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Lucy Arabella Garvin (1851–1938)

by Jennifer Rowse

This article was published:

Lucy Arabella Stocks Garvin (1851-1938), headmistress, was born on 28 January 1851 in England, daughter of Frederick Wheatley-Walker, gentleman, and his wife Catherine, née Stocks. She was probably partly brought up on the Isle of Man. According to tradition she trained as a governess in England and came to Australia under the patronage of Professor Charles Badham. She was living in Sydney when she was chosen by Badham from twenty-two applicants, and appointed headmistress of the new public High School for Girls in Sydney, at a salary of £400, on 20 August 1883.

The new school shared the premises of the old St James Denominational School in Elizabeth Street with the new Boys' High School under Joseph Coates; the boys moved out in 1892 and the girls took over the whole building. In October 1883 Miss Wheatley-Walker started with 39 pupils; they had increased to 87 by January 1884—among them were Ethel Turner and Louise Mack. At first her relations with the Department of Public Instruction were always smooth: she was reprimanded for minor inaccuracies in remitting fees and for being seen outside the school in school hours. She had a continuing feud with Dr Thibault, the visiting French master, which resulted in a flurry of letters to the department. Meanwhile Miss Wheatley-Walker besieged the department with requests, not always granted, to make the old building more satisfactory for staff and girls. After raising £10 at a cake and apron fair, she, asked for another £10 to start a library—books of reference and 'a large number of good storybooks, and standard authors, which may encourage a taste for literature and induce a love of reading'. The request was granted.

At St Jude's Anglican Church, Randwick, on 23 June 1891, Lucy Wheatley-Walker married William Charles Garvin, a 30-year-old draftsman. As Mrs Garvin she continued as headmistress: she had brief accouchement leave for the births of her sons—in 1892, 1895 and 1897. On 27 February 1898 her husband died.

As the years passed Mrs Garvin became an institution at the Sydney Girls' High School. Distinguished-looking, with wavy hair, she had great presence and was quietly formidable, not needing to raise her voice to exert her authority. She dressed well and 'always loved rings'. Her older girls discovered her kindness and humour. She always expected the best from her pupils and 'taught them what it meant to be a citizen of the British Empire. Again and again during the war she rallied them to the call', raising money for war charities. In 1919 she was appointed 'officier d'Académie' by the French government. Keenly interested in her old girls, Mrs Garvin encouraged them to take an active interest in the school.

In 1911 Mrs Garvin admitted to the department that she had been born in 1851 not 1855; henceforth her appointment was renewed annually until January 1919, despite a petition from her staff that Mrs Garvin had lost none of 'her enthusiasm and energy' and that the influence of her strong personality is 'still the source of inspiration that it has so long been to a large number of the most highly educated women of this State'. Over 4000 girls had passed through her hands; various presentations were made to her.

In December 1919 Mrs Garvin was appointed principal of St Chad's Church of England Girls' School, Cremorne (later Redlands). She resigned late in 1922 and next year went to England where her eldest son was living; she visited Sydney in 1928. Lucy Garvin died at Meols, Wirral, Cheshire, on 20 January 1938. She was survived by her eldest son; the youngest had been killed in action in France while serving with the British Army.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Poole (ed), The Diaries of Ethel Turner (Syd, 1979)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1919, 21 Dec 1933, 10, 15 Feb 1938
  • school files and special high school files 20/12749, 12750 (State Records New South Wales)
  • S.G.H.S. Archives
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Jennifer Rowse, 'Garvin, Lucy Arabella (1851–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 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]

Alternative Names
  • Wheatley-Walker, Lucy Arabella

28 January, 1851


20 January, 1938 (aged 86)
Meols, Wirral, Cheshire, England

Cultural Heritage

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