Celebrating the story of Pulteney

In 2022, Pulteney celebrated its 175th anniversary. It was an occasion for the school community to reflect on the story of Pulteney, and its legacy as a place where passions prosper. Founded in 1847, the School is proud of its history and commitment to providing an authentic, tailored education for boys and girls in Adelaide. As Pulteney looks forward, it does so with the same pioneering spirit of its founders.

The Story of Pulteney

Independent education in Australia has its origins with colonial settlement and flourished throughout Adelaide prior to universal education in 1875. While most independent schools originated from endowment from a church body or the philanthropic ideals of a wealthy benefactor, the story of Pulteney Grammar School is quite different.

The School was founded in 1847 to ‘offer the elements of a plain, useful education to all such that are placed in circumstances that render economy indispensable’. The school was founded for the mercantile and working classes. This ideal was reflected in the School’s name. Where many schools have sought to take names in deference to the feats of saints or in ode to the stature of monarchs, the Pulteney Street School drew its name from its location and was named in honour of the work and toil of a person: Sir Admiral Pulteney Malcolm.

The South Australian in December 1848 reported on the fledgling school’s inaugural Speech Day: ‘at 10 o’clock, the procession left the school led by banners on two poles. The first was blue and had the words “Pulteney Street Schools” and was followed by 180 boys walking in pairs. The second white banner was followed by 80 girls.’ The school was co-educational from its commencement and in fact it was reported that in 1851, twelve full scholarships – six to boys and six to girls – where granted to ‘children whose parents could not afford the fees’; egalitarian and philanthropic from the outset.

Pulteney has moved site on two occasions since its foundation, laying its current roots on South Terrace in 1921. Since then the School has grown by acquisition and amalgamation of adjacent properties rather than endowment and expansion. The School is a microcosm of the city in which it resides, a combination of colonial Victorian era grandeur, the scholastic gothic, a converted warehouse, an old pub, a mechanic’s institute, a long forged partnership with the city of Adelaide and the city’s beloved parklands, and contemporary purpose-designed educational buildings. Its campus footprint reflects sustainability as well as urban renewal.

The School’s birth was humble but purposeful. Pulteney’s origins lie not in the desire to perpetuate privilege but to build and contribute to the growth of society; it is a story of inclusion rather than exclusion. It is an origin of altruism and opportunity; of pragmatic and egalitarian ideals. It is an origin that past Headmaster Rev Alexander Kerr captured in 1898 when he granted the School its emblem and motto: O prosper thou our handiwork.

175 years of Pulteney, as written by the 2022 School Captains and Vice Captains

1847 – 1900

1847 was a year of innovation and contrivance, the first ever pistol was created, the United States issued its first postage stamps and the Bronte sisters published Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey and Wuthering Heights. 1847 also bore witness to the opening of the Pulteney Street School. An incredible feat for a tiny school, Pulteney Street School began with just 27 pupils, both male and female, and grew at a rapid pace.

Mr Miller, the first ever principal of Pulteney Street School was the lone staff member, teaching all students until the school had grown too rapidly and he enlisted the help of Mrs Emma Mitchell to take care, primarily of the girl’s education. The senior classes of the Pulteney Street School boasted a variety of subjects, stemming from writing and grammar to mental arithmetic, to geography and history. Whilst we find most of these subjects enlisted in our school’s curriculum today, perhaps the most dramatic change since then has been the school fee’s, originally stated at 2 shillings and 6 pence, which converts now to 46 cents.

Across the now 175 years of education, Pulteney Grammar School has seen the reign of twenty-two principals, however the shortest belongs to that of Mr William Owen who served the school for a whopping three months. Mr Owen’s short govern would come 44 years prior to Mr William Nichols, 41-year record serve as Principal of Pulteney Grammar School.

Addi Schwartz, 2022 School Captain


1900 – 1950

Pulteney’s history from 1900 to 1950 was most prominently defined by war. Three early 20th century wars (the two World Wars and the Boer War) claimed the lives of approximately 130 Old Scholars, leaving an immense hole in the community of a school grieving the premature deaths of so many young people.

As well as war, other significant events in the history of Pulteney occurred in the first half of the 20th century. Remarkably, for most of this period the school was led Mr William Percival Nicholls who was headmaster from 1901 until 1942. During Nicholls’ reign, the school moved to South Terrace from its original home, the prefect system was introduced, and the school’s name was changed from Pulteney Street School to Pulteney Grammar School.

Returning to the subject of war, Pulteney’s resilience during wartime indicates that the school has and always will be a resilient establishment that continues to operate no matter how chaotic the world around. While thankfully the current student body and the more recent Old Scholar population have been spared from the immense and severe loss of life a world war causes, the uncertainty we have all experienced as we have watched the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation impinge on so many aspects of our everyday lives is perhaps the closest any of us have come to understanding what it is like to live through a life-changing event like a world war. It is Pulteney’s resilience that has guided us through problems great and small.

