Agnes Kilminster, infants' headmistress 1892--6. (courtesy Glebe Public School archives)
Agnes Kilminster, infants’ headmistress
(courtesy Glebe Public
School archives)

In the 1850s several women in Glebe advertised themselves as schoolmistresses: Mrs Henrietta Jones (Francis Street), Miss Bowen (Bishopsthorpe Terrace) and Hester Wood (Hawley Cottage, Bay Street).  Little is known of these local entrepreneurs who set up business before the Public Schools Act 1866 and the Public Instruction Act 1880, which made school attendance compulsory.

The introduction of the Pupil-Teacher system, whereby students were engaged to teach while being instructed themselves after school hours, usually by the Principal, led to an increase in the number of female teachers.  However many did not last long, resigning because of poor pay, marriage or the pressures of the classroom and constant travelling from one school to another.  Florence Beeby who retired at age 30, her health ‘having permanently broken down’, had been posted to 13 schools, the last Glebe Public.  Other women had dealings with an unsympathetic Department.  Miss Hargreaves, who commuted to Glebe from Liverpool by train, was 20 minutes late one morning.  She was told to furnish ‘an explanation as to why you do not reside nearer the school at which your duty lies’.  Expenses claimed for transferring from one rural school to another, sometimes over hundreds of miles by train and coach, were scrupulously checked item by item.

Until 1881 when older students were separated by gender, Glebe Public students were classified as Infants or Primary.  Although they did not have a dedicated building until 1911, infants were enrolled in Derby Place from 1862 when the Glebe National School was opened.  During the next decades their ever-growing numbers were accommodated in a rented Wesleyan hall (sometimes infested with rats), a closed-in weather shed, and classrooms within the boys’ and girls’ schools, two-storey buildings difficult to evacuate.  Infants were exposed to ‘fearful smells’ from the ‘fulsome manure pit’ of nearby livery stables.

Ellen Flannery (ca 1838-1927) was appointed Glebe Infants Mistress in January 1877.  She was the widow of school Inspector Edmund Hayes Flannery who had died at Albury nine months earlier, leaving her with a four year old son.  Transferred from William Street Infants, she remained at Glebe for 15 years.  Her pupils were drilled daily in calisthenics.  Glebe infants were part of the dumbbell display at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1900 in aid of the Boer War Patriotic Fund.

The Mistress’s problems were those of headmasters Flashman, Sheehy and Cornish: overcrowding, the rapid turnover of poorly trained staff, arrears in fees and unrealistic expectations of parents.  She was censured by the Department for sending a seven-year-old back home to fetch an adult after he’d turned up to enroll clutching his fees and a note giving his age, name, address and denomination.  ‘Will you kindly inform me what form of ceremony there is to go through before a child can gain admission to the Public School?’ demanded M D Harmston of 59 Mitchell Street.

Among both pupils and staff there were periodic outbreaks of serious illnesses such as measles, whooping cough, scarlet fever and smallpox.  In 1882 city doctor Willan Jackson treated a patient with typhoid, a little girl who attended Glebe School where ‘the contents of a choked-up drain were baled out with the pannikins from which the scholars drank’. 

Mrs Flannery retired in 1892 on a teacher’s pension and died at Mosman on 13 February 1927.  Her barrister son George Ernest (1872-1945), educated at Sydney High and St Ignatius College, won the Sydney University gold medal in law and was secretary to Sir Edmund Barton when he was Prime Minister.

Agnes May Kilminster, aged 28 and Presbyterian, succeeded Ellen Flannery.  She was a Pupil Teacher at Newtown and Manly before graduating from the Hurlstone Teacher Training College of Female Teachers in 1884.  After returning to Manly, she was transferred Darlinghurst, Redfern Girls, Junee Junction, Orange and Ultimo before taking up the Glebe appointment in July 1892. 

Within a year the infants’ enrolment had reached 600 and average daily attendance was 527.5.  The Mistress, working with a staff of eight including six Pupil Teachers, made an urgent appeal to the Department for an extra assistant.  The cheaper option, another Pupil Teacher, was sent.

In 1896 Miss Kilminster asked to transfer to the girls’ department at Glebe but was instead promoted to the headship of Albion Street Girls.  For most of her working life she lived at Manly with two unmarried sisters (housekeeper Alice Mary and music teacher Mary Edith Elsie) and another relative, Mary Edith Helena Kilminster, also a teacher. 

Sewing was a compulsory subject for girls from the time they could thread a needle.  Patience Henerie née Hall was one of the State’s first 13 workmistresses, appointed in 1873 immediately after the death of her husband Thomas, a teacher at Wallabadah.  With three children under five (born in Sydney, Morpeth and Wollombi) she ‘had to work’.  Her first posting was also her last: she taught sewing at Glebe for 15 years from 1874 until 1889, commuting from King Street North in The Rocks.

