College History

The History of St James College

Prior to European settlement, Brisbane was well inhabited by the Turrbal people. In 1824 the explorer, John Oxley, noted a large group of Turrbal people along the present day site of the Wesley Hospital, the Regatta Hotel and Coronation Drive. Earliest historical records suggest the population of the Turrbal people was large and was distributed along the banks of the Brisbane River.

St James College is located on Boundary Street. The street is aptly named Boundary as it was the boundary over which the Turrbal people could not cross after white settlement.

Since 1868 St. James has been faithful to many strong Christian values which provide firstly, an insight into a particular leadership style, and secondly, strong indicators for the future direction of the school. The following historical musings shed some light on what St. James' history informs us about our current reality.

St. James, the oldest Catholic boys school in Queensland, was indeed one of the first three schools established in the colony of Moreton Bay, in 1868, one year before the Christian Brothers were established in the country. This was a time long before Federation, before the identities of the city of Brisbane or the state of Queensland were developed. This was a time when the newspapers were filled with the stories of the exploits of the bushranger, Ned Kelly and his gang, and when sailing ships bringing their human and other cargo sailed up the Brisbane River and kept the wharves all around Fortitude Valley very busy.

The administrator of St. Stephen's Cathedral was keen to establish the school, and did so with Catholic lay men who taught and conducted the school for the first 25 years. One of the earliest Principals, Mr. Long, a giant of a man in many ways, in stature, in teaching skill and in reputation, was a first class first division teacher brought out from Ireland especially for the role. The government tried to intercept him but he honoured his commitment to St. James, although later became Queensland's first inspector of schools. Under his leadership, St. James, providing a primary education, was regarded as the best school in Queensland, and consistently its students won nearly every scholarship to further education at Brisbane Grammar School. The Sisters of Mercy, and most lay men entering the teaching profession undertook their teacher training at St. James College under his guidance. From this earliest time, St. James valued a quality education for the poor migrant families newly arrived by ship into the quickly expanding colony.

Today, with its excellent and dedicated teachers, its innovative pedagogy, and its relevant and diverse curriculum, St. James continues to promote lifelong learning for all of its students.

As a non-vested Roman Catholic boys school in these early years, the Government paid the salaries of the teachers and inspected the schools, while the Church owned and maintained the buildings. By 1880, the salaries of the lay teachers were no longer being paid by the government and the number of students was up and down. Such a volatile situation heightened when in 1893 Brisbane suffered its worst floods in recorded history (almost matched by 1974!) at the same time as experiencing a major economic depression with eight local banks collapsing. Finally in 1893, the Christian Brothers agreed to take over the school with the first Christian Brother principal being Br. Hogan (Interestingly the Church continued to own the school until 1965 when the deeds were finally handed over to the Christian Brothers). The Edmund Rice ethos fitted easily with the soul of the school and the transition was a smooth one.

The informal motto: 'Every boy who presents himself is admitted' continued, highlighting St. James' inclusion of all. All students were not only welcomed, but every effort was made to meet their needs.

A Christian Brothers publication to celebrate 50 years of the Brothers in 1919, reveals that St. James was the biggest Christian Brothers school in Australia with 530 students, and quite possibly the biggest school in Australia. It is interesting to note that there were only four classes, with well over 100 hundred students in each!

The tough times called for tough measures as indicated by this account of how one mother dealt with her son's wagging: 'I can still see a diminutive lady walking down the middle of Boundary Street, her hulking son by her side, his right wrist chained and locked to her left wrist. When the Brothers who walked down from the Terrace arrived, the chain and locks were with due ceremony unfastened and the youth handed over to their care.'

Through the Great War, the depression years, and the subsequent decades and despite very limited funds, St. James met the challenges and needs of its students, being highly responsive to needs of the times. A strong characteristic of the school brought about in the early days by the waves of migrants through New Farm and surrounding areas, was the cultural diversity of the student body. In recent times the school serves students derived from over 50 nationalities.

