Ragged School Movement

The Ragged School in Cascade Road, later a Baptist church (W.L. Crowther Library, SLT)

The Ragged School Movement began in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century, in response to the needs of growing numbers of urban poor. Although it had strong evangelical and humanitarian underpinnings, the original objective was prevention, lest neglected children inflict on society pauperism and crime. Thus Ragged Schools set out to provide a minimal education for vagrant, neglected and destitute children.

Four Ragged Schools served Hobart's 'perishing and dangerous classes', to keep neglected children off the streets and in school. Three were run by the Hobart Town Ragged School Association, which aimed to provide not only moral and religious teaching, aimed more at training than educating, but also reform, since many supporters realised that people were poverty-stricken because of social factors, not just individual circumstances. These schools opened in Watchorn Street (1854), Wapping (1855) and Cascade Road (1868). St Luke's Ragged School, Anglesea Street, was also opened in 1868, by the Catholic Sisters of Charity. Launceston had Ragged Schools, supported by voluntary contributions. One was located on the wharf (185658), and the Anglican Holy Trinity Church ran a Ragged Sunday School.

As living standards increased, more social service benefits became available and the state provided free education, there was less need for Ragged Schools, and the Association was dissolved in 1911. Although relatively short-lived, Ragged Schools were more than a stopgap form of education. They reached a large number of children who previously had not been given attention, and also meant that middle-class voluntary workers began to view poverty differently, as not necessarily the fault of the poor.

Further reading: Wapping History Group, Down Wapping, Hobart, 1988.

Nancy Jiracek