A Headmistress in the Family

The Hunt Family

Fanny Elizabeth Hunt was the eldest of 10 children born to schoolmaster Edwin Hunt (1837-1895) and his schoolteacher wife Margaret Morgan (1838-1937). Edwin was the son of cordwainer (shoemaker) Thomas Hunt and governess Nancy Welding of Reading, Berkshire and formerly of Redmarley d’Abitot in Worcestershire; Margaret was the daughter of farmer David Morgan and Margaret Llewellyn of Codoxton near Cardiff in Wales. Edwin and Margaret were married in Reading on 19 July 1862, and Fanny Elizabeth was born just over a year later on 25 July 1863, followed by 9 others within 13 years, 7 of whom survived. The family lived at 13 Orts Rd., Reading.

Edwin was the Headmaster of St. John’s Boys’ School in Reading for 20 years from 1858, and Margaret was initially the supervisor of the Girls’ school. It is believed the Morgan family remained in Wales.  How Margaret obtained her position is not known nor when she arrived in Reading.

Emigration to Australia

When Fanny was 16 her parents and their 8 surviving children emigrated to Australia, arriving in Sydney on 27 November 1879 on the Steamship “Aconcagua” of Liverpool, 2643 tons, out of London. They were paying passengers who thus avoided many of the rigors experienced by emigrants on the slower sailing ships. Why they decided to emigrate is not certain but could have been influenced by the economic conditions of the times.

Aconcagua (State Lib Vic)

The family lived in Stockton near Newcastle from 1880 to 1886 and then in Goulburn NSW for some years. Later they moved to Sydney.  The family must have been ardent churchgoers in Goulburn, for one of Fanny’s testimonials reads:

The Bishop of Goulburn desires to testify in the strongest manner to the high character and capabilities of Miss Hunt, as being in his judgment in every way suitable for the responsible position in Brisbane for which she is a candidate. She has invariably acquitted herself with special credit in her University course in Sydney – in her final examination for the degree of Bachelor of Science as well as in her subsequent career.

He has great respect for her family, and special gratification and confidence in bearing decided testimony in her own favour as a young lady thoroughly reliable and well qualified for the duties of the situation which she is seeking to obtain – duties which he is persuaded she would fulfil to the satisfaction of the promoters and with credit to herself. Bishopthorpe, Goulburn, NSW. April 3rd, 1889.

University Days

In 1888 Fanny became the University of Sydney’s first woman Science graduate. It is not known where Fanny lived while pursuing her BSc degree at Sydney University. She would have commenced her degree in about 1884 while her father was teaching at Stockton.

Fanny passed the matriculation examination for the University of Sydney, obtaining a Pass Class II in Mathematics and a Pass in German.

In her first year in 1885, Fanny was in the Faculty of Arts, receiving the following: Pass Class II in Mathematics, Pass Class I in Chemistry and Physics, and a pass in Latin and French, and in Latin and German.

The following year in 1886, she enrolled in second year in the Faculty of Science.

In her Bachelor of Science examination at the end of third year, in December 1897, she achieved Honours Class II in Geology and Palaeontology, Pass Class I in Mineralogy and in Comparative Anatomy, and Pass in Physiology. (University of Sydney Archives).

A monograph on Pioneer Women Graduates of the University of Sydney published in 1985 notes1:

The passing of the University amendment Act of 1884, which confirmed the legality of their position, was a cause of much rejoicing among the small group of women undergraduates. It may also have been a reason for the growth in student numbers. Undergraduates in these early years included Ettie Artlett (BA 1888), Fanny Hunt (BSc 1888), Matilda Meares (BA 1889), MA 1892) Mary H Bruton, Mary Harriet Bruce (BA 1887), Fanny Ruth Hall, Carrie Lomer (BA 1889, MA 1891), Constance Adelaide Sutherland  …. (rest of text lost)

The NSW Assoc of University Women Graduates published a short history in 19702. The preface states:

The attitude of the public towards the young ladies who had taken to attending university at this time (1880s) ranged from the militantly approving to the militantly disapproving, but in general a tone of benevolent tolerance (mingled with some pride) prevailed. When, for instance, Miss Fanny Hunt graduated in Science, the first woman to do so, the Illustrated Sydney News of January 3rd 1889 devoted a whole page to the “Sweet Girl Graduate” and spoke of her as being quite unspoiled and nothing of the traditional blue stocking.

