Australian Dictionary of Biography

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May Isabella Weatherly (1868–1950)

by Heather B. Ronald

This article was published:

May Isabella Weatherly (1868-1950), headmistress, was born on 22 May 1868 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest of three children of Bolton Stafford Bird, clergyman, and his Scottish-born wife Helen, née Chisholm. Educated in Hobart and at Methodist Ladies College, Kew, Melbourne, she matriculated in 1893 and taught at M.L.C. until 1895 when she went to Rockhampton Girls' Grammar School, Queensland, for a year. Enrolling at the University of Tasmania (B.A., 1904), she taught part-time at Hobart schools while studying for her degree.

Senior mistress from 1904 at Queen's College, Ballarat, in 1907 May Bird became headmistress of New England Girls' School at Armidale, New South Wales. Her stay was short: she left after one quarter and, on 16 July, at St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, married James Weatherly, a Scottish-born grazier of Wallaloo Park, Stawell, Victoria. He was a 63-year-old widower with five daughters, one of whom she had taught and comforted on the death of the previous Mrs Weatherly. When James died in 1914, May returned to Tasmania to stay with her parents on Bruny Island. There she found peace and happiness, and continued to live on the island after her mother and father died.

Having long advocated formal education in 'home management', in 1928 Mrs Weatherly left Bruny Island to become the founding principal of a new homecraft hostel which eventually found a permanent location at Invergowrie, Hawthorn, Melbourne. This large bluestone house and extensive garden was presented to the Association of Headmistresses of Girls' Registered Secondary Schools of Victoria by the family and trustees of the Sir William McPherson estate. May Weatherly had a great rapport with the young and a talent for bringing out the best in them. She 'guided the hostel through the first difficult years, as perhaps no one else could have done' and gave professional training to future housewives. In 1932 Miss Margaret Kirkhope joined her as co-principal and in 1938 Mrs Weatherly retired.

During World War II she took on the voluntary task of organizing a day nursery in South Yarra (sponsored by the Women of the University Patriotic Fund) which provided care for the children of mothers engaged in essential war work. At the request of the Melbourne Technical College, she also prepared and corrected papers for a correspondence course in home-making offered to women in the armed services.

In retirement she lived at Malvern with her sister Ann, widow of Rev. A. H. Garnsey; Mrs Weatherly died there on 2 November 1950 and was cremated. In 1957 the May I. Weatherly Memorial Hall was added to Invergowrie; her portrait hangs in the main house, occupied in the 1980s by the Victorian Post-Secondary Education Commission.

Select Bibliography

  • New England Girls' School, Milestones and Memories (Armidale, 1945)
  • Truth (Melbourne), 15 June 1929
  • University of Tasmania Library Archives
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Heather B. Ronald, 'Weatherly, May Isabella (1868–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bird, May Isabella

22 May, 1868
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


2 November, 1950 (aged 82)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.