New Accession: Letters of a Lady Schoolteacher in Maryborough, 1884-1887

The John Oxley Library recently received a wonderful collection of correspondence written by Jane Ann Dunbar, a young teacher at the Maryborough Girls’ Grammar School during the 1880s.  Jane was twenty years old when she migrated to Australia from Hertfordshire, England, to take up the position as second mistress at the school.  The letters, written to her family in England, provide a fascinating insight into life in Maryborough and a moving and eloquent account of the feelings of a young girl in  a strange land, separated from her family.  Often the voices of women are rarely heard in historical documents so it is lovely to have this firsthand account of life in colonial Queensland.

The following is a letter to her parents, 10 May 1884

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar letter, 10 May 1884. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar was born in 1864 in Hertfordshire England, the daughter of Lewis and Jane Dunbar.  She attended the Buxton Lodge School in Luton, and then the North London Collegiate School for Girls.  The latter is generally recognized as the first girls’ school in the United Kingdom to offer girls the same educational opportunities as boys.

Jane Ann Dunbar's school report from the North London Collegiate School for Girls, 1881

Jane Ann Dunbar's school report from the North London Collegiate School for Girls, 1881

After first teaching at a school in Jersey, Jane emigrated to Australia in early 1884 on board the ship “Ballarat” to take up a teaching position at the Girls’ Grammar School in Maryborough where she taught from 1884 to 1887.  Her letters home to England cover this period and beyond.  In a letter to her mother, dated 6th October 1884 she writes “It is a great mistake about the Colonials being so hospitable and kind as far as Maryborough people are concerned.  It is all right in the bush but here in the town and at the houses within a radius of a few miles are nothing but gossips and mischief makers….I had no idea the world was such a wicked place until I came here”.  Further in the letter she writes “Of all the towns in the world populated by English people I think Maryborough is the worst – A more disagreeable faultfinding, mischief making and drunken place I never want to see.”

Maryborough, ca. 1885

Maryborough, ca. 1885

Maryborough Girls' Grammar School, ca. 1910. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 1069667

Maryborough Girls' Grammar School, ca. 1910

Maryborough Girls' Grammar School, ca. 1890. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Neg 17534

Maryborough Girls' Grammar School, ca. 1890

In late 1887 she left the Grammar School to marry Robert John Boyle, a music teacher.  The following letter was sent to her parents regarding her engagement.

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Jane Ann Dunbar Letter, 10 May 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

In 1893, with three children, the family moved to Bundaberg where Jane established a school for girls.  In 1896 Robert sold his piano and the family moved to a small dairy farm at Barolin.  In 1898 they moved to a larger house at Sharon, eight miles from Bundaberg.  In 1900 their sixth child was born but Jane continued going to her school at Bundaberg, traveling an hour and a half both ways.  In 1906 the school was sold and in 1908 the family bought land on the Burnett River, six miles from Gin Gin, where they lived for the next twenty-six years.

Temporary shelter erected on the Boyle land on the Burnett River.

Temporary shelter erected on the Boyle land on the Burnett River.

Jane did eventually travel home to England to visit her family in 1923.  She and Robert spent their later years in Brisbane, living at Wynnum North.  Robert died in 1931 and Jane in 1951.

The collection also includes correspondence from two of Jane and Robert’s sons; Lewis Charles Boyle and Robert Alexander Boyle, both of whom were involved in the First World War.  Lewis Boyle was a gunner in the 3rd Field Artillery Brigade serving in France and Belgium.  After the war he married a Scottish girl, Jean, bringing her to Queensland to settle on the Burnett River farm.  They had twelve children.

Lewis Charles Boyle

Lewis Charles Boyle

Another son, Robert Alexander Boyle (Robin), trained as a chemist at the University of Queensland, and was based in England during World War I at the Avonmouth gas factory working on mustard gas.  He was awarded the British Empire Medal for this dangerous work.  The collection includes letters from both sons writing to their Grandmother in England.

The Dunbar and Boyle Family Correspondence, Acc: 29404, Box 10734, may be viewed at the John Oxley Library.