The Illustrated Sydney News Article on p. 10, headed ‘Sydney Celebrities’, consisted of several columns of flowery prose and a large portrait of Fanny in her graduation robes.

“And no schoolgirl, diffident as to her acquirements, ever looked more unassuming than this same Sydney (University)’s little Bacheloress when, at the Womens’ Industries she glided on the platform and gave her modest little lecture concerning the lower forms of animal life.” It also mentions that she gave a Christmas lecture at Goulburn on animal Locomotion. “If some cavaliers question the desirability of such teaching, and to quote Kingsley – ‘Be good sweet maid and let who will be clever’ we would fain mind them that Kingsley was indulging in a most singular classification when he thus separated goodness from talent…” etc etc.FANNY hUNT

Fanny’s achievement as the first woman Science graduate was mentioned in the University Commemoration Address given by W M Manning, Chancellor, Sydney University, on April 14 1988, although she was not specifically named.

“Graduation ceremonies were very grand affairs, the men clad in full evening dress of white tie and tails at 11 o’clock in the morning, and the women in semi-evening dress and white kid gloves”. (Evelyn Darker, nee Hill, later Lady Hasluck).

It was a source of great pride that some 40 years later the author, Fanny’s great niece, wore Fanny’s graduation hood at her own graduation as B.Sc. from the University of New South Wales. 

The University of Sydney Archives published a special edition of Record in 1985 to celebrate the centenary of the first women graduates of the University. Fanny’s graduation photograph is on p.38 together with that of Sir William Manning (‘the author of the memoranda recommending the admittance of women’), and Mary Elizabeth Brown and Isola Florence Thompson (the first two women to graduate). On page 43 is a photograph of the Chemistry Class of 1886. Dagmar Berne, the first woman to enter the Medical School, and Fanny Hunt are sitting together in the front row.

Chemistry classFanny also received a mention in Brannigan and Holland’s “Ever Reaping Something New – A Science Centenary”, Chapter 14 – Women in Science. The Australasian Scene3:

The University of NZ had a woman graduate in 1877, 8 years before Sydney University. The first BSc conferred on an Australian woman went in 1885 to an outstanding Adelaide University student, Edith Dornwell (who was also their first woman graduate) and 3 years later the pioneer role of woman BSc at Sydney University went to Fanny Elizabeth Hunt in 1888.

Following her graduation, Fanny was made a Life Member of the Linnean Society.

After graduating, Fanny taught at a number of girls’ schools in Sydney, as evidenced by the number of testimonials she was able to present one year later.

According to Fanny’s niece Betty d’Archy, Fanny was also awarded a honorary degree by Queensland University in September 1920. (Note from author: this is so far unsubstantiated – the University could not find a record but did admit their records were incomplete).

Early Testimonials.

A printed list of Testimonials, all dated April 1889, which accompanied Fanny’s application for the position of Headmistress at Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School contained letters from the following:

  • Prof T. Gurney, Professor of Mathematics Sydney University
  • Prof A. Liversidge, Professor of Chemistry, Sydney University – mentions that Fanny did both public lecturing and private tuition following her graduation. Also mentioned her “social advantages”.
  • Prof W. Stephens, Professor of Natural History Sydney University.
  • Prof. W H Warren, Professor of Engineering Sydney University.
  • Prof W Scott, Professor of Classics Sydney University. – States that Miss Hunt attended lectures in Latin, French and German during the first year of her University course, and passed .. her work showed considerable promise.
  • Prof T P Anderson Stuart, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Sydney University. – Stated that Miss Fanny E Hunt attended his classes of Physiology … and proved herself a diligent and attentive student.
  • W A Haswell D.Sc, Lecturer in Biology Sydney University.
  • Dr R. Max, Lecturer in Modern Languages, Sydney University.

 “It gives me very great pleasure to speak in the highest terms of your proficiency in Modern Languages. It has been my pleasing duty to lecture to you during your University career, and the remembrance of your assiduity, your facility of expression, and general grasp of the subjects of study, and also of the energy and firmness characterising all your actions, enables me to testify to your ability to fill the responsible position of Head Mistress of any School for Girls. “

  • Mons. A. Bulteau, Sole lecturer in French Sydney University.
  • The Hon. William Macleay, FLS, Linnean Society.
  • The Bishop of Goulburn, NSW.

