John Spurgin – teacher and unrecognised pioneer

John Spurgin, born in Hatfield, Essex in 1815 was probably the first trained teacher to reside and work in the Milton Ulladulla area. He trained at a Model School in Sydney Ulladulla and in 1858 established a private school on the eastern side of Murramarang Street, Ulladulla where the Pricemart Variety Store stands today. The charge per pupil was one shilling a week, with no government assistance.

He may have been influenced in coming to Ulladulla as his wife’s parents (Mr and Mrs John McMillan) had settled in this area and owned land adjacent to Ulladulla Harbour. This school only operated for about three years. By 1861 he was employed by the wealthy local ship-builder and owner of the Croobyar Estate, David Warden, in a building on the other side of the road. This school operated under the National School System. When the Ulladulla School of Arts was constructed (a little further south than the current Ulladulla Civic Centre), he continued teaching there.


Ulladulla School of Arts (demolished in 1965 – now the site of the Civic Centre)


John was also interested in farming, applying for a conditional lease on a large property at Murramarang in 1867. He eventually bought a 48 acre property on a bend of Burrill Creek. He served as a lay preacher in the Milton Methodist Church when it was first established, and also during the absence of the minister. John and his wife Agnes had one daughter, Mary Ann in 1858. She married a local man, James Claydon.

By 1875 John was at Janugarrah School at Little Forest. There are records of him donating and collecting funds to support the widow of the teacher at Taralga. His wife’s brother -in-law was a member of the Janugarrah School Board. This no doubt helped him gain this appointment, as another member vigorously opposed it.

Next year, Burrill School was established at on Wilford’s Lane, only a few hundred metres from his property and he became the teacher in charge.  He remained there for only a year or so. To maintain his position he was required to do another examination, and at the age of sixty one years he felt that this too much of an imposition and took retirement instead.

John had a relatively uneventful retirement, the only point of interest being that he was fined one pound for trespassing on a neighbour’s property. He passed away on 15th November, 1895 at the age of 79 years. Agnes then lived in a house in Milton until 1918, when she too passed away. Both were buried at Sandridge Cemetery.

Unfortunately there is no historical plaque, or even so much as a street named after this hardworking and faithful local pioneer. Even the bridge unofficially carrying his name was washed away by a flood and never rebuilt.


by Barrie Wilford


May Kiely: ostrich feather curler, singer, ladies' companion

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