In 1854 ‘Friends of the National Movement’ opened a subscription list and asked the National Board for a land grant to establish a school ‘opposed to labelling children according to the religion beliefs of their parents’. Prime movers, Dr Thomson, Messrs A Fyfe, W Bright, J Noble and J Guthrie saw the foundation stone of Flinders National Grammar School laid by Major General McArthur on 5th December 1856. The first HTs were Gilbert Wilson Brown 1858-59, George Morrison 1859-61, John Fisher 1861-62, Eugene Lennon 1864-68, George Link 1879-94.
In 11880 the main building was extended and galleries incorporated in the rooms. Although the school became known as SS260 Flinders, matriculation classes continued until 1894 as both Lennon and Link determined that children of parents on limited incomes should have a chance to gain entrance to the University. Famous ex-students of this era were Samuel Mauger, Professors William and Wilfred Kernot, George Musgrove, Theodore Fink, and Sir Harry Brookes Allen. By the turn of the century the enrolment was 1,000 and Flinders continued in the vanguard of new ventures in State education. Boys attended sloyd classes at the Gordon Institute and girls commenced cookery classes. Teacher training classes were established under W J Bateman and Miss J McKellar. Free night school was authorised in 1910 and in 1922 a needlework centre was established. Among the eleven HTs from 1900-39, William Attwood served for thirteen years. Pupils from this time who have distinguished themselves are James Wilson, Samuel Leon, Robert Camm, B Holden, A V Galbraith, M Molmby.
In 1939 Flinders became a Girls School for secondary education with 350 pupils, under HM Ada Knowles. The name was changed to Matthew Flinders Girls School. From 1942-47 Frances Higgins was in charge and, on her appointment as a Secondary Inspector, Elizabeth Cawthorn succeeded her. During this time enrolment rose to 750 and the two imposing new wings were added to celebrate the centenary. In 1950 Matthew Flinders gained the distinction of being the first school to enter pupils for the Girls School Leaving Certificate and the school was renamed Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary School. When in 1958 Miss Mary Lazarus became HM, matriculation classes were reintroduced. Up to her retirement in 1963 she was engaged in the preliminary steps for the conversion of the school into a Girls High School. Dr J S Bowden completed that conversion and the school became Matthew Flinders Girls High School in 1966. Under Mrs Doris Embling, the present Principal, Matthew Flinders is again pioneering new ventures in 1969. The school’s motto, ‘Looking Forward’, has been justified in its fine history. [i]
Today, in 2019, it is known as Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College.
The former Flinders National School was erected in 1857 to the design of the celebrated Geelong firm of architects Backhouse and Reynolds. Styled in the then innovative Italianate mode and constructed with a dominant central tower, this cement rendered masonry structure has significant associations with the early development of education in Geelong. The second headmaster, G P Morrison, later established the Geelong College. Matthew Flinders Girls School survives as an important work of Backhouse and Reynolds and one of the finest of the early National Schools in Victoria, although the original building has been concealed by subsequent sympathetic alterations. [ii]
[i] Vision and Realisation: a centenary history of state education in Victoria, Volume 2, Education Department of Victoria, 1973, pp 1069-70.
[ii] Geelong Region Historic Buildings and Objects Study Vol. 2, Geelong Regional Commission, 1986, sheet 198.