Newcastle High School

Quality education in a caring environment

Telephone02 4969 3177

School History

Newcastle High School was formally established in 1929 and over time has undergone significant phases of transformation to reflect and serve the needs of its community. This ability to adapt and evolve whilst retaining our core values is fundamental to our success, indeed, they are also the vital qualities we nurture in our students.

However, the genesis of Newcastle High actually begins much earlier than 1929. In 1816 Henry Wrensford, a schoolmaster and pardoned convict, established a school for 8 convict girls and 9 convict boys aged from 3 to 13 years old. At that time Newcastle had about 400 people with 38 children.

The school started in a slab hut near Watt & Bolton Streets under colonial government oversight. When Christ Church Cathedral was completed in 1818 the school moved to a vestry of the church and soon acquired the name ‘Christ Church School’.

In 1826 it came under Anglican Church control and in 1830, due to overcrowding, moved to a new site on the corner of Church & Boltons streets. But some parents still wanted a government run school, so a new school called Newcastle Public School was opened in Brown Street in 1859 in the basement of the Congregational Church - later moving to a classroom opposite the current Newcastle East Public School (NEPS) in Tyrell Street.

In 1878 the foundation stone for an impressive new schoolhouse for Newcastle Public School (the current main historic building of NEPS) was laid near the top of Tyrell Street  - it was often referred to as the School on the Hill. At the rear of the school cattle grazed on the grassed valley that sloped away to Darby Street.

This magnificent building, costing 10,000 pounds, had rooms for boys, girls, infants and babies - made of brick with a stone cellar it also featured a Gothic pitched roof of corrugated iron. It soon had over 800 pupils enrolled and is the oldest school site of continuous operation in Australia, having enrolled students every year since 1816.

The success of Newcastle Public School led the government to take back the church school in 1883, still located on the corner of Church and Bolton streets, and rename it Newcastle East Public School.

In 1906 the most western classroom of Newcastle Public School was established as the Hill High School. It was Newcastle’s only high school and was co-educational and academically selective, until this time students took the train to Maitland to attend high school.

In 1911 Newcastle Public School closed but the high school featured more than 300 students in 1912. On Tuesday 5 June 1906 it began with its first Principal Charles Rattray Smith, who was nicknamed Caesar due to his love of Latin.

But it was an inauspicious start, the new high school was comprised of just three classrooms - which had tables but no chairs, no chalk, no blackboards, no maps and no other supplies. But Caesar did bring a fierce commitment to service toward school, community, sport, debating, acting and building a robust esprit de corps.

Pride in the school, its red and blue, its uniform and civil behaviour was the overriding duty of every school prefect. In 1912 the first issue of the school’s magazine, The Novocastrian, was published. 

‘The Hill’ school, was highly valued by the community and it rapidly outgrew its premises. Between 1911 and 1931 Newcastle’s population almost doubled from 55,000 to 104,000.

The NSW Minister for Public Instruction in his 1925 annual report, noted that: ‘The needs of Newcastle are of such a character that it has become necessary to provide separate buildings for boys and girls instead of utilising one building for both sexes.’

In 1929, with nearly 600 students enrolled, the Hill High School was split into Newcastle Girls’ High School which moved into the impressive new school building on Parkway Avenue Hamilton South and Newcastle High School which remained at Tyrell Street, both were an academically selective. The Girls High had seventeen classrooms and other specialist areas, as well as an assembly hall for 545 people, a library and a gymnasium.

But for the boys on The Hill, the old school buildings were widely considered inadequate, unsound and unhealthy. Increasing enrolments, exacerbated by the Depression, when many parents kept their boys at school, were too great for the old premises to accommodate.

In 1929 the total enrolment of Newcastle High School was 565, crammed into buildings designed for 300 pupils. The local community pressed the NSW Government to build the boys a new school on land next to the girls high school.

But despite the previous success of co-educational schools others argued that it should be located away from the girls, and with it appears Minister Drummond’s support the less central site at Waratah was selected. But more than this, as pointed out by an editorial in The Newcastle Morning Herald, it was high time that Newcastle had two modern, well resourced high schools.

In 1934 Newcastle High School moved to its new campus at Waratah (later to become Waratah High and today is part of Callaghan Campus) while the Tyrell Street site housed Newcastle Boys’ Junior High until 1973. Both girls and boys high schools carried on the traditions established by the original school, including use of the same motto and  colours - which are red and blue and 'Remis Velisque’ which translates as 'With Oars and Sails’, meaning 'with all one's might’.

The boys main building cost £21,410, much less than the girls school, was constructed of red cavity brick and the roof featured ‘French pattern tiles’. A library, offices and hat rooms were also included. It also had a large population of ravens which were held in high regards by the students, who sae them as a symbol of their teen years and regarded them as a mascot for the school.

The site next to Newcastle Girls High School unsuccessfully proposed for the new boys high was instead chosen for a second new single-sex Domestic Science High School later known as Hunter Girls High School.

This latter school was built and opened in 1931, well before the new Boys High School. In 1958 Headmistress, Miss Aileen Treglown, stated that "Women must play a vital part in our national life, in the home, socially, culturally and politically". 

To that end the school offered all its students the opportunity to participate to their full potential in a wide range of educational experiences. In addition to gaining academic proficiency in Literature, Science, Mathematics, Art, and Domestic and Commercial subjects, the girls were able to participate in debating, public speaking, drama, musicals and opera and many forms of sporting activities.

Between 1974 and 1978, despite entrenched community opposition and a lively local debate, the four selective high schools in the city – Newcastle Girls High School, Newcastle Boys High School, Hunter Girls High School and Newcastle Technical High School – were converted into co-educational comprehensive high schools.

In 1976 Newcastle Girls High combined with Hunter Girls High and enrolled boys to become Newcastle High School. And in 1977 the boys Newcastle High School combined with Wickham Girls High School to become Waratah High School.