In 1885 Mrs Henerie took time off after she nursed a servant who contracted typhoid.  ‘I waited upon her not knowing what the illness was until the fever had thoroughly developed’, she told the District Inspector.  Thompson responded: ‘There is nothing to show whether this attendance on the part of Mrs Henerie was due to an imperative domestic duty or merely a voluntary act on her part … if the latter, it should be pointed out to her that she should not have undertaken the office of nurse without the Minister’s sanction’.

Patience Henerie resigned on a pension of a little over two pounds a week, supporting her comment that her salary had never been ‘very large’.  She died at home 29 Lower Fort Street Dawes Point on 17 June 1915, survived by her children Jessie Robinson and Oswald.  Her younger daughter Olive Maud had died in 1904.

Amelia ‘Maudie’ Thomasin Hicks (1843 – 1928) was workmistress at Glebe from mid 1889 until her retirement in  Born in Devon, she arrived in Sydney as an assisted immigrant with her Presbyterian parents and two siblings aboard the Wilson Kennedy in January 1852.  Her first appointment was in 1881 at Trinity CE Granville South. She then taught at Penrith-South Creek and, after refusing a transfer to Albury, at Sussex Street and Annandale.  She died at Burwood on 14 May 1928 and was buried with her brother David (1845-87), Senior Inspector Bathurst district, and her sister Eliza (1836- 95) who had died while she and Amelia shared a house at 47 Albany Road Petersham.

In October 1880 the school was restructured.  A notice board ‘Public School, Girls’ Dept’ was ordered, together with new hat pegs, pointers, work presses, map stands and forms up to 12 feet long for seating.  The new Girls Department was put under the temporary charge of Mary S Pinnington, classified 2B, ‘pending the appointment of a Mistress, qualified according to the Regulations’.  Transferred from the Primary Department were an assistant Bessie MacSweeney and Pupil Teachers Alice M Thompson and Jessie Paton.  Miss Pinnington’s headship lasted about a month.

Mary Pinnington began her career in 1870 as a 13 year old Pupil Teacher at Christ Church CE.  She then taught at St Andrews CE, St Philips CE and Cleveland Street before the Council of Education appointed her in 1877, at age 19, the first Mistress of Girls at the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children’s Randwick Asylum.  Here about 200 girls received a secular education in reading, writing, dictation, arithmetic, geography and singing. 

In mid 1878 she was sent to Wagga Wagga.  In late 1880 before her brief engagement at Glebe she was in charge of Devonshire Street.  From January 1881 until 1886 she was in charge of Burwood Infants.  She then worked at Stanmore Public and Darlington Infants before resigning in 1890 to marry Albert Adams at Glebe.

Bessie MacSweeney remained in the Girls’ Department until at least 1891.

Alice Thompson resigned in 1881 amid accusations that she’d purloined school fees, borrowed money from parents, pawned books and was hardly ever home.  Jessie Paton resigned in 1883.

Harriet Elizabeth Elphinstone became Girls’ Mistress at Glebe in January 1881.  A Presbyterian, she was the oldest child of William jnr, a carpenter and builder whose parents Janet and William (a cabinet maker turned builder), after emigrating from Scotland in 1832 settled in Glebe, on Parramatta Street and later Broughton Street.  The extended Elphinstone family became prominent local builders and architects.

In 1869 Harriet, aged 16 became a Pupil Teacher at Kent Street, transferring to William Street two years later.  She then moved to Newcastle South, West Maitland Girls, William Street Girls and Bathurst Girls before her appointment as Infants Mistress at Burwood in 1880, by which time her father was living in Derby Place Glebe adjacent to the school and Wesleyan Church. In 1886 she
married William Munro, a local builder, and resigned from teaching.  In 1909 she and her husband and her younger sisters Florence Emily, Ethel Maud and Annie Balfour were compensated for the demolition of two cottages in Derwent Place to enlarge the school’s playground.  Harriet’s father and Alexander Leckie Elphinstone had leased the church lands in 1856.

Emily Robson was a Pupil Teacher at Trinity CE and Crown Street Infants and, after attending training school, in charge of Granville Infants and Camperdown Girls.  In September 1886 she was appointed Mistress of Glebe Girls.  Miss Robson started cookery classes in a closed- in verandah in the boys’ building (‘The experiment may be made but very cautiously’ commented Head Office) and formed a girls’ swimming club which travelled to Elkington Baths at Balmain on Friday afternoons.  She had problems with some Pupil Teachers.  Emily McNamara asked for a transfer ‘because of lack of respect from Mistress Robson’.  Others were happy to stay, Annie Gilbert turning down an offer of work as an operator in the Telephone Department.

Emily Robson remained at Glebe until 1904, moving on to Hurlstone Practising and Paddington Girls. Her successor was Mrs Ada De Lambert who retired in 1918.