Our wonderful Clarke sisters
Marian Clarke on holiday in St Mark's Square, Venice after her retirement from Abbotsleigh.
In March each year we pause to celebrate the birthday of our founding Headmistress, Marian Clarke, who was born on 27 March 1853.
Marian and her twelve siblings grew up in a family that celebrated and honoured education, and to this end at least three of the children became teachers – Marian, Ellen and Emily.
It was actually Ellen's founding of the school Normanhurst at Ashfield in 1882 which led to the arrival of Marian in Australia. Ellen succumbed to illness in 1884 and needed to take leave for a term, and so she asked Marian if she would come to Australia to help her for that term. Marian had been teaching at the Manchester High School for Girls, but either sororal duty or need for work drew her to accept Ellen’s offer. So in December 1884 Marian arrived in Sydney.
Upon returning, and with Normanhurst having flourished under Marian’s leadership, Ellen once again took charge of the school, leaving Marian in need of employment. Obviously Marian had seen a need for more ‘academic’ schools for girls in Sydney, and there was a gap on the lower North Shore of Sydney – so Abbotsleigh was born. A champion of girls’ rights and girls’ education, her foresight and ability to create a lasting educational legacy has seen Abbotsleigh flourish for more than 131 years.
Ellen left Normanhurst in 1893 to return to England, and Normanhurst itself closed in 1941. It is perhaps timely with the Tildesley Shield played in March that Miss Evelyn Tildesley was a teacher and later Principal at Normanhurst. The winning school of the first Tildesley Shield in 1918 was in fact Normanhurst school, with the winner of the singles title Normanhurst student Daphne Akhurst, who later became a professional tennis player.
The 1920 Tildesley winners from Normanhurst showing Daphne Akhurst, seated second from the left, holding large trophy.
Emily Clarke, who was much-loved by her Abbotsleigh pupils, also taught at Normanhurst, having travelled from England as well to help out her sister Ellen. Emily taught at Abbotsleigh from 1909 until 1913, teaching English, French, German, Elocution and Singing, and was our first Librarian. One of her more astonishing feats at Abbotsleigh is that she held a large portion of her classes in the small enclosed space beneath the turret stairs in School House – one would presume that these classes were held for individual students!
Tower Room, circa 1900.
In December 1913 Emily left following her sister Marian, with both leaving to return to England. In the last week of term before Christmas in 1913, Emily invited the whole school to a farewell fancy dress party.
Emily Clarke's farewell fancy dress party in 1913.
Three wonderful women who all have left their mark on the education of girls in Sydney, we have much reason to thank Marian, Ellen and Emily Clarke.