HOLIDAYS FOR THE SISTERS
In her Memoirs, Mother Antony Burke relates a story about a holiday that was to lead eventually to the establishment of the Sisters’ holiday house at Blackmans Bay. It was early in 1901 when a priest from the Cathedral came upon the young Antony (still a novice) and another Sister looking very pale and poorly. He reported this to the Archbishop, Doctor Delaney, who immediately ordered that the Sisters were to have a holiday and a change of air.
The very next day the Archbishop hired a landau and transported the two Sisters to Brown’s River (Kingston), at the time a quite posh holiday area with many boarding houses and hotels. The little party lunched at the Australasia Hotel (where for the first time in her life, Antony saw a priest smoke, when Doctor Delaney enjoyed a cigar), and then went to look at a nearby house that was for rent. It was duly engaged, and so the Sisters began the first of many happy sojourns in the area.
The Sisters used to hike across bush tracks to Blackmans Bay, where there were only two or three little shanties to be seen…a far cry from today!! A main road went through to Margate and Snug.
The Sisters became quite fond of the Blackmans Bay area and Browns River. Mother Antony recalls that each morning at Browns River, the Sisters would rise at 3.30am, then walk seven miles to daily Mass at 6.30am at Mt St Canice. Luckily, the Sisters of the St Canice convent gave them a hearty breakfast before allowing them to walk back to Browns River. Some holiday and what devotion to their God!
Eventually in 1929, the Sisters purchased an extensive property in Blackmans Bay for the princely sum of £725. It was within walking distance of the beach and surrounded by bushland. At the time there were two farmhouses and a market garden on the property.
One of the original farmhouses was to become Maryknoll and that, as they say, is another story altogether.
Image credit: David McLane/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images (source: mashable.com-Nuns having fun)
The Christmas Turkey Attempt
In last week’s anecdote, I mentioned pets and animals at St Mary’s College, quoting from the memoirs of the late Mother Antony (d. 1966).
Mother Antony’s recollections include a story about another Sister trying to raise turkeys for the table. I will let her own words tell the story which I believe describes an event that took place early in the 1900s:
‘We were going for our holiday to the Harrison’s house in Sandy Bay. Sr M Joseph at this time was interested in poultry rearing and she had a clutch of turkey poults still very young and needing the greatest care, so they were taken on holidays too. We had them in a small closed basket like a lunch basket and when we called to [Mr Thompson’s house] to make some appointments for piano lessons, I carried the basket along. It looked natural enough, but we were all non-plussed when the dear little pets gave forth with their sharp little cries, and of course, we had to let him into the joke. They were quite a source of worry at times. The family Harrison cat was left at home and when the poults were let out for a run and a scratch, Puss had to be tied by a leg to a chair and when we went to the beach, we had to take the poults with us. One day when it started to rain, we had to run back to the house, as they must never be allowed to get wet. In spite of all our care, these little turkeys never survived to grace our festive board.’
Animals in the Boarding School
Animals in the Boarding School
The answer is that in the earliest days, every allowance was made to keep boarders happy, as some travelled from all over Australia, and were bound to be homesick.
It is known that the daughters of Governor Strickland were left with the Sisters for a while in 1909, as their parents had to travel to Europe. Mabel and Henrietta were allowed to bring the vice-regal aviary to St. Mary’s and tend to their birds there.
Another student, Ellie Hearn, brought her beloved black and white terrier Flipper with her to boarding school. A special box was constructed for Flipper to live in.
There are probably other such stories, unrecorded.
Certainly in the early days, milking cows were always kept in the backyard of the convent, as well as fowls, turkeys and the pets of the boarders. As Mother Antony Burke reported in her Memoirs, when the cows were in calf, the little menagerie on the slope behind the convent would be even more crowded and the cause of great excitement. She remarked that the cows and calves roamed the paddock area now occupied by courts at the back of Nagle Centre, as well as the play area now in front of the Nagle Centre. Their rich cream and milk was appreciated in the convent and the boarding school.
I have also read somewhere that there were often a few cats around the convent kitchen in early days, probably employed as rat catchers rather than actual pets!
(Image: Carlow Cathedral, Ireland)
Death in the Boarding School
Death in the Boarding School
Students are often curious to know of there were any deaths in the boarding school at St Mary’s College. The answer is that there have been several deaths, as would be expected, during 100 years of operation as a boarding school.
The story of the first death recorded is even more touching than one might expect. Ellen and Sarah Gordon, orphans, were accepted as boarders by Mother Xavier Murphy in late 1877. The guardian of the two girls was their uncle, who was stationed in India and who had heard of the excellence of the care provided by the Sisters in Hobart.
