Ragged schools first appeared in Melbourne in 1859, 15 years after the foundation of the English Ragged School Union. The first, in Smith Street, Collingwood, was established by leading evangelical Mrs Hornbrook, a founding member of the Melbourne City Mission. Following her death in 1862, a voluntary association agreed to continue the work in her name. At its peak the Hornbrook Ragged School Association offered 1000 children in twelve schools a basic education with an emphasis on biblical and practical instruction, often operating out of premises owned by inner-city missions, which found that the schools provided an entrée into working-class families.
Following the introduction of compulsory education in 1872, the association went into decline, closing all but five of its schools within three years, the committee arguing that it found it impossible to continue to attract subscriptions. However, the idea of ragged schools survived, with the Education Department operating a school for the children of the 'byeways, brothels and opium dens' in an ex-Hornbrook school in O'Brien's Lane throughout the 1880s. The Little Lonsdale Street Hornbrook school, handed over to the Mission to Streets and Lanes, survived until 1924, while the name of the Prahran school is preserved in a Windsor kindergarten.