Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Roseby, Gertrude Amy (1872–1971)

by Ruth Teale

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Gertrude Amy Roseby (1872-1971), headmistress, was born on 20 April 1872 at Dunedin, New Zealand, eldest of ten children of Rev. Thomas Roseby, a Sydney-born Congregational minister, and his wife Sarah, née Hooworth. Thomas ministered at Ballarat, Victoria, from 1885 before returning to Sydney in 1888. He encouraged his children, girls and boys alike, to undertake higher education. Gertrude was privately tutored. She entered the University of Sydney (B.A., 1895) and graduated with second-class honours in logic and mental philosophy.

Miss Roseby taught for eight years at Rockhampton Girls' Grammar School, Queensland, where she was appointed senior assistant mistress. She visited Britain, completed a diploma of pedagogy (1905) at the University of London and taught (1906-07) at Wyggeston School for girls, Leicester. Returning home early in 1908, she became resident headmistress of Ascham, Darling Point, under its principal H. J. Carter. In April 1911, with her sister Mabel, she bought Redlands, Neutral Bay, a school with 35 day-girls and 8 boarders.

Known as 'Miss G.A.' and affectionately as 'The Bud', Gertrude Roseby was a progressive in her early years, promoting co-education in the kindergarten and introducing a modified Dalton system in the senior school. She took affectionate care of the younger boarders and in 1913 instituted an annual picnic for boarders to (Royal) National Park. Debating (from 1919) and guiding (from 1923) were prominent among extra-curricular activities, and classes were sometimes held in the school's carefully planted gardens. Miss Roseby taught English, Latin, history and Scripture to the upper forms, who remembered inspiring lessons on Shakespeare, and on the Authorized Version of the Bible as literature. Her farewell cards to school-leavers featured hand-written, individually chosen quotations from these and other sources. She encouraged able pupils to go on to university and promoted the artistic and scholastic talents of her girls, among them Ellice Nosworthy, Jean Sulman, Eleanor Dark, Thistle Harris and Elizabeth Liggins. There were few school rules: the 'honour' system prevailed, and Miss Roseby inspired 'Redlanders' to be loyal to herself and the school.

Although her brother Norman had won the Military Medal at Gallipoli, Miss Roseby believed passionately in the cause of peace. In the 1930s she supported the League of Nations and belonged to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Congregational (Women's) Peace Fellowship (Congregational Women's Fellowship for the Study of World Affairs). She was president of the Congregational Women's Association in 1942-46 and later a life member.

A woman of dignity and charm, noted for her gentle determination and mellifluous speaking voice, Gertrude Roseby was, for a year, president of the Headmistresses' Association of Australia. In June 1945 she sold the school (which by then had more than three hundred pupils) to the Church of England. She remained headmistress until December. Boarding had ceased in 1941. With her maiden sisters Mabel and Mary, she retired to a garden cottage at Willoughby, but kept in constant contact with the school and its old girls. She was chairman (1946-50) of the Sydney Kindergarten Training College council, a founder and treasurer (1951-63) of Wybalena Hostel for Girls, Burwood, president of the State branch of the Women's Inter-Church Council and an active member of the National Council of Women of New South Wales. In June 1958 she was appointed O.B.E. She quietly assumed that she was the equal of any man in the sight of God. Aged 99, she died on 27 December 1971 at Wahroonga and was cremated with Congregational forms.

Her sister Sarah Mabel (1878-1957), schoolmistress, was born on 26 March 1878 at Dunedin, New Zealand, and educated at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1900). In 1911 she joined her elder sister at Redlands, where she taught mathematics and geology. Called 'Miss May' at school, she was known for her common sense and want of sentimentality. Her humour and wit were remembered by boarders, to whom she often read at breakfast from the latest issue of Punch. In the 1920s she played tennis and cricket with the girls and enjoyed charades. With her sister Mary, she visited Britain in 1929, but returned within a year.

Mabel Roseby worked in the central office of the Congregational Church, helping to edit the New South Wales Congregational Year Book and Calendar; she was also secretary of the Congregational Women's Association and of the management-committee of a nursery school at Mosman. Her hostility to the 'drink traffic' led her to assist regularly at the Congregational Metropolitan Mission's centre at Alexandria. She died on 11 October 1957 in Sydney.

Gertrude's and Mabel's cousins Clara Roseby (1870-1936) and Mary ('Minnie') Roseby (1873-1966) were graduates of the University of Sydney and co-principals of Kambala school from 1914 to 1926; Clara remained as principal until 1927, then joined her sister Mary in retirement in England.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Gillham, R. Dunlop and J. Birkl (eds), SCEGGS Redlands in Retrospect (Syd, 1990)
  • Congregationalist (Sydney), Feb 1972
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 1945, 12 June, 1 Oct 1958, 21 Apr 1967, 29 Dec 1971
  • Kindergarten Union of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1951
  • Congregational card index (Uniting Church archives, Parramatta, Sydney)
  • O'Reilly papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • G. A. Roseby file, Doc 2483 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Ruth Teale, 'Roseby, Gertrude Amy (1872–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/roseby-gertrude-amy-11562/text20635, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 28 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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