Thursday, January 26, 2012

Australia Day 2012 - Wealth for Toil: Harriet Rowland (nee Conner)

 Springsure State School student group, 1884
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The lovely Shelley from Twigs of Yore came up with this great meme for Australia Day.

Shelley proposed the following:

Choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:
  1.     What was their occupation?
  2.     What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3.     The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
  4.     The story of the occupation, using the person as an example.  
I chose my great grand aunt - Harriet Rowland (nee Conner)

Harriet is pretty emblematic of how I tend to jump around in family history.  She is not a direct ancestor as such - she is in fact the older sister of my paternal great-grandfather.  Of course I never knew her.  When I grew up the Conners I knew had always lived in Sydney, but there were rumours of family in Queensland.  When I moved to Brisbane it was in the back of my mind to find them. 

Harriet was born 24 June 1866 at Landport, Portsmouth in England.  She was one of six children (that is to say, six that I have been able to find) of Edward Conner and Rebecca FoyneEdwin her younger brother was my great-grandfather.

Harriet and her older sister Clara Rebecca trained to be teachers.   Harriet was a pupil teacher at Roberttown Board School, in the township of Liversedge, Yorkshire from the age of 14.  She worked there until 31 December 1884.

Harriet's older sister Clara had married William Smith just two months earlier at Mirfield in Yorkshire.  Clara was eight years older than Harriet.  William had just matriculated from London University and sailed for Australia less than two weeks after he married Clara.  Clara and Harriet followed William in March 1885 on the Duke of Buckingham  for Rockhampton.

They  arrived in the colony of Queensland in May 1885.  Harriet came recommended by Mr Harry Horrox, Clerk to the School Board of Liversedge and Mr R Vickers Head Teacher.  She was described as being competent in Music with a fair knowledge of drawing.  She was appointed assistant teacher to William in January 1886 at Cometville.  Her sister Clara was expecting her first child - a daughter (also to be called Clara) who was born in April. 

Whilst the photo above is not of Cometville,  I thought it gave us a great sense of the dress of the times and Springsure is in the same region as Cometville, now Comet, being near Emerald.  Keep in mind that temperatures in that area can get up to 42 degrees Celsius in summer - a vast difference from West Yorkshire!

Harriet earned 40 pounds per annum in 1886 which I imagine was a decent wage for an unmarried woman in those times.  Her brother-in-law William was of course earning much more as the Head Teacher - 150 pounds plus capitation to be precise!  

At her inspection in October 1886 Harriet was described as "Patient, gentle, and painstaking with the pupils with very good order and a very capable teacher of young children."

Harriet resigned on 31 May 1888.  I then lose her for a bit.  Clara was appointed assistant teacher a day after Harriet resigned, so I wonder if they shared the care of the children which followed in quick succession over the years. Clara was to have William Henry in 1889, Esther Leilian in 1890, Sydney Smith in 1894, Dorothy Evelina in 1895 and Eleanor Florence in 1898. Sadly Sydney, Dorothy and Eleanor died at a very young age.  William was appointed Head Teacher at Glencoe then Toowoomba South Boys School and Monkland before passing his BA exam in 1901.  Eight years later he was appointed District Inspector of Schools and he and Clara moved to Kelvin Grove and then Toowong in Brisbane. 
Lighthouse keepers' families at Bustard Head Lighthouse, Queensland, 1898
Worthington, W. C.
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Harriet was re-admitted to the Department in September 1902 to teach at the Bustard Head Lighthouse school for a short while before moving to the Blackall Range Provisional School in 1903.  There she taught 14 children - two were under the age of 6, most were aged between 6 and 12 and four were aged over 12.

In June1907 Harriet transferred again - this time to Readville Provisional School via Beaudesert.  Department of Public Instruction correspondence shows that accommodation was found two chains from the school at a cost of 14 shillings per week.  On the 1905 Electoral Roll her place of residence is shown as Pinelands, Widgee Creek.  In the process of googling that location, I found this interesting paper on Sawmills of which it would seem, Pinelands was one.  Harriet taught 19 children at Readville..

