Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edith Annesley Badham (1853–1920)

by R. J. Burns

This article was published:

Edith Annesley Badham (1853-1920), headmistress, was born on 6 December 1853 at Louth, Lincolnshire, England, eldest daughter of Rev. Charles Badham and his first wife Julia Matilda, née Smith (d.1856). She was educated at Dinant, France, and by her father, who was headmaster of the Birmingham and Edgbaston Proprietary School from 1854. He recognized her gift for languages and took a great interest in her upbringing. In 1867 she arrived in Sydney with her father, who had been appointed professor of classics at the university, her stepmother and nine brothers and sisters. Women were not admitted to the university, but Edith studied, with Badham, all the subjects in the arts course and became so proficient that she assisted in his work and corrected public examination papers. In 1883-84 she kept house for her brother at Tenterfield. From 1884 she taught privately.

A devout Anglican, Miss Badham was a member of the provisional committee formed to establish a high school for girls under the auspices of the Church. She was keenly aware of the depressed economic conditions: her offer to act as principal for six months at a nominal salary was accepted. The school was formally opened on 17 July 1895 in a terrace-house in Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, in the presence of six bishops among other dignitaries, and with only one pupil. Six months later it was named the Sydney Church of England Grammar School for Girls, and grew so rapidly that in 1896 it moved to larger premises at Potts Point.

Edith Badham shared many of her father's forthright views on the purpose and nature of education. She believed that it should develop intellectual discipline and strong moral character, and that this could best be achieved by study of classical languages. At the first annual prize-giving, she declared that Latin was being studied by even the 'smallest children in the school', which made the teaching of English grammar unnecessary; she assured parents that it was possible for a girl to learn Greek and Latin without at all desiring to step out of 'her proper and subordinate place in the scheme of Creation'. No radical feminist, she shared the Victorian middle-class traditions in which she had been reared. In Cosmos Magazine, April 1895, she roundly condemned Australian literature on the grounds that it was insufficiently developed and unworthy of usurping the place of European classical literature. Although the Bulletin claimed that the school taught nothing but 'boating, Shakespeare and the Bible', the curriculum included English language and literature, French, mathematics, modern and ancient history, geography, and botany and geology for older girls, as well as a wide range of extra subjects such as music and art. Miss Badham herself taught Latin, Greek and French and formed La Réunion Française, attended by outsiders as well as pupils. She regularly took girls rowing on Saturday mornings.

Under Miss Badham the S.C.E.G.G.S. continued to grow: a kindergarten was opened in 1900 and next year the school moved to larger premises at Barham, Forbes Street. She became principal when branch schools were opened at Bowral in 1906 and North Sydney in 1911. She had always detested cramming for examinations and opposed the introduction of the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations. However the school was registered with the Department of Public Instruction in 1914. After several visits, she published A Trip to Java (1909) and Java Revisited and Malaya (1912).

Edith Badham was described as 'tiny and neat in person — her pretty light hair, now brownish fair. It was crinkled and vital; so much so that one expected sparks. Her skin finely etched; still like a rose-petal; her spotless clothes stiffly starched. She walked briskly with a quick, triumphant little patter of feet … and she stood rigidly upright before her class vibrating — one might say—scintillating—with life—her steel grey eyes still very humorously bright'. Miss Badham died of pneumonia at Mosman on 17 May 1920, and was buried in St Thomas's Church of England cemetery, North Sydney. She left her estate, valued for probate at £1260, to her sister Julia Jackson. In 1926 the school chapel, that Edith Badham had always wished for, was dedicated to her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School Council, Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School, 1895-1955, W. Sharland ed (Syd, 1958)
  • Sydney Diocesan Magazine, 1 June 1920, Oct, Nov 1930
  • Sydney Church of England Girls' Grammar School, Lux, June 1945, jubilee no
  • New Zealand Library Quarterly Magazine, June 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18, 19 May 1920.

Additional Resources

Citation details

R. J. Burns, 'Badham, Edith Annesley (1853–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 December, 1853
Louth, Lincolnshire, England


17 May, 1920 (aged 66)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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