Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eliza Ann Fewings (1857–1940)

by E. Clarke

This article was published:

Eliza Ann Fewings (1857-1940), schoolteacher, was born probably on 28 December 1857 at Bristol, England, daughter of Charles Fewings, boot-closer, and his wife Sarah, née Twining. Registered as Ann, she adopted Eliza later. Trained as a teacher by her brother, then head of King Edward VI Grammar School, Southampton, she worked as an assistant in the Roan School, Greenwich, in 1876-86 and became a successful head of Dr Williams's Endowed High School for Girls, Dolgelly, Wales.

Miss Fewings was appointed head of the Brisbane Girls' Grammar School in 1896. Early in 1899 she was charged with academic and managerial incompetence by the school's board of trustees, largely on the unsupported accusations of her first assistant, Maud Sellers, a woman of some academic distinction. Miss Fewings was questioned in private by the board's chairman Sir Samuel Griffith and John Laskey Woolcock, both experienced barristers; her request for an independent inspection was refused and she was dismissed. Despite meetings of parents, censuring Griffith and the board, appeals to the minister and accusations of injustice in the Brisbane Courier, the trustees refused to change their verdict. The dismissal gave impetus to existing moves for closer government control of the grammar schools; the Grammar Schools Act Amendment Act (1900) introduced inspection by the Department of Public Instruction.

A new headmistress was appointed to the deeply divided Grammar School and Miss Sellers in her turn was dismissed, allegedly for insulting and insubordinate conduct—she left Queensland for a distinguished career in teaching and scholarship in New South Wales and England.

Urged by some parents, Miss Fewings established the Brisbane High School for Girls (Somerville House) with thirty-one students in October 1899. Based on English models, it became the largest girls' secondary school in Queensland in three years with 150 students. She was a committee-member of the University Extension Movement, was on the board of the School of Arts and was a foundation member of the Field Naturalists' Club. As a councillor of the Brisbane Technical College, she played an active part in a conflict with the Board of Technical Education over college staffing policies. She visited England in 1900, and in 1905 inspected educational institutions in North America as well as England. While visiting Wales in 1908 she was appointed warden of Alexandra Hall, a women's residential establishment in University College, Aberystwyth, and returned to Brisbane only to dispose of her school.

After establishing the first Young Womens' Christian Association centre in Wales, Miss Fewings retired in 1914 but remained on the Court of Governors and the Council of the University College. She was also a governor of Dr Williams's School at Dolgelly. She visited Brisbane in 1921, received an honorary M.A. from Aberystwyth in 1931 and died at Bristol on 11 October 1940.

Small with a firm jaw, Eliza Fewings was an able speaker whose determined views were strengthened by her financial independence. Despite her absence of academic qualifications she earned the respect and affection of students and colleagues.

Select Bibliography

  • P. G. Freeman, History of Somerville House (Brisb, 1949)
  • Brisbane High School for Girls Magazine, 1902-08
  • Dr Williams's School Magazine, July 1941, p 3 (copy Gwynedd Archives, Wales)
  • Brisbane Courier, 20 Sept 1899
  • Queenslander, 7 Oct 1899, 9 July 1921
  • manuscript 4531, Fewings papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

E. Clarke, 'Fewings, Eliza Ann (1857–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 December, 1857
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England


11 October, 1940 (aged 82)
Bristol, Gloucestershire, England

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