The girls happily settled in at Mount St Mary’s, where they lived permanently with the Sisters, all parties becoming very fond of each other. Ellen and Sarah reportedly also endeared themselves to their peers, who felt great compassion for these two with no home to go to.
Ellen and Sarah begged to become Catholics just like their loved Sisters and were received into the Church in 1879. Ellen took the additional name of Stanislaus at Baptism, because Sister Stanislaus O’Brien (one of the original Irish Sisters) was like a mother to her.
Then in 1881, the girls’ uncle and guardian proposed to move them to India to live with him. Ellen Stanislaus in particular, expressed deep sadness at the prospect of leaving her adopted home and the Sisters.
The story took its sad twist when Ellen suddenly fell gravely ill and died. All at Mount St Mary’s, as well as Archbishop Murphy and the other clergy, were devastated at her death. It was said at her funeral that she captivated the hearts of all whose lives she had touched.
What's in a name?
From establishment, St Mary’s was known as Mount St Mary’s. This is because it sat upon a grassy rise with enviable views over the growing city of Hobart. An early prize giving announcement referred to St Mary’s Superior School.
An advertisement in The Monitor in 1897 referred to the school as a ‘Ladies’ College’ (although boys were admitted from the start), and finally in 1898 it was referred to as St Mary’s College, the name by which it has been known ever since.
It is apparent from some documents of the time that the Sisters ran schools within the school, but it is difficult to get a detailed account. Of course, from the outset the Sisters ran two distinct schools at Mount St Mary’s: the first being a full scholastic course for the more affluent students, the other being for those less likely to study beyond age 13. The latter was called the Free School and was eventually housed in a separate building and called St Columba’s School.
While 20 guineas a term were charged in the scholastic school, only threepence a week was charged (and often not paid through poverty) at St Columba’s.
To complicate things for the modern researcher, there seemed to have been other schools within schools.
For example, from the daily newspaper comes a report of a prize giving day on 23 March 1871, for the students of the Presentation Upper School. Another report on 30 March 1871 announces a prize giving in The Presentation Lower Schools, where there were three schools, under the patronage of Saints Michael, Patrick and Joseph.
One title does seem to have been consistent until 1898, and that is that the local newspaper always referred to the school as Presentation Convent.
Henry Hunter the architect however, detailed the total costs of the beautiful convent building as over three thousand pounds. And so by 1871 yet another fundraiser was being advertised.
This time it was an Art Union in which the main prize was a suite of drawing room furniture along with 500 other prizes. With the proceeds, the Sisters intended to complete the first gable on the right of the building.
A visitor from Melbourne wrote to The Tasmanian Catholic Standard in January 1871:
I trust that the proceeds of the new lottery for the completion of the Presentation Convent will be more than adequate for the purpose. The Sisters then will have their Refectory, Community room, Novitiate, Reception-room etc., (now entirely given up for school purposes), restored to them, and the new portion of the building will be thus entirely devoted to the great cause of education.
And so it is obvious that only three years after its establishment, overcrowding was already driving a program of more building to meet community needs.
The Grand Bazaar
One of my favourite images from the early days of the College is a copy of an advertisement for what was probably one of the first major fundraisers held by the Sisters in Hobart. After the arrival of the Sisters and the commencement of the building of their school, it became evident that funds were urgently needed. On August 15, 1867 the advertisement appeared in a Hobart newspaper and so the ball was set rolling.
Preparations for the Grand Bazaar had in fact been in train for many months when the dates in January 1868 were announced. Apparently Governor Gore Browne was criticised in some corners for patronising a function in favour of Catholics, but many people also expressed a great need for the new school. As it happened, the Governor’s patronage on this occasion set a precedent for the Vice-Regal presence at other occasions in the future.
The Bazaar, held in Del Sarte’s Rooms in Harrington Street (a sign in lower Harrington Street still denotes Del Sarte’s Rooms) was extremely well received (the height of excitement in Hobart in those days) and ran for a number of days. A band played every evening, numerous raffles were drawn and a total of over two hundred and eighty pounds was raised, in other words a great deal of money.
You may note that the advertisement is placed by the Vicar-General, William Dunne, as it would have been deemed inappropriate for the Sisters, as women and religious women at that, to take the lead in such an undertaking. It is probably most unlikely that any of the Sisters would have been in attendance at the Bazaar. In any event, they would have been extremely busy at that time, settling into their fine new building next to the Cathedral.