The school in Mount Street was – like many others – an offshoot of a church. However, the Presbyterian Church was uniquely riven by feuds, often centred on Rev. John Dunmore Lang. In 1842 Lang bought land in Mount Street and had a weatherboard church built there. Rashly, he mortgaged the property and a few years later it was repossessed, and may have operated as a school.
Lang travelled to England and was often distracted, but when he revived his interest in Mount Street, he found that it had been leased to some of his many enemies, Rev. Dr. Steel and Mr. Dean, for a school. They flatly declined to allow Lang to use the premises, even (or especially?) on Sundays.
Lang was outraged, but in 1864 he did concede that:
Dr. Steel and his friends expended about seventy pounds… in repairing the old church and fitting it up for a non-vested school, under the National Board; from which the present teacher and his two assistants have Government salaries to the amount of £160 altogether, … the number of pupils being about a hundred and thirty. The public are, therefore, indebted to Dr. Steel and his friends for their services in establishing this school.
Teachers were hard to recruit and retain; the wooden house leaked; the toilets were inadequate and there was no play area; books were tattered and furniture shoddy. The school struggled to retain its status as a National School, recognised by the government.
Surprisingly, attendance built up to over 200 by the 1870s. Nevertheless in 1876 the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage officers reported that the Mount Street Public School building ‘is in bad repair, the windows broken, and the weatherboards also in places’. There were 110 children in one room and 80 to 90 infants in another. It was ‘not in a proper state of repair to be used as a school’ (see inset). It closed before the Pyrmont Pubic School opened.