children’s libraries in Australia

The State Library of South Australia led the way in Australia by opening the first free Children’s Library on 16 February 1915.  These images from 1915 and 1956 respectively demonstrate how far we’ve come in engaging children in libraries.

State Library of South Australia
from a brochure by H Rutherford Purnell

State Library of South Australia B47958
This image (B47958 State Library of South Australia) shows the former Police Barracks at the rear of the State Library in 1956.  The Children’s Library was located here from 1927 to 1967.

what ho, sport – life at Oxford University in 1894

It was certainly a man’s world (and an extremely elite one) at Oxford University as described by A D Godley in his book Aspects of Modern Oxford published in 1894 by Seeley & Co Ltd.

The plates in the book were produced by five artists.  They illustrate all aspects of a student’s life, in particular participation in a wide variety of sports including tennis, rowing, cricket and golf.  There was swimming too. The area called Parson’s Pleasure (see image 3 in this post) was a nude bathing area in the University Parks – men only, of course.  The selected images are by Lancelot  or Launcelot Speed, an illustrator of fiction and fairy tale books.  The picture of the rowers waiting for the coxswain begs for a caption competition!

For your interest, here’s a link to the history of women at Oxford (who were admitted as full students in 1920). It includes a list of some of the University’s more well-known graduates.

Lawn Tennis at Oxford - Launcelot Speed Waiting for the Cox - Launcelot Speed Parson's Pleasure - Launcelot Speed Cricket in the Parks - Launcelot Speed

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

18th century map samplers – specimens of schoolgirl proficiency

Marcus B Huish was an English fine arts dealer and eclectic collector with a specific interest in Japanese arts.  There’s a short biography of him at this link on the University of Glasgow’s “Whistler Correspondence” site.

One of his works can be found in e-book form here on Project Gutenberg.  This 1913 book includes colour plates as well as black and white illustrations of needlework from the 17th century onwards, including pieces from Huish’s own collection.   The first image below (dated 1630) is a richly coloured piece called The Story of Queen Esther.

book cover - Marcus B Huish

Title page - Samplers

The story of Queen Esther 1630

One section is devoted to map samplers where Huish talks about needlework maps as being in the same class as samplers, in that they originated as

.. specimens of schoolgirl proficiency, which when taken home were very lasting memorials of the excellence of that teaching termed “the use of the globes”.

This 1738 map of North America (by M.A.K)

.. has nothing whatever in the way of needlework to recommend it, but it shows what any map would, namely, how little was known at that date of the Western States or Canada.

Huish comments on the accuracy (or otherwise) of this Map of England and Wales by Ann Brown.

for the purposes of geographical reference [most map samplers] were at all events reliable, which is more than can be said for some of the original efforts; as, for instance, that of little Ann Brown, whose map of England and Wales is reproduced. Starting bravely, her delineation of Northumberland takes her well down the canvas, so that by the time she has reached Newcastle she has carried it abreast of Dumfries in Scotland, and Cork in Ireland! Yorkshire is so expansive that it grows downward beyond Exeter and Lundy Island, which last-named places have, however, by some mishap, crept up to the northward of Manchester and Leeds. It is a puzzle to think where the little lassie lived who could consort London with Wainfleet, the River Thames with the Isle of Wight, Lichfield with Portland, or join France to England. Although one would imagine that the dwelling-place of the sempstress would usually be made notable in the map either by large lettering or by more florid colouring, we have not found this to be the case.

Lastly this 1784 map of Africa

… which seems to have been used as a fire-screen, is interesting now that so much more is known of the continent, for many of the descriptions have undergone considerable change, such as the Grain Coast, Tooth Coast, and Slave Coast, which border on the Gulf of Guinea. The sampler is also noteworthy as having been done at Mrs Arnold’s, which was presumably a school in Fetherstone Buildings, High Holborn, hardly the place where one would expect to find a ladies’ seminary nowadays.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at

forgotten women – Matilda Curnow

Matilda Susanna Curnow (nee Weiss)The Sydney Morning Herald of 16 September 1921 published an obituary of Mrs William Curnow (Matilda Susanna Curnow – nee Weiss).  Read more of the obituary here.  A letter of appreciation of her contribution to the establishment of the Women’s Literary Society was published in the same edition.

