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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Parnell, Melina Florence (1870–1944)

by Noreen Riordan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Melina Florence Parnell (1870-1944), teacher and school proprietor, was born on 2 July 1870 at Bow, London, one of six children of Frederick Charles Parnell, a watchmaker, and his wife Melina Sarah, née Blake. Young Melina was raised in London and at Luton, Bedfordshire, where her grandfather was Baptist parson. Although she wished to attend university, her father wanted 'no blue stockings' in the family, nor for his daughters to engage in any worldly occupation. Her uncle, an organist at the City Temple, paid for music lessons at the Guildhall School of Music, where she won many prizes. A talented painter and musician, with a fine singing voice, she was a qualified music teacher, with credentials from the University of Cambridge and the College of Preceptors.

About 1887 the family migrated to Victoria for the health of one of the children. In the 1890s depression Melina worked by making buttonholes on blouses and taught in Victoria and at Burradoo Park, near Bowral, New South Wales; there she later became headmistress. When the owner of the school died, Parnell returned to England, where she taught and worked as a governess. The rest of the family went to Western Australia. At her mother's request, about 1897 she took a position at Amy Best's Central High School for Girls in Perth. In 1904 Parnell bought the Claremont Ladies' College and Kindergarten and renamed it the Girls' High School.

Parnell's experience of the changes in girls' education in England benefited girls' education in Western Australia. She understood the demand for a more rigorous approach but also the need for her 'First Class Establishment' to appeal to middle-class parents who did not necessarily intend their daughters to work after leaving school but required them to be given an education suited to their class. She disapproved of the appearance of class in the school and disliked uniforms and examinations. After a pupil wore a white fox fur to church she agreed to the introduction of uniforms. Examinations were also introduced because they enhanced the school's reputation.

With the addition of boarding facilities in 1906 and a permanent home on the river at Claremont, Parnell's school prospered, partly because it catered for girls from all over the State, from kindergarten through to university entrance. From 1908 it was recognized as a private school at which Education Department secondary scholarships were tenable. She was the only representative of a private school for girls to sit on the examination board of the University of Western Australia when it was established in 1913, and was also a foundation member of the Girls' Secondary School's Association in 1915. Former G.H.S. and other private school pupils were employed as teachers and her past students also taught in other schools or established their own. In 1926 Parnell retired; she sold the school to the Church of England and by 1930 it had become St Hilda's Church of England Girls' School.

Devoted to her family and siblings, she cared for two nieces after their mother died when they were aged 3 and 6 respectively. Having retired to her home at West Leederville, in 1933 she accompanied her nieces to England, where she remained for some years before returning to Perth. Miss Parnell died on 30 August 1944 at West Leederville and was buried in the Anglican section of Karrakatta cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Western Australian Church News, May 1905
  • Morning Herald (Perth), 21 Dec 1908, p 3
  • West Australian, 15 Dec 1911, p 8
  • St Hilda’s Anglican Girls’ School archives, Perth
  • family information.

Citation details

Noreen Riordan, 'Parnell, Melina Florence (1870–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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