Rodney Hammett, Bulletin 8/2022, October 2022

A recent enquiry to the Glebe Society website asked:

Hi, I have acquired a dux of school medal for my great grandma 1897 at Brisbane House Glebe Point. Are you able to send me any info on this educational house and if it still exists, or its students? Thank you.

After some research, I could reply that Brisbane House was a private home, a kindergarten and a girls’ boarding school in Glebe Point Rd. The establishment was in one of the eight grand two-storey terraces built between Bidura and Forsyth St on a subdivision of the land previously occupied by Forsyth Cottage, later called Arden House, and part of the Bossier Estate. For further details, see Max Solling’s article in the Leichhardt Historical Journal No 23, p. 5 onwards.1

Figure 1. 359-373 Glebe Point Rd (Source: SLNSW; Metropolitan Survey, c. 1887, Glebe, Sheet 17, part)

These eight terraces are shown shaded in the 1887 survey of Glebe, with the current street numbering (see Figure 1). It has been suggested they were constructed by Joseph Paul Walker in the early 1880s. Certificates of Title show that Josiah Harpur and his wife Eliza purchased No 365 Glebe Point Rd in 1886 and Nos 367 and 369 in 1894.2 No 365 was called Brisbane House.

Josiah Harpur was a successful grocer and wine and spirit merchant with his business in George St, where The Strand Arcade now stands. Born in Armagh, Ireland, in 1825, the son of a Wesleyan minister, he came to Sydney in the 1840s. In 1856, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Newtown, he married Eliza Caroline Walker, born at Parramatta in 1833 and daughter of an Anglican minister. There were four daughters and three sons from the marriage; however, only Eliza Caroline (1860-1916), Josiah (1862-1899), William (1864-1891), Samuel (1866-1905) and Maria Louisa (1868-1936) survived to adulthood. Initially, the family lived in Randwick before moving to Glebe Point.

An early record of the Harpur family living at Brisbane House was the theft of a black hen and ten Antwerp pigeons, the property of Josiah Harpur.3 So, it seems the family moved into this house some four years before they purchased it.

Figure 2. Current view of 359-373 Glebe Point Rd (photo: Phil Young)

The Misses Harpur – Eliza Caroline and Maria Louisa, known as Ria – were the teachers at Brisbane House. From the time the family arrived in Glebe, they attended the Toxteth Wesleyan Chapel, so would have known the other like-minded families, some of whom would have sent their children to Brisbane House. End-of-year prize-givings were reported in the press, as well as other community activities the school was involved in during each year. In 1897 a fête was held at Brisbane House to raise funds for a new school hall to be associated with the Wesleyan Church at Glebe Point. There was a flower stall, a fancy stall, a children’s stall, a refreshment stall and, of course, a sweets stall. A number of the staff and pupils who participated were named in the newspaper article, including the Misses Harpur and Misses Corbin.4

Brisbane House, the school, continued to exist until 1918. Josiah died in 1898, aged 73; Eliza died in 1903, aged 69. Daughter, Eliza, died in 1916, aged 55. This left Ria managing the school, but when she married the reverend Charles John McCoy in July 1919, it was time for the school to close. They were not a young couple, she being 50 and he 69, but would have known each other over a number of years, as the Rev McCoy had postings as the Methodist minister in Forest Lodge and Glebe for different periods before 1918. They moved to Roseville, where Ria died in 1936 and Charles in 1943.

The contents of Brisbane House, when advertised for auction in April 1919, included a superior old mahogany sideboard, a valuable French clock, old coloured prints, coral in a glass case and many useful articles of furniture. In the 1920s, Nos 363-373 were completely changed by having shopfronts built at street level and extra rooms added above them, making the shops with flats above that we see today (see Figure 2).

Figure 3. Brisbane House, Dux 1897 (from Corbin family)

Of the medal and its recipient, following an exchange of emails, I received a photo of the medal, which identified the recipient as Netta Corbin (see Figure 3). Netta Corbin was the eldest daughter, seventh of nine children to James Bentley Corbin and Margaret Mary Clancy. The Corbin family were living next to the Harpurs in No 363, which they named Alresford after the town of James’ birth in 1844. James had purchased the property in May 1882. James was a man of many talents, being described at various times during his life as upholsterer, cabinetmaker, builder, inventor, gold miner and contractor.

Born Harriet Mary on 21 March, 1880, while the family was living at Valley Heights, the medal winner was known as ‘Netta’. Lillian, the only other daughter, was born at Alresford on 14 January 1882.

The Corbin family fortunes possibly had more downs than ups between 1882 and 1900, not helped by the 1890s depression in Australia5 and a poor investment decision in Western Australia. James was declared bankrupt in 1894. Margaret Mary’s death in 1899 was another blow to the family. Only two years earlier, 17-year-old Netta had received the Dux medal.

Figure 4. Netta Leary (née Corbin) aged about 35. 6

Sands Directory records show that the family continued to live at No 363 until 1914. Netta married Louis Claude Leary, a grazier from Molong, at her father’s residence, in June 1909.7 She was 29 and he was 23. A family quickly followed – Gwendoline (1909), Claude (1911), Patricia (1912), Vincent (1913) and Bernard (1917). All but Vincent were born in Glebe. The family had nevertheless settled into the Leary family home Brookvale, at Cumnock. Netta had not been well after the birth of Bernard – so much so that in May 1918, she was at the Lewisham Hospital receiving treatment, but tragically died there on 1 June. She was only 38 and left five children aged between six months and nine years for Louis to raise.

The good news part of this story is that her five children had long and fruitful lives, and now there is a multitude of great-grandchildren that can be proud of Netta being Dux of Brisbane House school in 1897.

Acknowledgement. Thanks to Therese Dela Cruz, great granddaughter of Netta Corbin for the photo of the medal and for posting the initial enquiry on the Glebe Society website.

Footnotes. 1. Max Solling’s article: https://‌www.‌innerwest.nsw.‌‌explore/‌libraries/community-history/community‌-history-collections/‌community-collections); 2. NSW Land Registry Services; Bk 344, No 790 & Bk 534 No 96; 3. Trove; NSW Police Gazette, Wed 30 Aug 1882, p. 334; 4. Trove; Sydney Morning Herald, Mon 8 Nov. 1897, p. 5; 5. See also https://‌www.‌rba.‌gov.‌au/‌publications/rdp/2001/2001-07/‌1890s-‌depression.html; 6. Corbin family website (corbinaust.‌com/‌p/‌harriet.‌html); 7. Trove; Molong Argus, Fri 4 June 1909, p. 4.