An Appreciation - Mrs Curnow

SMH Mrs William Curnow 1921

There is a mention of Matilda Curnow in the Australian Dictionary of Biography in the post about her newspaper journalist and editor husband William Curnow.

MrsCurnow, with Maybanke Anderson and Louisa Macdonald, helped to establish free kindergartens and was a founder of the Women’s Literary Society and of the Women’s College, University of Sydney. Lady Poore in her Recollections of an Admiral’s Wife (London, 1915) described her as ‘a light-hearted and intelligent lady of eighty’—in 1909 she founded the Optimists’ Club of New South Wales with Lady Poore as president and Sir George Reid as patron. She died aged 92 on 15 September 1921.

Here are two items from the Sydney Morning Herald from 1 May and 5 May 1909 at the time of the formation of The Optimists’ Club.

The Optimists' Club Optimists' club - Puck's Girdle

advice to first year students in 1912

The term ‘freshman’, as in a first year student at an educational institution, is not a term in common use in Australia.  Nevertheless, this advice to new students provides some amusement.

In The College Freshman’s Don’t Book, George Fullerton Evans imparts 1912 wisdom to newbies to university.  Note the brevity of the sub-title.  Note also, should you dip into the book via Project Gutenberg, that the notion of a female freshman seems foreign to the author.

Title page - College Freshman

Some excerpts are included here for your edification.

Don’t wear long hair. Hair, if left to grow as it listeth, may attain to a surprising length within a single season. The Freshman year is not the time to test the accuracy of this statement. Wait till you are a Sophomore; then you won’t care to. Remember that long hair is the Poet’s privilege (though not always proof of a Poet). To wear long hair, you had better take out a Poet’s license. In this respect a dog-license will do if you fail to qualify as Poet.

Room decoration

Don’t keep telling how they do things in that part of the country which you come from. The assumption is, that since you came to College, you are willing to learn something of how they do things here.


Don’t forget to attend a large per cent of your lectures. The information dispensed in lectures is often to be found invaluable in passing the Examinations.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The College Freshman’s Don’t Book, by George Fullerton Evans.

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

the value of play

Compare the first two photographs and guess who is having the most fun.  Notice that the tools being used are real tools, not toys.  The only concession to childhood is the size of the bench.   The Project Gutenberg is the source for photos and extracts from A Catalogue of Play Equipment published in 1918 by the US Bureau of Educational Experiments.  I particularly love the outdoor equipment section of this book compiled by Jean Lee Hunt.  Sadly, some of these constructions would not be approved today in a time where risky adventure play has all but disappeared from the lives of many children.

The photograph of the genteel children posing compliantly with the doll comes from the G H Hutson collection of lantern slides at the State Library of Victoria.

Four unidentified children playing with a doll
(c 1890 – c 1920)

girl at carpenter bench

Carpenter benchA catalogue of play equipmentboy playing 'piano'Play yard

Project Gutenberg's A Catalogue of Play Equipment, by Jean Lee Hunt

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
almost no restrictions whatsoever.  You may copy it, give it away or
re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
with this eBook or online at

Australian honours for an English cricket captain

In December 1934, the first women’s international cricket match took place at the Sydney Cricket Ground.  This Sydney Morning Herald report of the match describes the crowd’s response.

Here’s a photograph of the English captain Betty Archdale courtesy of Trove’s photograph collection.

Betty Archdale moved to Australia and became one of Australia’s finest educators working at first for Sydney University Women’s College and then as Headmistress of Abbotsleigh school for girls.  The University of Sydney awarded her an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1985.

In 1997 she was named one of Australia’s Living National Treasures.  Betty Archdale talked about her memories on Radio National’s Verbatim.

Mrs Diddlefiget’s finishing school

The author of today’s tongue-in-cheek and funny piece plays with history and the language and well and truly takes the mickey out of finishing schools.

So, if you have a young woman that needs to be ‘frenched’, ‘musicked’, ‘historified’, ‘geographied’ and ‘attitudinized’ and get that finished ‘heddication’, read on…….  The Australian – 27 June 1827