02 November 2011

A school workbook

My aunt has a few family treasures and Mum borrowed them from her recently - the war diary of Allan Wickham, my great great uncle, and a school workbook of Adolf Beringer's (below). I haven't finished reading the war diary yet, so I'll write about that soon.

Mum and I had no idea of the existence of the school workbook because my aunt had never mentioned it before. Adolf George Beringer, known as Jim, was my great grandfather. The workbook was from 1894 and 1895, when Jim was 11 and 12 years old, about a year before his mother Caroline committed suicide. Jim was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1883 and travelled here with his parents and older sister Matilda, when he was 1 year old. As Matilda died soon after they arrived in Australia, Jim was the eldest living child in the family. His youngest sister, Mary, was born in 1894. The family moved to a new subdivision of the Mildura Estate in Canterbury/Campsie probably sometime in 1895. Their new house in 18 Clissold Parade, Canterbury (now Campsie) was where Caroline died in May 1896. It is possible that once the family moved to Canterbury Jim no longer attended school, as most children attended school until they were 12 or 13. At the time the closest school to the Mildura Estate was at Croydon Park, about 4kms away.

In the workbook we see some of the work Jim was doing in class and for homework, aged 11 and 12. There are pages of poems, on history, geography, parsing, anatomy, arithmetic etc. They learnt about King Henry VIII and all his wives and some of his children, about the rivers of NSW, different classes of birds, etc.

It is interesting to note that the workbook starts in 1894 and carries on into 1895. Clearly the preciousness of paper and books meant that they didn't have today's comparatively frivolous practice of starting new books at the beginning of each school year. I expect that Jim would have practiced all his work on a slate first and then carefully copied it into his workbook. There are headings at the top of each page, in fancy gothic-style text. My assumption that all work was done in black ink was wrong - he also used red and blue ink as well. You can read a little more about school days in the time of Jim's workbook here.

I don't know which school Jim was attending when he worked on this workbook. I assume it was Newtown Superior Public School, for there is a page in the workbook where he has carefully written out his address: 7 Nottingham Terrace, Simmons St, Newtown. At the time Newtown Superior Public School was a very large local school - with over a thousand students enrolled - so it seems safe to assume Jim attended there.

The cover had come away from the pages of the workbook and I decided to carefully take the brown paper wrap-around cover off the book to see what was underneath. It was an exercise book called The Austral Exercise Book, with the same sort of arithmetic tables that you still find on the back of exercise books today. However, the surprise was that in the spaces on the front cover for Name, Address and School Adolf's details were not there, but instead his son Reg's. The name was Reg Beringer, Address: Balmoral, Liberty St, and School: Belmore South. So I doubt that this was the original cover, and also because, looking at it more closely, the staples of the book don't quite line up with the staple holes of the cover. It is curious that the younger book cover of Reg's has his father's brown paper wrapper on it.

Incidentally, I had always assumed that Jim was known as "Jim" because the name "Adolf" had negative connotations from World War 2. However, considering he was known as Jim at least from young adulthood (his school workbook gives his name as Adolf, but perhaps this was just because it was an official school workbook), and he died, aged 57, in 1940, this is highly unlikely, and it is more likely that he/his parents just chose an anglicised name for him to be known as in Australia.

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful to have such a treasure from your great-grandfather. Interesting too about the use of Jim.