19th Century SCEGGS Girl

A window into the past
Hi there, I’m Emily, the new intern in the Business Office. As an intern, I find myself doing a myriad of tasks all for the purpose of gaining experience and lending a hand. One of these tasks is aiding Prue Heath in Archives.

Now to begin with, I believe the Archives office should not be named an Archives office at all, naming it a Treasure Trove, or a Brief History of 20th Century Australia would be much more appropriate.

Whilst I am only cataloguing the public research files, there have been gems of interesting information hiding between the yellowing envelopes - newspaper clippings, letters and diaries - which shine a light on the lives of ex-students, ex-teachers and their families.

One life these records took me to, was Kate Waddy. Whilst only here a brief time, Kate attended SCEGGS from 1899 to 1900. Kate wrote letters to a friend regarding her life as a SCEGGS Boarder.

Archive Article Kate Waddy Letters October 1889

Now Kate regarded the Boarding House as a “prison”. Although it seems to me, reading these letters, the Boarders had a rather full and exciting agenda. For example, they undertook leisurely visits to Bondi Beach and Manly with a spot of paddling and a picnic; played tennis, rowed with the girls and travelled into town for shopping, painstakingly deciding on a fancy dress for the upcoming ball.

Of course, the trials of a teenager don’t finish there. I couldn’t help but grin when she wrote to her friend “I am sure Keith Doyle never saw me kiss Fred Haydon”. Or wondering who sent her an anonymous invitation to The King’s School sporting event. Or sending apologies to Bruce as she didn’t invite him to a dance – on account of him not enjoying dancing.

These adventures were not faced alone. One of the frequent characters in Kate’s letters is Pearl Haydon. They become roommates in Kate’s second year at SCEGGS. It isn’t long till they are arranging camping trips for the school holidays, and Kate is having to wait for her one afternoon as “Pearl bought nearly every shop out”.

Another frequent character is James Hilton Doyle. Hilton as he preferred to be called, was a friend from her childhood who offered Kate a bit of friendly tennis rivalry and was a bike riding companion, With a little deduction, I discovered Hilton was also later to be Pearl’s husband.

It seems to me that the life Kate lived in the 19th Century was not so unfamiliar as a teenage girl from the 21st Century might live today.

Certainly, the vernacular and fashion might be quite different, although I can picture Kate on the train to Town Hall, shopping in Pitt Street Mall or even down at the beach with Pearl and her friends.

Emily Buckley