There were also testimonials from a group comprising the Principals of leading Sydney schools:

  • Louisa T. Gurney, “Fern Bank” Woollahra. (Where Fanny taught ‘her special subjects’ for a year)
  • T M Ashe, “Ardnee” School, Burwood.
  • Helen P. Phillips, Clergy Daughter’s School, Waverley.  (Where Fanny taught Botany from Aug 1888)
  • Louisa Ellis, Newnham High School, “Barham”, Bourke St Sydney. (Where Fanny taught Science  for almost 12 mths)
  • E. Gully, Ashford College, Potts Point. (Where Fanny taught ‘for some considerable time’ – perhaps even pre-graduation?)

Early Teaching

According to the above collection of testimonials, Fanny taught at various schools in Sydney for a year following her graduation before applying for the position of Headmistress of Brisbane Girls Grammar School.

Not obtaining that position, she was then appointed inaugural headmistress of Ipswich Girls Grammar School just outside Brisbane in 1891, where she remained until 1901.  One of her sisters, Maggie, was Matron at the same school

There were 30 applications for the position, narrowed down to four, who were asked to forward photographs to complement their applications, so there must have been some stiff competition.  Fanny arrived at the half completed school in October 1891; the school was officially opened on 1 March 1892.4,5. 

IGGS.1cropped IGGS.2

(Photos above taken about 2000).


Trials of an Early Headmistress

Fanny’s time as headmistress at IGGS is well documented in Thalia R L Kennedy’s book “The First One Hundred Years”4.  Her starting salary was 300 pounds per annum plus residence. In summarising the seven headmistresses, Kennedy writes:

Miss Hunt had the hardest job to do, in laying the foundations of the School not only in lessons to be taught but in equipment and furnishings to be purchased, fees to be paid, hours of school each day and the general needs of a school. She did this well and Miss Connell, who followed her, built up the high academic record which had already begun.

1895 Pupils & StaffThe Trustees kept a close eye on expenditure. When Fanny asked if she might have the mown grass from the grounds for her horse, used to pull a beautiful little phaeton, she was told she would have to pay for the cutting and cartage, otherwise it would be sold.

F.Hunt PhaetonWhen she asked if a cow shed could be erected, the answer was “Yes, if at her expense.”

She continued to ask for whatever she felt would be good for her pupils from such things as blackboards, compasses, T-squares to extra pianos and permission for pupils to sit the Trinity College Examinations.  A request for a typewriter in 1899 was refused.

Blackboard letter

Resignation from IGGS

Illness due to the constant strain hampered Fanny’s work, and in 1896 the Trustees granted her 3 months leave of absence on full salary. She went to England, visited several of the leading colleges, and spent some time in Reading. She returned “in excellent health” on the new P&O liner “China” which she spoke of as a magnificent vessel.

But then …. Quoting from Thalia Kennedy’s book:

And on 19th October 1901 Miss Fanny E. Hunt sent in her letter of resignation as Headmistress on the grounds of ill-health, asked to be relieved of her duties as soon as possible, and thanked the Trustees for their kindness to her over the years.

It was accepted with deep regret by the Trustees and in view of her ill-health and because of the energy and warm interest Miss Hunt had always taken in the success and welfare of the School they gave her six months’ additional salary, after the giving up of her duties on 31st December.

It is interesting to pause here and consider what had been accomplished in the first ten years of the IGGS, for this was the end of an era. … The school now had 58 pupils (15 boarders), it had established a reputation for academic ability, music was flourishing, tennis, croquet and some cricket had been introduced, the founding of an Old Girls’ Association showed the interest of the past pupils in their old school and the Trustees were preparing to erect another building. Surely a good foundation for future growth had been laid.

The Old Girls association of the school presented Fanny with a handsome leather-bound testimonial with about 30 signatures affectionally (sic) appended:

Testimonial - salutation

The Old Girls’ also planned to present her with a purse of sovereigns but it is not known if this occurred.

In her last Prize Day report Fanny wrote:

Ladies and Gentlemen, my work here ends today. I regret that I am compelled by ill-health to take a long rest. It is not easy to say farewell to my girls, and to a school which I have regarded with love and pride since its inception. I offer my heartiest thanks for all past and present kindnesses – to the Trustees, to the Secretary and other helpers and to the people of Ipswich.

Thalia Kennedy, herself a past headmistress at IGGS, wrote:

Miss Hunt deserves all the praise that can be given her, for this remarkable woman founded a school which has grown into a leading school of the State and did it in a quiet, unassuming way, which attracted little notice but achieved so very much. She should never be forgotten by those who know and support the Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School.