Finn Boylan, 2022 Vice Captain

1950 – 2000

Much like today, the years 1950-2000 saw Pulteney developing way ahead of its time. This was to ensure students received the best possible educational experience they could due to the continuous development and modernisation of the school. Cannon Ray, the headmaster from 1947 until 1972 saw the cultivation of several buildings including:

  • The first gym
  • The first library
  • The purchase of the Gilles arms hotel – a part of the prep school and;
  • The purchase of 190 South Terrace

His Successor Mr Jock Mackinnon took the same approach towards his role at Pulteney, which was one of modernisation and school development. In his 10 years, Mackinnon constructed and purchased:

  • The Cambrell Building which we have once again seen renovated in the last 6 months
  • The Science Classrooms and Prep School were completely upgraded
  • The Library was upgraded
  • The Overpass was built
  • ‘The Old Scholars Club’ or as we know it the footy change rooms, two basketball/tennis courts were built and
  • The Tuck Shop was added on to Wyatt Hall

So, whilst Pulteney was always forward thinking, it was also always helped to this by its impeccable community and spirit. During the 80’s, there was some social unrest – Australia’s economy was burning and unemployment was at an all-time high , but this was no match for the Navy-Blue spirit.

As Principal Mr Michael Smee  (84’ – 93’) said, “The School community, in the persons of the Parents and Friends committee, The Pulteney Old Scholars’ Associations and other bodies have indeed rallied behind the school on the intervening years.” This community spirit and forward-thinking movement from the Leadership and other bodies is what help set Pulteney on its path moving into the Late 90’s.

Harry Oates, 2022 School Captain


2000 – 2022

In 1999 Pulteney welcomed 70 girls to its campus. It was undeniably a monumental occasion in the schools history. The same year that fifty iMac computers arrived, ensuring Pulteney’s step into the 21st century.

The change to coeducation was a great success, and I would like to acknowledge and thank Miss Guilfoyle for the role she played as Girls Advocate during this period. Coeducation was no easy feat, there were of course inconveniences and questions that needed answering – like what uniforms and sports competitions and bathrooms. As well as Miss Kimber’s newly instated ‘Ruler rule’ by which each girl and boy would have to maintain at the very least a rulers length away, a far cry from the social distancing of today.

Fast forward to 2010, and Pulteney welcomed Principal Dr Groughan who was fondly remembered by one student for joining in on a Muck Up day choreographed dance. In 2017, when much of my Year 12 class arrived Pulteney celebrated its 170th birthday with 600 guests at the Adelaide Oval – demonstrating our sense of community. Later on in 2020, we would all play a part in Pulteney’s history books as it experienced the genesis of ‘Pulteney at Home’.

In 2022, we celebrate not just where Pulteney has come from – but where we strive for it to go.

Lily Koch, 2022 Vice Captain

Legends of Pulteney

As part of the 175th Anniversary celebrations, the School intends to identify 175 people from history who have contributed to or benefited from a Pulteney education. The purpose of this undertaking will be to recognise those who have made the greatest contribution to the life of the school or made the greatest contributions to broader society.

This 175th Anniversary undertaking subsumes the Hall of Achievement established in 2014 and its members, but the Legends of Pulteney Grammar School expands the criteria beyond Old Scholars alone. The inductees of the Hall of Achievement are the initial members of the 175th Anniversary Legends.

We look forward to launching Legends of Pulteney soon.

Interested in reading more about Pulteney Grammar School's history?

175th Events

Throughout 2022, Pulteney Grammar School will invite its community to gather to celebrate the 175th anniversary through a range of events for every age.

Founders' Day Assembly, Tuesday 3 May

Anniversary Quadrangle opening, Friday 13 May

Anniversary Founders’ Day Chapel Service, Sunday 29 May

Anniversary Gala Dinner, Saturday 5 November

Final Assembly, Friday 9 December

175th Legacy Project

Pulteney's 175th Anniversary Quadrangle

Quadrangle Flythrough

175th Merchandise

In celebration of Pulteney Grammar School’s 175th anniversary, the School has curated a range of limited-edition 175th merchandise and memorabilia items to commemorate one of the biggest occasions in the School’s history.

These premium items have been custom made for the Pulteney community to help commemorate 175 years of educating young people.

Apparel can be worn by students throughout the 2022 year at co-curricular activities and sporting events.

Please view the 175th merchandise catalogue below. If you wish to order these products, please download and complete the order form and return it via email to info@pulteney.sa.edu.au or drop it in to the Front Reception in Allan Wheaton House.

For enquiries, please phone 8216 5555.

Pulteney's 175th video gallery

View a range of videos below celebrating Pulteney’s rich history and 175th anniversary.

The Story of Pulteney


Be part of Pulteney’s history as we move towards our bicentenary. Join us for a Principal’s Tour or a Personal Tour at your convenience. During your tour, you will see the School on a normal day, visit classrooms and hear from students and staff about life at Pulteney.