By the 1880s the need for a public school in Pyrmont was pressing. The dilapidated “National School” had closed, and Ultimo School was overcrowded. Land was found in John Street by displacing “rookeries tenanted by the most undesirable of citizens”, and a palatial school opened in 1884, with frontages on John and Mount Streets. Newspapers lavished praise on this modern marvel, boasting its light and well-ventilated classrooms and toilets, built (at a cost of L11,000) to house 907 children and infants. For three previous years the school had operated in St Bartholomew’s school, whose pupils presumably moved to the new school.
The school flourished for many years, never reaching 900 but exceeding 500 pupils. Boys were particularly schooled in woodwork, girls in needlework and domestic duties. In 1916 Headmaster William Elston installed washrooms allowing children to shower and bathe. He also arranged for the Department to buy three houses on Mount Street, where a gymnasium was built in 1919. The school produced champion athletes in water polo and swimming. In 1921 Pyrmont Superior was a “Copy Book School”, as the only residential domestic science school in Australia. Promoted by the Director of Education, it was an experiment in training girls in all forms of domestic duties.
The Lord Mayor, Protestant ministers and pastors all encouraged the children’s efforts, but this impressive institution fell victim to demography. Numbers dropped in the 1920s as houses were pulled down to make way for wool stores and flour mills. The exodus of prospering families drained Protestant families disproportionately, and Catholic parents insisted on sending their children to St Bede’s. A strong delegation campaigned to keep the school open, but the Government counted the pupils and closed it in 1933, sending the pupils to Ultimo school.