In the 1920's, waterside workers (many of them fathers of the boys) would sit around for days waiting to be selected for work, and still not get any. Conditions were appalling, and pay was minimal. On the 1st October 1928, the men gathered up Boundary Street in a Union centre, planning a strike and a march down Boundary Street. In the land beside the school, the old school parade ground, mounted police brought in from the country gathered to confront the progress of the march, and cut off their escape. Br. Redmond, sensing danger, went from classroom to classroom telling the students: 'The men are upset. Stay in your classroom.' Within minutes the police were chasing the strikers through the school rooms on the ground floor. The brother in the classroom said to the boys: 'Keep working and don't say anything even if the police ask you!' The police came to the door, looked in, and missed seeing the strikers hiding under the students desks!

St. James College has remained ever faithful to its social justice principles and values, expressed in so many different ways in different eras. Producing past students such as peace activist Ciaron O'Reilly, promoting support for asylum seekers, maintaining its strong commitment to the education of the poor and the needy into modern times and pushing for the freedom of East Timor long before it became a reality have all been part of the Jimmies' way of life.

St. James has many past students whose deeds and accomplishments have met with outstanding worldly success. In the telling and remembering of its history and the gathering of its past students, it does not however focus on the fame and glory of individuals. There is a genuineness, a humility and simplicity in its families, whereby St. James College's history is remembered and treasured, but where the past is not over glorified, and the school does not get bogged down in meaningless or empty traditions.

Past student Dr. Bob Anderson (Queenslander of the Year 2001 for his contribution to the Union movement and to the advancement of his people, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) slips in and out of the school with little fanfare. Past student Tony Fingleton (Commonwealth swim star, movie playwright) visited the school between filming scenes at the Spring Hill baths for his recent movie, 'Swimming Upstream', walking in off the street unannounced to just look around and say 'hello'. Benefactor, Tom Carey, epitomised the Jimmies persona with his humble generosity carried out behind the scenes so as not to receive any reward or recognition.

At the end of the 1980's and into the 1990's, St. James underwent a challenging process of honest soul searching in terms of it role, its significance and its future. This review process revealed St. James as a school community of unique and special character which was doing wonderful work, real Edmund Rice work, with disadvantaged youth. Emboldened by the positive findings, the school sought creative and innovative ways to reestablish itself in a era of great social, economic and geographical change in Brisbane. By building a climate of positive change, monitored through a process of action research, St. James as it has done throughout its history has sought constantly to renew itself to meet the ever changing needs of the youth of South East Queensland.

St. James has a proud history of being 'Faithful Forever' since 1868 - faithful to the teachings of Christ, to the Catholic ethos, to Edmund Rice education, and to social justice. It has not lost touch with its roots, its origins. St. James College's history as its stands in 2008 provides the school community with a sound platform for the future. Considering the 200 years of history of the Brothers, and the size and extent of their operations around the world, this is an extraordinary event. However, it does not surprise those of us who work at St. James and are aware of its history. St. James is just the school where such things happen: where dreams are possible, and where people are prepared to imagine the unimaginable.


Memorable Stories

A Waterside Worker's Strike in 1928

There were shipping wharves along the river bank down the end of Boundary St. Ships came up the river 22.5 km to the city wharves, and warehouses lined the river-banks. In the 1920's, waterside workers could sit around for days, waiting to be selected, and still not get work. Working conditions were appalling and pay minimal.

On Monday morning October 1st 1928 a crisis involving the 'wharfies' was developing on our doorstep. Mounted police had been brought in from the country, assembling where the vacant lot is on the School Street corner.

Further up Boundary St. was a union meeting centre. As the strikers marched down the street, foot police in white pith helmets came out from the side streets to cut off their escape. Br. J F Redmond, in charge that year, aware of what was happening, went to each classroom saying: "The men are upset. Stay in your classroom."

At least three old boys, including the later Br T Jim Brosnan, (1915-2000) recalled strikers being chased through the grounds and even through the school rooms on the ground floor. The Brother in one room said to his class: “Keep working and don't say anything even if the police ask you!”
 The police came to the door, looked in, and missed seeing the strikers, some fathers of the boys at the school, hiding under the desks!

