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An Oasis in the Wilderness

Pneumatics, Ship-building, Phrenology and more: the founding and history of Sydney’s flagship vocational school.

Hailed in the mid-nineteenth century as “an oasis in the wilderness”, the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts was founded in 1833 to “diffuse scientific and other useful knowledge” to the skilled workingmen of the fledgling European settlement of Sydney. Established in emulation of the burgeoning mechanics’ movement in Britain, the founders of this school viewed knowledge as a kind of alchemy that had the potential to change the individual and society.

Immersive and evocative, Dr Lesley Scanlon guides her readers across the ocean to Sydney’s early settlement, through to Sydney’s social scene (from elites to convicts), to the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts itself as readers meet its founders, attend lectures, marvel at scientific experiments and rub shoulders with its students. Dr Scanlon’s work situates the activities of the school during its formative years within the social and intellectual environments of 19th century Britain and New South Wale, immersing readers in the context of the SMSA’s aspirations.

With quotes, maps, illustrations, lecture topics, scientific marvels, this highly accurate and historic book provides a window through which the reader glimpses aspects of the social and educational milieu of Britain and Sydney’s early settler society.

Dr Lesley Scanlon is a practitioner, researcher, and author in adult education. She has worked across a range of disciplines teaching and lecturing in the fields of sociology, anthropology, research methodologies, history, and Mandarin. She has published books on a range of educational issues, written articles for peer-reviewed journals and presented at national and international conferences.


RRP $49.95

236mm x 221mm
144pp. Illustrated.

ISBN: 9781875684175