Fanny kept in touch with her pupils long after she or they had parted ways. Here is a letter written to one of them:



Girton College

During the years that Fanny and her sister Maggie were at Ipswich, their mother and sisters Florence Gwenllian and Edith Lillian (Lily) moved to Toowoomba.

At the turn of the 20th Century there were several small private schools in the Toowoomba area – The Grange School circa 1875-1902 conducted by Mrs. A. Barlow; the Balcony House School later known as Ivanhoe and still later as The Girls’ High School, conducted by the Misses Pennie; and Newnham School under Misses Mason and Billings.6

According to ‘School Ties’6, “The Grange School continued its quiet and efficient service to the young ladies of Toowoomba until the close of 1902, when the buildings were taken over by Girton College.”  Perhaps Mrs. Barlow had decided to retire.

In February 1903 Fanny opened a new small private school in the buildings formerly occupied by The Grange, in Margaret Street Toowoomba. In 1908 the school moved to “Stoneleigh”, No. 1 Campbell Street, The Range – believed to have been formerly occupied by Newnham.

Coincidentally this site was later to become the Toowoomba Grammar Preparatory School, founded by E.A.Gill, whose wife’s uncle George Washington Griffiths married Fanny’s sister Maggie in 1911.  Also, in 1927 the headmaster of this boys’ school was the Reverend Ernest Aldington Hunt, MA ThL, whose son Henry Edward Hunt also taught at the school.  The Rev. Hunt was from Bedford England, of a Hunt family unrelated to Fanny’s family.7 “Stoneleigh” continued to be used until 1980.

Fanny named her new school Girton College, after the first Women’s residential College at Cambridge, founded 1869.

To quote from ‘School Ties’6:

It is intriguing to find that for six years (1903-1908) Toowoomba had two girls’ schools named after the women’s colleges Newnham and Girton which were founded at Cambridge … Whether this was a coincidence or whether the owners and founders had affiliations with those colleges is not clear. Certainly they set a precedent for other girls’ private schools in Queensland to be named after English University colleges – Somerville House, St. Margaret’s and St. Hilda’s all bear the names of colleges at Oxford. Both Newnham and Girton … were concerned with academic excellence as well as those qualities and attributes which Edwardian Toowoomba regarded as essential for the proper education of its young ladies.

Girton College continued until 1910. According to Bygott & Cable1, Miss Margaret Bailey BA 1900, the distinguished headmistress of Ascham School (1914-1946) attended Newnham and then taught under Miss Hunt at Girton, 1903-07. Fanny’s mother Margaret Morgan Hunt and sisters Maggie born 1864 and Lily born 1876 also lived at the school.   Another of the sisters, Florence Mary Gwenllian Hunt born 1869, married George Standish Harpur Haly in 1903 in Townsville, then they went to live in Cloncurry. Through them the youngest sister Edith Lillian Hunt (Lily) met Thomas Eckiboon d’Archy (Dick), a station manager from outside Cloncurry, the man she was to marry.

The Wedding at Girton

Lily married Dick in the grounds of Girton College on 29 Dec 1908. A newspaper report of the wedding said:

A picturesque wedding took place yesterday morning at Girton College, the residence of Mrs Hunt, when her youngest daughter Lily was married to Mr T.E. d’Archy of Headingly Station, North Queensland. The ceremony was performed… in a charming spot under shady trees in the roomy old garden. Miss Hunt (ie Fanny Elizabeth) wore a very smart frock of black glace, relieved with white lace insertion, and her white chip hat had large choux of white tulle, and black ostrich feathers. Another sister Maggie was maid of honour.

The Move to Sydney

When Fanny’s brother-in-law Dick d’Archy enlisted in the 13th Light Horse Regiment in 1915, the Toowoomba Hunt family moved to Sydney and settled in “Redmarley” at Rose Bay  (named after the old Hunt village in Worcestershire). It was an extensive house, (In 2005 a nursing home) and various aunts and uncles lived there probably including Fanny Elizabeth, as well Fanny’s youngest sister Lily and her two daughters Nancy Elizabeth (Betty) and Vada. Betty never mentioned her grandfather Edwin’s sisters and their descendants who were all living in Sydney too, some in homes also named “Redmarley”.  It is believed there was a rift in the family prior to that time. The sisters were strict Methodists, whereas Edwin and Margaret’s family were Church of England.