Some other activities at Jimmies from the 1940's, 50's & 60's

Some of the mischievous pupils were misbehaving in class. They had a competition in the ground floor classroom where the offices are now. There was a manhole in the floor and scores were kept of the number of times a pupil could get in or out when the teacher was distracted. The same man-hole figures in another story.

Brother M C Calopedis taught at St James over the years 1944 – 1949. A pupil there during those years, recalls some further 'mischief' he got into:
“One day a few mates and I were having a smoke in the catacombs under the school. We thought we had time to make it through the trap-door in front of the May Altar behind the then Parlour-Office.

Suddenly the trapdoor was lifted by Br 'Claude' (as he was known among the pupils) greeting us in his dry drawl with the words, "I think you better come out of there.''

'Red Rover' was played in the back yard of the school and this meant that three to four hundred primary boys lined up at one end, and en masse tried to race through to the other end. At times the 'game' had to be discouraged. One day there was a noisy chant of 'We want Bedlam!'

To provide light bulbs for 'Shanghai-a-Light-Bulb' stall at the school fete, it was known that some boys 'borrowed' such from the then wooden railway carriages on their way to school.


About Edmund Rice

The Founder of the Christian Brothers 

Edmund Rice was born in Ireland in 1762 into an Irish Catholic family who were tennant farmers. Edmund showed promise early in his life and he was educated first in a "hedge" school and later at an academy in Kilkenny.

At 17 Edmund was apprenticed to his uncle Michael who had a prosperous business in Waterford. Fifteen years later, Edmund inherited the business and was a very wealthy man. At 23 he married, but a few years later, his wife met with a fatal accident in the latter stages of her pregnancy. She died after the birth of a handicapped daughter. Edmund's life was shattered but he accepted this heavy cross with truly Christian resignation.

The next twelve years consisted of loneliness, serious thought and much prayer. What did God want him to do with his life now? Finally, in 1802 he made the courageous decision to sell his business and use all his accumulated wealth to help the poor, especially the young people deprived of a Catholic education. To assist him in his work he founded the Order of the Christian Brothers, which received Papal approval in 1820. The work of education prospered and at the time of Edmund's death in 1844 there were 41 Brothers' schools in Ireland and England. Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy with three companions made the first permanent foundation of the Christian Brothers in Australia in 1868 when they opened a school in Melbourne.

This great and holy man has been described by one writer in the following words:

"He was a down-to-earth visionary, a practical idealist and, above all, a man motivated by love, who knew precisely what he was about. Like every pioneering leader, he had to be willing to leave the solid foothold of a settled way of life to walk upon the waters of an uncertain future."

Edmund Rice Education challenges all "to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with their God" according to Edmund's story and dream. The goals of Edmund Rice Education are to break the cycle of poverty and to enable people to be transformational in their society. The worth and liberation of the individual enhanced by personal formation in the light of Gospel and Christian values are essential in Edmund Rice Education. These are exemplified in the presence, availability and love of a mentor.

For more information on Edmund Rice Education Australia visit the website at or the Edmund Rice Network Oceania at


About Saint James

Many thanks to the authors of for granting us permission to reproduce the following information.

Feast Day: 25 July

St. James was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and Salome, a pious woman who tended after Christ. He and his younger brother, St. John (Feast Day: December 27), were called as disciples just after Simon Peter and Andrew were called, and Peter, James and John are often mentioned together in Scripture, having been witness to the raising of Jairus's daughter, the Transfiguration, and Christ's Agony in the garden of Gethsemani.

He and his brother must have been quick to anger and zealous as they came to be called "Boanerges" ("Sons of Thunder") – a nickname given to them by Jesus Himself. After Our Lord's Ascension, tradition says that St. James's zeal for evangelizing took him to parts of Spain for a time, as St. Paul had wanted to do (Romans 15:24), whereafter he returned to Judea for his martyrdom.