Harriet stayed at Readville until 31st December 1908 when she left at the age of 42 to marry John David Rowland aged 26.  They married at her brother-in-law's home in Monkland.

What was it like being a teacher in those days?  Pretty tough I should imagine.  Harriet signs her resignation letter "I have the honour to be, Sir your obedient servant H. Conner"   So very formal in what is now very laid-back Queensland.

Stuart Buchanan in his book Lighthouse of Tragedy says that in the twenty-four years since the School started at Bustard Head there were thirteen teachers.  He quotes an internal memo at the Department saying:

"It is very difficult to get persons to take such places, difficult to get persons suitable, and difficut to get suitable persons to stay for any length of time, without complaints and petty quarrellings and squabblings, seeing the life is of much the same nature as life on board ship, with only a few on board."

I can't imagine that small country towns would have been much different.  Before Harriet was appointed to Readsville, the Secretary to the School Committee wrote to the Department complaining that:

"The committee have had a deal of trouble with her (the previous incumbent).  But being a widow we put up with her.  We built her a 4 roomed house for her and her sons and done (sic) anything for her but it was to no purpose.  I am sory (sic) to say she is not has (sic) temperate as she might be that is the fault that the parents take the children away.  But should you send up a suitable teacher the pupils would come Back to school has (sic) they live within 2 chains of the school.  I would like an answer has (sic) early as you can so that I can arrange about the House."

More information about being a teacher in Queensland state schools can be found here.

My sources include electoral rolls and the marvellous records held at Queensland State Archives particularly with regard to School Records.  Brief  guides to Queensland State Archives resources can be found here.
A link to a post about my finding Harriet's final resting place can be found here.


Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

I really enjoyed this post Alex with its focus on a woman's life. She must have been a strong woman to work in those conditions and also work at the lighthouse. You've tracked down a great history for her, showing just how useful archives records can be to our family history.

Alex Daw said...

Thanks Pauleen

I'm going to add a link to this post to my other blog which shows where Harriet is buried.....

We can always improve yes?


Jill Ball said...

Thanks for this story Alex. As a former teacher who had it easy in cushy city schools I cannot imagine how hard life must have been for yong women like Harriet.

Congratulations on the post.

Sharon said...

Yours is the first I have read about a woman. Women like Harriet need to be thanked for their contribution to the education of young children. Thanks for sharing her story.

Sharon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Judy Webster said...

I hoped someone would use this series to write about a female teacher! The Education Department records at Queensland State Archives are very good, especially the main series of registers. For later years I find the annual teacher registers by school [series 5136] easier to handle than the ledgers of salaries and allowances [EDU/Q series], but each is valuable in its own way. Unfortunately some genealogists don't take the time to look through school files to find letters written by (and about) teachers. They are the gems that really 'put flesh on the bones' of the family tree!

Alex Daw said...

Sharon and Judy - thank you both for your comments. Sharon your comment came through twice and then I got confused later and re-published it - sorry - hence the deletion. I am pleased I wrote about a woman too. It wasn't really pre-meditated. I agonised long and hard and then realised that I had the most occupational information about Harriet and her sister and brother-in-law and I am still fascinated by her story as a single woman making her way in the world.

Judy, I have never had so much fun as looking up these records in Archives. I want to go back for more. I can't imagine that I have done more than scratch the surface really. Can you imagine teaching in those times? I drove out Rathdowney way a couple of weekends ago and even now it does seem a long way from anywhere (it isn't really). What must it have been like then?

Tanya Honey said...

Lovely post Alex. I have a few teachers, all female, in my tree and you have inspired me to look into their careers further using archives!

Alex Daw said...

Thank you Tanya. I can assure you of lots of fun and lots of great detail when you do dig further. It's so worth it.

Shelley said...

"The lovely Shelley"? Aw thanks!
I really enjoyed that you chose to follow a woman. I was hoping that there would be a reasonably representative mix of occupations among the posts but that's hardly the case if 50% of the population is left out! It makes me think of all the other toil our female ancestors undertook that didn't get documented.
Thanks for joining in!