11 August 1874, Douglas, a keen believer in and supporter of government-funded education, was appointed one of six members of the Commission Enquiring into the Working of the Educational Institutions of the Colony. Their task was to inquire into educational matters in the colony following the introduction by Samuel Griffiths of a parliamentary bill terminating aid to non-vested schools. (Non-vested was the term used to describe non-government or private schools, usually established and run by religious organisations, and vested the term for public, or government, schools.) The Bill was strongly opposed in the legislative council, leading Macalister to establish a royal commission chaired by Lilley.
Douglas believed that the future prosperity of
depended upon its people being educated. As a firm believer in the value of a literate and educated populace, he had long been involved with educational matters in Queensland . Not only was he was president of the North Brisbane School of Arts, but as early as 1863 had been appointed one of six members to the first permanent Board of General Education in Queensland . Then he was considered a supporter of the national system of education, with its intention to maintain non-vested schools only until sufficient vested schools were established. However, in April 1864, Queensland Douglas resigned from the board in protest against its refusal to provide funding to any new non-vested schools, for the board only agreed to continue funding those already in existence. In August 1864 and again in August 1865 he unsuccessfully requested parliament to provide additional funding and support for non-vested schools.
Douglas supported state aid for these schools due to his strong and sincere religious beliefs and his close ecclesiastical relationship with Bishop Edward Wyndham Tufnell, the Anglican bishop of
and a prime instigator of state aid and support for non-vested schools. Brisbane
It was therefore somewhat surprising that when the royal commission handed down its report,
Douglas, along with other members of the commission, had unequivocally endorsed free, secular, non-denominational, vested education. What happened in the intervening 10 years to so change his mind? In the first place, students attending school from 1870 could do so without charge, and therefore the need for religious schools, which never charged to enable children to attend, was not as great as before. Douglas did not object to denominational schools; indeed, he was a lifelong supporter of them. Nevertheless, he believed that the state should be primarily responsible for primary school education.
To Douglas, religious equality was a cornerstone of “political existence” in
, this being best achieved through the adoption of a secular education system that ensured “complete impartiality” through not funding any denominational schools or religious groups. Queensland
However, as usual, he had a balanced approach; a firm supporter of removing state support for non-vested schools, yet he believed that the government “should refrain from attempting to impart religious instruction.” Furthermore, Douglas, a deeply religious man, also recognised the value, in a religious age, of religious instruction in schools, advocating that a portion of the scriptures be “read, with becoming solemnity, every day, in every public school, by the headmaster.”
 Queensland Government Gazette, vol 15 no 110,
11 August 1874, p. 1634. For the report and the commissions’ deliberations see, “Report with Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Working of the Educational Institutions of the Colony.” Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 23 part 1, 1875, pp. 507-855. For a succinct summary and analysis of the report, see E. R. Wyeth. Education in Queensland: A History of Education in Queensland and in the Moreton Bay District of . Melbourne, ACER, 195-, pp. 121-24. The main thrust of the report was that education be secular, compulsory and free. New South Wales
Wyeth, p. 118. For additional information, see Bernays, p. 421 and the Brisbane Courier,
6 May 1875.
 Wyeth, p. 118
 Ibid., p. 96.
Douglas was appointed to the position on 24 January 1863.
 Ibid., p. 103
 Wyeth, p. 103; J. R. Lawry. Some Aspects of Education in
, 1859 to 1904. PhD thesis. Queensland Melbourne, , 1968, pp. 99, 105 & 113 Monash University
 Wyeth, pp. 100 & 107
 Anne McLay. James Quinn: First Catholic Bishop of
. Rev. ed. Toowoomba, Church Archivists’ Society, 1989, pp. 131 & 178 Brisbane
 Rupert Goodman. Secondary Education in
, 1860-1960. Queensland Canberra, Press, 1968, pp. 82-83 Australian National University
 Wyeth, p. 109
 Once education became free, the number of schools increased rapidly. For instance, the 89 existing schools in 1869 had increased to 111 the following year. (Wyeth, p. 112.) By May 1875, there were 203 schools in
. (Brisbane Courier, 5 May 1875, p. 3) Queensland
 “Mr Douglas at the
.” School of Arts Courier, Brisbane 31 October 1873, p. 3
 Report with Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Working of the Educational Institutions of the Colony. Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 23 part 1, 1875, p. 529
 Ibid.; John Douglas. ([Pamphlet Containing
Douglas’s Hansard Comments on the State Education Bill.] , 1875, p. 1. National Library of Queensland , FER F9947 Australia
 Report with Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Working of the Educational Institutions of the Colony. Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 23 part 1, 1875, p. 550. McLay eloquently summarised
Douglas’s contemporaneous stand; “the state should not interfere with religious instruction in schools, but should also ensure that such instruction was given. (McLay, p. 178.) Douglas and Lilley, alone among the commissioners, also called for the establishment of a university in . (Report with Minutes of Evidence Taken before the Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into the Working of the Educational Institutions of the Colony. Queensland Legislative Council Journals, vol 23 part 1, 1875, pp. 547-48) Queensland
Downs Election.” Examiner and Times, Warwick 6 March 1875, p. 2
 Hunt, p. 53