In A.D. 44, Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great who tried to have Baby Jesus killed, set out to do the will of the Jews by dealing harshly with local Christians. St. James was accused, and Herod then "killed James, the brother of John, with the sword." (Acts 12:1-2). Church Historian, Eusebius, tells us that St. James's accuser followed James to martyrdom when he converted after hearing the Saint's confession to Herod.

Here tradition picks up again by telling us that James's relics were translated to Spain (of course, legends grew surrounding the event, one strange and lovely one in particular apparently meant to explain why the cockleshell is St. James's emblem. It is said that when the Saint's relics were being conveyed by ship from Jerusalem and approached the coast of Portugal, a man happened to be riding his horse on the beach. The horse disobediently plunged into the sea, with its rider, making for the boat. They sank, of course, but then rose again, covered with scallop shells, and hence the cockleshell became the symbol of our hero). The relics were entombed and rather forgotten after years of Roman persecution, Vandal and Visigoth invasions, and Muslim attacks – forgotten, that is, until an early 9th century hermit named Pelayo discovered the tomb – some say after seeing a star marking the place – in an area that became known as Compostela, which means "Field of Stars." The King built a cathedral to mark the location (Pelayo's Bishop, Theodomor of Iria, is also buried there, refusing to be buried in his See out of his desire to be near the Saint).

The faithful began to make pilgrimages to the site – so much so that Compostela became the third greatest place of pilgrimage, just after Jerusalem and Rome – and still make the pilgrimage today. After making one of the many routes, known as "the Camino," pilgrims attach cockleshells or their facsimile to their hats or clothes as "pilgrim badges," signs that they'd venerated the holy relics. Any year in which St. James's Day falls on a Sunday is called a Holy Year, and a plenary indulgence may be gained by making the pilgrimage (his Feast falls on a Sunday every 6, 5, 6, and 11 years). To gain the indulgence, one must fulfill the usual conditions of plenary indulgences, must intend the pilgrimage for spiritual purposes and must have made the last 63 miles (100 km) on foot or on horse, or the last 125 miles (200 km) on bicycle. Sadly, many – thousands – make the pilgrimage for non-Catholic reasons nowadays.

At the time of the Muslim ("Moorish") invasions mentioned above, a particular battle took place that was to seal St. James ever more closely to Spain, where he is known as "San Tiago." At the Battle of Clavijo in A.D. 841, the Christians had lost and were in retreat when King Ramirez of Leon had a dream in which the Apostle assured him of victory. He relayed his vision to his men, and the next morning he had his trumpeters sound the call to battle. There, on the field, the men saw St. James on a horse adorned with cockleshells, waving a banner. He led the Christians on to a clear victory, and ever since, the Spanish battle-cry has been "Santiago!"

St. James is the Patron of Spain, equestrians, blacksmiths, tanners, veterinarians. He is usually depicted in art with his symbols - the cockleshell, pilgrim hat, sword, Sacred Scripture - or on horse back, usually trampling a Moor.

Feast Day Customs

Because of the love the Spanish have for St. James, they adopted him as their Patron, and his Feast is a national holiday, a time of great celebration, much like the Feast of St. Patrick is for the Irish, and that of St. Joseph is for the Italians. In Compostela, there are great processions and the famous La Fachada fireworks display. And at the city's cathedral, the city's faithful – and many pilgrims, too, especially in Jubilee years – gather to worship. From the ceiling of this great cathedral hangs a six-foot tall 14th century censer (the "botafumeiro") that is swung by pulleys on this day and for a few other great Feasts.

"Back in the day," the people of England who couldn't make the pilgrimage to St. James's shrine would gather up seashells, bits of broken coloured glass, pretty stones, and flowers and such and would build little grottoes in honour of St. James on his Feast. Though I doubt many people still do this, it is a lovely custom - and one that could be easily revived!

It is also customary for the English to eat oysters today. It is said that "Who eats oysters on St James's Day will never want!" In France, it is not the oyster that is eaten, but the scallop - named "coquilles St. Jacques" - "shells of St. James" - in his honour.

Tracy and Joseph. St James the Greater. (Online) Available:, July 25, 2007.