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Griffiths, Glynde Nesta (1889–1968)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Glynde Nesta Griffiths (1889-1968), author and philanthropist, was born on 4 July 1889 at Double Bay, Sydney, youngest of three daughters of Frederick Close Griffiths, a merchant from London, and his native-born wife Annette Agnes, daughter of Joseph Willis. Grand-daughters of George Richard Griffiths, Nesta and her sisters Gwyneth (1885-1940) and Gwendolen Winifred (1886-1968) grew up at Point Piper and were educated privately (by special teachers for different subjects) with their cousins, the daughters of Edward Knox. Frederick died in 1907, leaving his affairs in confusion: Gwyneth and Nesta taught dancing at Westwood school and Gwendolen taught mathematics. In 1910 Gwyneth married Henry Dunster Baker, the American vice-consul in Sydney.

Small, 'with blue eyes and long golden-red hair', Nesta 'enjoyed theatre, music, books, travelling, paintings and early morning swims at Nielsen Park'. She played tennis and—like Gwendolen—belonged to Royal Sydney Golf Club. After their mother's death in 1929, the sisters acquired a spacious flat in Silchester, Bellevue Hill, where they lived companionably for the rest of their lives. Starting with little money, Gwendolen invested shrewdly on the stock market and their flat was gradually filled with antique furniture, paintings and objets d'art. They remained careful in their daily life, but were very generous to their friends. For many years a committee-member of the Bush Book Club of New South Wales, Gwendolen enjoyed reading the New Yorker. She joined the Queen's Club. Nesta, who drove the car, was a foundation member of the Macquarie Club. They regularly attended the High Church services at St James's, King Street. Accustomed to roaming the world from an early age, they sailed in cargo boats, 'motored from the western shores of France to old Vienna' and 'climbed the towers of Rhenish castles'. Britain, Japan, Java, South Africa and North America (including Alaska) were among the places they visited.

Their absorbing interest was other people's lives. A member (from 1923) of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Nesta combed through old books and documents in the Mitchell Library and History House, and engaged in field-work: she and Gwendolen stayed, sometimes for weeks, at the country homes of their friends and relations. Nesta's first book, Point Piper Past and Present (1947), was a limited edition published by S. Ure Smith. It was followed by Some Houses and People of New South Wales (1949), Some Southern Homes of New South Wales (1952) and Some Northern Homes of N.S.W. (1954). Although her books suffered from lack of editing, the absence of indexes, the omission of references, and occasional inaccuracies, she preserved 'the recollections of an earlier generation'. Her habit of 'strewing bright irrelevances' gave the books much of their charm. She revived interest in the architect John Verge and created awareness of an endangered heritage.

Generations of children climbed the stairs to have afternoon tea with 'the Griffi'—as they were affectionately, if disrespectfully, known—and were allowed to touch the treasures. Milk was served in a 'creamer' (a jug in the shape of a cow). The sisters invariably changed for dinner and swept into the kitchen to cook in long dresses. Both were enthusiastic bridge players and entertained friends at home or at one of their clubs.

Taller, and more astringent, exacting and down-to-earth than her sister, Gwendolen was the kinder; Nesta, who asked impertinent questions and indulged in malicious gossip about those of whom she disapproved, could look almost vixenish. They died at Silchester in 1968, Gwendolen on 13 January and Nesta on 4 June; both were cremated. Admiring the work of Sir Lorimer Dods, they had contributed handsomely to the Children's Medical Research Foundation. Nesta bequeathed the residue of her estate, sworn for probate at about $300,000, to the foundation; Gwendolen preferred to provide for Dods's grandchildren.

Select Bibliography

  • G. N. Griffiths, Point Piper, Past and Present, introduced by C. Simpson (Syd, 1970)
  • H. Rutledge, My Grandfather's House (Syd, 1986)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 19 Oct 1935, 11 Oct 1939, 11 Sept 1947, 12 Feb, 5 July 1949, 20 Dec 1952, 20 Nov 1954, 16 Aug 1968, 5 June, 7 Nov 1968, 10, 11 Apr 1976
  • Australian, 21 May 1976
  • Griffiths papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Griffiths, Glynde Nesta (1889–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/griffiths-glynde-nesta-10370/text18369, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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