The Daly find
In the Archives department beneath the Betty Archdale Library, you’ll find Abbotsleigh’s archivist Julie Daly. With the School for 15 years, Julie is the second archivist Abbotsleigh has employed since 1986 to carefully look after historical records dating back to the School’s foundation in 1885.
Stepping into Julie’s office feels like entering the spirit of the School. In the window’s ledge overlooking blossom trees is a collection of Abby bears; sporting shields hang from the wall; a vintage Abbotsleigh uniform stands on a mannequin; framed photographs of former Headmistresses and class groups hover above a wooden cabinet filled with archival photos in black, acid-free protective albums. In the second annex, boxes are filled with Abbotsleigh memorabilia and records. A stack of copies of The Weaver from September 1933 are on a large work bench; while another room has rows of bright yellow compactible shelving.
Julie proudly shows the first Abbotsleigh photograph ever taken in 1886 by a professional photographer under the direction of founder Marian Clarke – taken at the first home of Abbotsleigh, a terrace house in North Sydney. The school was based in North Sydney for three years but as Miss Clarke suffered laryngitis, she was advised to move to a dryer climate. From 1888 until 1898, Abbotsleigh was located in Parramatta but her health concerns were still an issue and she was required to move to a higher climate. The Southern Highlands were considered before settling on Lot 2 of the John Brown Estate for sale in Wahroonga in 1898. John Brown, known as Squire Brown, at one point owned a square mile of land in Wahroonga. Lucinda, Roland and Ada Avenues, which surround Abbotsleigh, were named after three of his children.
With her face lighting up, Julie, a former archivist for Westpac, shares her expert knowledge of the School’s founding years. She speaks of Marian Clarke as a remarkable woman, a visionary ahead of her time – though she would have preferred if Miss Clarke had not burned the school records upon her departure in 1913 (it was second Headmistress Miss Margaret Murray who started a school register).
“I didn’t actually do history at school because I had the most boring teacher,” says Julie. “But I went to University and did a minor in history. I love bringing it alive. My whole idea is to make it interesting for the girls,” says Julie, who teaches Years 2, 3 and 4 students a couple of times a year about the history of the School.
Looking at the School’s first school photograph, Julie points to one young girl in the photo. “Her name was Agnes Bennett and she became a doctor,” said Julie, speaking of her with affection and admiration. This young girl attended Abbotsleigh from 1885 to 1887 but went on to complete her schooling at Sydney Girls’ High and; win a scholarship to Sydney University where she is believed to be the first female to graduate with Honours in Science. She moved to Scotland in 1896 to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh; moved to New Zealand in 1905; completed her doctorate in Medicine at Edinburgh University in 1911; travelled throughout Egypt in 1915 with the French Red Cross; was the first woman to be commissioned an officer by the British Army tending to wounded in Gallipoli; and returned to New Zealand in 1920 working at St Helens Hospital which she eventually ran as the world’s first State maternity hospital. She retired in 1936 but in 1947 worked in the Chatham Islands for five weeks during winter, travelling to patients on horseback which saw her receive national fame and an OBE at the age of 75.
Abbotsleigh's first photograph (1886). Agnes Bennett is second row from top, third from the left (holding books).
Agnes’s story is one of thousands of former empowered Abbotsleigh students and staff whose stories Julie relishes sharing.