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Sarah Agnes Angus Brewster (1874–1957)

by R. Else-Mitchell

This article was published:

Sarah Agnes Angus Brewster (1874-1957), headmistress and naturalist, was born on 29 April 1874 at Belmore Barracks, Sydney, tenth child of William Brewster, an armourer from Scotland, and his English-born wife Sarah, née Morton. In 1890, aged 15, Agnes was appointed a probationary pupil-teacher at Castlereagh Street Infants' School (her appointment was confirmed in November) and in 1892 moved to Crown Street Public School. After passing the relevant examinations, she was promoted to a class 1 teacher in 1893 and in December 1894 gained a full scholarship to Hurlstone Training College. From 1896 she held appointments at public schools at Woollahra, Randwick, Fort Street, and East and West Maitland.

In 1911 Miss Brewster accepted the post of demonstrator in nature study and elementary science at Sydney Technical College; for her original work, she was one of the first two women to be made a college fellow (1921). Appointed science mistress in 1912 at Sydney Girls' High School, from 1920 she was also ex officio deputy-headmistress. In 1928-30 she held similar positions at North Sydney Girls' High School and, after a short term as principal of Newcastle Girls' High School, in January 1931 became founding principal of Hornsby Girls' High School. She stocked the library, filled bare corridors with pictures and had avenues planted with shrubs; under her guidance the barren grounds were turned into an oval, and tennis and basketball courts; she also imparted her love of nature to many of her students before she retired from teaching on 31 January 1938.

A dedicated student of botany and geology, Brewster had been a prominent member of the Linnean and Field Naturalists' societies of New South Wales, the Sydney University Botanical Society (vice-president), the Secondary School Science Society, the State branch of the Australian Forest League and the Wild Life Preservation Society of Australia. She presented many papers to these bodies, including one to the Linnean Society in 1915. With Constance Le Patrier, she published Botany for Australian Students (1916); Agnes, her sister Mabel and Naomi Crouch wrote Life Stories of Australian Insects (1920, revised 1946); her Botany for Australian Secondary Schools appeared in 1929.

In retirement she devoted time to natural history at an old farmhouse at Clarence in the Blue Mountains where she had family and friends as guests. She later lived at St Leonards. Agnes was proud of the Brewster name and of the heraldic motto on the family coat of arms—verite soyez ma garde—granted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1561. She died on 29 December 1957 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Congregational forms. Her career in education, especially at Hornsby, was widely acknowledged by students and colleagues who remembered her dignity, presence, scholarship, integrity and unfailing courtesy. In 1965 the library at Hornsby Girls' High School was dedicated to her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Metzke, The History of Hornsby Girls' High School, 1930-1990 (Syd, 1990)
  • Hornsby Girls' High School, Torch, 1937, 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Jan 1958, 30 Dec 1989
  • Miles Franklin papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. Else-Mitchell, 'Brewster, Sarah Agnes Angus (1874–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 April, 1874
Belmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


29 December, 1957 (aged 83)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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