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Sarah (Sally) Hynes (1859–1938)

by Claire Hooker

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Sarah Hynes, n.d.

Sarah Hynes, n.d.

University of Sydney

Sarah (Sally) Hynes (1859-1938), botanist and teacher, was born on 30 September 1859 at Danzig, Prussia (Gda´nsk, Poland) one of three children of William John Hynes (1831-1909), a master mariner born on Gibraltar, and his wife Eliza Adeline, née Bell. Educated at Edinburgh Ladies' College, at Upton House, St John's Wood, London, and at Chichester College, Sussex, Sarah received a botanical certificate from South Kensington Museum, Science and Art Department. She came to Sydney about 1884 when her father became managing director of the Australasian Steam Navigation Co. At the University of Sydney (B.A., 1891) she studied physics, chemistry, natural history, botany, zoology and mathematics, majoring in botany. In 1892 she was elected an associate member of the Linnean Society of New South Wales. She was also a member of the fund-raising committee for the building of Women's College, at the university.

Hynes began teaching at Sydney Technical College in July 1897. A supporter of the Sydney Technological (Powerhouse) Museum, she and Georgina King helped to supply fresh flowers for its botanical display. In this way she formed an acquaintance with the director Joseph Henry Maiden and in 1898 accepted a position as botanical assistant at the museum, becoming the first woman to hold a government appointment in science in New South Wales. When Maiden became director of the Botanic Gardens she transferred to the herbarium there, where she identified, classified, catalogued, preserved and displayed specimens for public education and private investigation, having responsibility for class teaching also.

Within a few months, however, Hynes clashed with her male superiors, beginning with a demand for a higher grading and salary (awarded in 1901) and continuing over display decisions and the use of equipment. In 1905 she was suspended when the Public Service Board levied thirty-nine charges of insubordination against her. In one, she was accused of using the 'unladylike' expression 'a lowdown, dirty larrikin trick'. She denied that this was 'unladylike'. The charges were disproved and Hynes was reinstated, but a similar suspension and inquiry in 1910 led to her transfer to the Department of Public Instruction.

Praised by Maiden for her valuable aid in the preface to his Forest Flora, her botanical work led William Fitzgerald to name a species of acacia (Acacia hynesiana) after her in 1912. In 1913 she taught at schools in Cleveland Street and at Petersham, and from 1916 to her retirement in 1923 at St George Girls' High School, where 'Sally Hynes' was affectionately remembered by students for her enthusiasm and support.

Hynes held strong feminist and political opinions; her expression of these, in person and in writing, was forthright and piquant. Continuing her father's active connexion with the National Association, she was prominent in the Randwick branch of the National and later the United Australia associations. Sarah Hynes was honorary organizer of the campaign in 1921 to request the Federal government to purchase her friend Ellis Rowan's paintings.

Said to have been in the 1920s one of the earliest women to drive a Citroën car in Sydney, she never married but all her adult life cared for an older, mentally disabled sister. Hynes was a founder and in 1933 senior vice-president of the Forum Club, Sydney. In 1934 she was appointed M.B.E. She died on 27 May 1938 at her Randwick home and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • N. J. Kyle (ed), Women as Educators in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Australia (Wollongong, NSW, 1989)
  • Australian Town and Country Journal, 28 July 1909, p 39, 11 Jan 1911, p 32
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 13 Sept 1916, p 6
  • United Australia Review, 21 July 1933, p 21
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Dec 1923, p 4, 1 Jan 1934, p 8, 14 Jan 1937, p 20
  • Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 13 Jan 1934, p 20
  • Powerhouse Museum (Sydney) archives.

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Citation details

Claire Hooker, 'Hynes, Sarah (Sally) (1859–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Sarah Hynes, n.d.

Sarah Hynes, n.d.

University of Sydney

Life Summary [details]


30 September, 1859
Gdansk, Poland


27 May, 1938 (aged 78)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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