The Cloisters is not only one of the few remaining convict-built structures in Perth, it was also the first secondary school in Western Australia. Called the Perth Church of England Collegiate School, it attracted young men from wealthy families. The location of The Cloisters, half way between the Pensioner Barracks and Government House, reminded students that they were expected to be the new leaders of the Colony.
The style of the Cloisters was part St James’s Palace, Hampton Court, Eton College and Fulham Palace. The Tudor style clearly showed that the school was linked to the British monarchy and England, under whose authority the Swan River Colony had been founded.
From the late 19th century until the mid-1960s, the Cloisters was used variously as a theological college, boarding and guest house and hostel for the University of WA until plans to demolish the building were proposed by the Anglican Church. A public campaign to save the Cloisters was launched, and eventually it was agreed that there should be a plaza and shopping arcade and office tower behind the building which would be restored.
Today the Cloisters is a landmark on St George’s Terrace and is used as offices for a number of companies. A statue of Bishop Hale now stands outside the front door.
The Cloisters is one of a small number of remaining convict-built colonial buildings of the mid-19th century in the central area of Perth, and was the first secondary school in Western Australia.
The Cloisters has a close association with Bishop Hale, the first Anglican Bishop of Perth, who built a school for boys in 1858. The Cloisters was established and funded with a grant from the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Bishop Hale’s own donation. Called the Perth Church of England Collegiate School, the school was important as the sole source of secondary education in the colony and it attracted young men from wealthy families as pupils.
The location of The Cloisters, on the premier street of Perth and approximately half way between an institution for controlling convict labour (Pensioner Barracks) and the residence of the Governor, who controlled political power and British capital (Government House), reminded the students that they were to be the new leaders of the Colony – the owners of capital and labour. The style of The Cloisters, derived from St. James’s Palace, Hampton Court, parts of Eton College, and Fulham Palace, reinforced this. Tudor embellishments tied the structure to the history of the English monarchy (the head of the Church which Hale served) while signifying the power and authority of England under which government the colony was founded.
The design of The Cloisters has been attributed to Richard Roach Jewell, who arrived in the Swan River Colony, in 1852. As part of the convict establishment, Jewell was responsible for supervising the convict building program. It is a measure of the determination of Hale, and of the need for local secondary education, that The Cloisters was begun so soon after Jewell’s arrival.
The initial enrolment of The Cloisters was twenty-three pupils and during the first years, Bishop Hale’s School, as it was colloquially known, educated many of the young men who would become the colony’s leading citizens in the first years of responsible government. They included: the Forrest brothers: John who became Premier of Western Australia and then Federal Treasurer, Alexander who would become the Lord Mayor of Perth; and Stephen Henry Parker, later QC.
In 1872, the boys school activities were relocated further east on St. Georges Terrace and the building was used as a Girls School. In 1879-80 additions were constructed on the western side of the building consisting of additional classrooms and dormitories. By the late 1890s, the school closed due to declining student numbers and the construction of government funded schools. The Diocesan Trustees, divided the building in half with brick partitioning and rented out the two sections as private residences, the eastern half of the building became a boarding house and, in 1904, was first referred to as the Cloisters. The western side was used as a college for the clergy, established by Archdeacon Charles Lefroy and, by 1909, this portion was known as St. John’s College. The western half continued to be used as a theological college until 1918, when the whole building was used as a hostel for the recently established University of Western Australia. In 1931, The Cloisters was damaged by fire and £2,000 was spent on alterations.
From 1958 until the mid-1960s, The Cloisters was used as a guest house until plans to demolish the building and redevelop the site were mooted by the Anglican Church. In 1966-67, a campaign in the West Australian generated public support for retention of the building, and the Port Jackson fig tree in front of it. Landscape architect and writer, Ray Oldham, and others, met with members of the Anglican Church and the Perth City Council to negotiate a higher plot ratio for the development site behind the building so that The Cloisters could be saved. A proposal for a twin tower office building with a plaza and shopping arcade which included the restoration and adaptation of The Cloisters building for professional and banking offices was approved by Perth City Council.
Today the Cloisters is a landmark on St George’s Terrace and is used as offices for several companies. A statue of Bishop Hale now stands outside the front door.