According to Betty d’Archy (1910-1997), in 1925 an “aged and blind” Fanny Elizabeth (she would then have been 61) accompanied a family party comprising the schoolgirl sisters Betty (14) and Vada (12), their mother Lily, and several aunts and uncles to Europe and England via India and the Suez; a grand tour which lasted three years

Betty and Vada at Chamonix 1926

Betty and Vada (photo above taken in Switzerland) were at that time pupils at Ascham, where Margaret Bailey (who taught under Fanny at Girton) was headmistress. (As Vada’s daughter the author was also to attend Ascham at a later date, and in addition one of Fanny’s great nephews Adrian Hunt taught there later still). Lily, Betty and Vada, and most likely Fanny, stayed 6 months in the UK with Miss Downes, former headmistress of Townsville (or Rockhampton?) GGS and also met Miss Fewings, another headmistress who founded Somerville House in Brisbane (which the author’s daughter Nicole attended). 

Fanny died on 6 June 1941. An obituary appeared in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, 11 June 1941, p. 12:  There was no obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.


Miss Fanny Hunt, whose death occurred in Sydney last week, was one of the best known educationists of the last generation. The first woman to take the BSc degree at the Sydney University – in 1888 – she was made a life member of the Linnean Society.

In 1889 Miss Hunt opened the Girls Grammar School at Ipswich, Queensland. She remained there for many years before retiring because of ill health. After visiting England she opened Girton College Toowoomba where she remained until 1910.

Fanny was buried at Waverley Cemetery in the same grave as her father and mother. The inscription proudly notes her degree of B.Sc.

Edwin & Co. monumentFanny - inscripti


1. Bygott, Ursula & Cable, K J – Pioneer Women Graduates of the University of Sydney 1881-1921. Sydney University Monographs No 1, U Syd 1985. pp 11 & 41.

2. McGrath, Amy G – A short history of the NSW Association of University Women Graduates, part 1 1882-1920. Publ by the NSW Assoc of University Women Graduates, 1970.

3.  Brannagan, D. and Holland, G. – Ever Reaping Something new – A Science Centenary Chapter 14 – Women in Science. The Australasian Scene. Pp 222-3.

4. Kennedy, Thalia R L – The First One Hundred Years. Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School.  1991. Booralong Publications, Brisbane. ISBN 0 646 07075 4

5. IGGSPRESS, Magazine of the Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School, Ed. Helen Pullar, August 2002, pp 24-25.

6. . “School Ties”, A History of Private Schooling in Toowoomba. Ed. P. McNally, 1989. Chapter 9 – The Vanished Schools.

7.  Personal Communication, Larry Loveday, Archivist at Toowoomba Boys’ Preparatory School.


My grateful thanks to the staff of the Ipswich Girls’ Grammar School, particularly the Headmistress Miss Susan Just; and Mrs. Helen Pullar. They provided some of the materials and photos used in this article, and also gave me several leads for further research.

I have quoted extensively from the school’s 100th Anniversary booklet written by Thalia Kennedy.

My thanks also to Peter Murray who provided the impetus for me to contact the school, and Larry Loveday who helped unravel the mystery of the two Toowoomba Grammar Hunts.

The photograph of the chemistry class of 1886 is from the University of Sydney’s Archives Department publication  ‘Record’ of 1985.

Note that there are several inaccuracies in the entry for Fanny Hunt in A Biographical Register 1788-1939, Ed. Gibbney & Smith, ANU 1987, p 352.  Her name is given as ‘Margaret (Fanny)’, and the dates of her birth and year of graduation are incorrect.

(c)  2017 Nancy Vada Gibb

5 thoughts on “A Headmistress in the Family

  1. Fanny was quite the go-ahead young woman and a pioneer in many ways. I loved reading the story of her family’s emigration. She sounds like my favourite headmistress – a formidable lady with adults but very kind and loved by “her girls”. Jo

  2. I was delighted to find this story of Fanny Hunt. I am researching my great-aunt Margaret Bailey’s life story and see that you attended Ascham as did your mother. Did you or your mother know Margaret Bailey? I think Fanny Hunt would have been a fine model to my great-aunt of what a woman could achieve.

    • Thank you for your comments. My mother did know Margaret Bailey, and I met her once when I was a very little girl and my parents were considering enrolling me at Ascham. It was decided otherwise as we lived some distance away, but I did ultimately attend Ascham for the last two years of my schooling.

  3. Pingback: 52 Ancestors …. Week 4. | Nancy's Families

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