House can visit Mr Hawkes Academy as part of their visit.
Main Text & Information Source –
“Mr Hawkes Academy" - National Trust brochure 2006