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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Soubeiran, Augustine (1858–1933)

by G. E. Sherington

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Augustine Soubeiran (1858-1933), headmistress and French patriot, was born on 2 November 1858 in France, daughter of noted French Huguenot educationists. Having been in Paris during the 1870 siege, she attended Madame Trolliet's finishing school at Lausanne, Switzerland, in the mid-1870s. Augustine migrated to Sydney after the death of her parents and worked as a governess. In 1884 she was invited by Louisa Jane Gurney (1852-1937)—sister of T. T. Gurney, professor of mathematics at the University of Sydney—to help in teaching private pupils.

Following her visit to France in 1886, Mlle Soubeiran became one of the first teachers at Fernbank, the school Miss Gurney opened at Edgecliff. In 1891, as co-principals, they moved the school to larger premises at Kambala, Bellevue Hill; it soon became one of the major schools for daughters of the well-to-do. While concentrating on polite behaviour, the school successfully prepared pupils for the university's senior and junior public examinations.

Augustine's knowledge of traditional accomplishments in European finishing schools complemented the more academic, English background of Louisa Gurney. Mlle Soubeiran taught French at Kambala and also at nearby Ascham, Darling Point. In 1895 she was a founder of the Alliance Française which established prizes for French conversation. Kambala old girls long remembered 'Mademoiselle's extraordinarily well-informed mind, her gift of expression, her sense of humour'. She was the school housekeeper as well. An accomplished cook, she presided over the preparation of meals in the boarding house, with French savoury dishes for dinner and her own French salad for lunch. Relations between pupils and teachers were often intimate: the older girls waited upon 'Mademoiselle' and even helped her to lace her corsets—'Il faut souffrir pour être belle', she remarked. In her youth she was an elegant, dark-haired woman with brown eyes and a fair complexion; she retained her 'remarkable vivacity', her clear enunciation and her interest in the girls, past and present. In 1911 she was appointed officier de l'Instruction Publique. In 1913 she and Miss Gurney moved Kambala to Rose Bay where they leased Tivoli; next year they handed over the school to Clara and Mary Jane Roseby.

On the outbreak of World War I, with Louisa Gurney's backing Mlle Soubeiran initiated the French-Australian League of Help; as its secretary she assisted in establishing one of the largest patriotic organizations in Australia. At the end of 1917, paying her own expenses, she left for France to distribute the accumulated resources of the league's funds. Based in Paris, she dispensed money and set up a depot for clothes from Australia. In 1918 she came back with the diplomatic mission of General Pau to tell Australians of the 'heartfelt, tearful thanks of my people'. She returned to France again in January 1919 and spent months touring the war-devastated districts, distributing further funds and assisting in reconstruction. About November she was joined by Louisa Gurney.

In December 1920 they returned to New South Wales to live at Bowral. Augustine Soubeiran died, unmarried, on 31 May 1933 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, and was cremated. Awarded the Légion d'honneur posthumously in July, she had bequeathed four special pieces of furniture to the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. Lucy Norman's water-colour sketch of Augustine at Lausanne is held by Kambala.

Select Bibliography

  • M. E. David, Passages of Time (Brisb, 1975)
  • A. Nobbs, Kambala (Syd, 1987)
  • Courrier Australien, 9 June 1933
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Feb, 11 Sept 1918, 3 Jan, 31 Dec 1919, 11 Nov 1920, 1, 2, 3 June, 31 July 1933
  • Kambala School Archives
  • French-Australian League papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

G. E. Sherington, 'Soubeiran, Augustine (1858–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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