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Bridport Family – Education Pioneers in Australia

The Greene family from Bridport is well known on the other side of the globe – as educators in Australia as it was emerging to nationhood. To have five sisters involved in the foundation and running of a school far from their native land must be a unique situation.

So it is that a girls’ college in Australia which dates from 1901 had its origin in Bridport. In that year Alice Greene and her sister Anne founded Moreton Bay Girls’ High School in Brisbane. At the age of 38, Alice was at the helm. But the family connection had not started there, for the school had actually been designed and built by their father.

On the school’s first roll there were 20-day scholars and six boarders: today, over 1,000 families are associated with the college, which is considered among the best independent girls’ schools in Australia.

But it has been a struggle. In 1944 the school was handed over by the Greene family to the Methodist church. In 1959 there were 167 pupils and the number increased to 180 in the early 1960’s. However, the roll later dropped to 125 and it was decided to close the college, although this decision was soon rescinded. The Uniting Church assumed responsibility and set up a new board with the local population strongly represented.

In 1980 the boarding section was closed down and the following year the enterprise moved to a new site. Things were changing for the better, and the year 2000 was a remarkable one, seeing notable successes in competitive athletics and in public speaking and debating. The college choir sang at the prestigious Choralfest in Melbourne.

Then in 2001 came the centenary of the college. The enrolment that year for pre-school to Year 12 was 1170 girls. In 2002 the college won a prestigious 70-year-old swimming championship. Early in 2003 the Moreton Bay Boys’ College opened its doors. The number of staff is now approximately 200.

In 2003 one of the college’s ‘Old Girls’, Quentin Bryce, was inducted as Governor of Queensland a post she held until 2008 when she was appointed Governor General of Australia.

Alice Jane Greene, the central figure of the story, was a native of Bridport, Dorset, born on July 26 1863. She was the daughter of John and Ellen (Webber-Greenham) Greene. Her father was a cabinetmaker and Grandfather Greene was a mariner. She went into teaching specialising in science and after the family moved to Cardiff in Wales she was senior mistress at Cardiff Higher School for five years. In the early 1890’s she and her sister Anne went out to Australia to join their father.

Anne and her sister Helah established a school and studio in Tenterfield in northern New South Wales where she taught general subjects, art and music. The school opened in February 1895. Their sister Alice who had been teaching at Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School joined Anne and Helah there.

In 1900 John Greene built a school in Wynnum, Queensland which was officially opened in 1901 as Moreton Bay Girls’ High School, Alice was the Principal, and remained in this post for an amazing 42 years. Her other sisters, Hilda and Elsie also taught there.

At some point, the name changed to Moreton Bay College, the name by which it is known today.

It seems that John Greene and Mary Ellen Greenham had 11 children. Ada, (who married James Diamond, of Cardiff, Wales and who remained in that country); Alice; Emily (who married Harold Wearn, a dentist and lived in Sydney, Australia), Mary (who married Herbert Kay, had two children and lived in Brisbane), Anne (also known as Ella, who did not marry, taught cello and violin and was the school housekeeper);Samuel, who was Mayor of Wynnum before it became part of Brisbane and married Ruth Hargreaves; John William (known as Will) who became Lord Mayor of Brisbane; Elsie (who did not marry and went to London University, became a bachelor of arts and then returned to teach general subjects at the school); Hilda (who did not marry but studied and taught music, returning to England to continue her studies and went back to teach at Moreton Bay in 1910); and Harold who worked in shipping, went to India and has descendants still living there.

Every great project has its pioneer, and it was Alice (known as Alice J. Alison Greene) who is actually credited with founding Moreton Bay College. She did not marry.

A special ‘In Memoriam’ edition of the school newsletter was published in 1967 but, frustratingly, there is no mention of Alice’s date of death so we must assume it was in that year. In Queensland public records of deaths go only back to 1954.

Alice’s first teaching position in Australia was at Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School in 1893-4; she resigned to go to Tenterfield in northern New South Wales to join her sisters Anne and Helah at a school there which was set up by Anne in 1895.

Anne Greene was an interesting person. Born in 1878 she was the fifth child of John Iley Greene and Mary Ellen Greenham. Anne had studied Art before leaving Britain for Australia. After she arrived in Australia she and her sister Helah established a school and studio in Tenterfield in northern New South Wales where she taught general subjects, art and music. The school opened in February 1895.

In 1911 Anne returned to Britain to further her studies and to work as an artist. She studied at the South Kensington Art School in London and had success as a still-life artist. She also spent time in Paris and later established a studio in Southampton.

While Anne was in Paris she became interested in eurhythmics, or the harmony of proportions, and later introduced it at Moreton Bay College on return to Australia.

With the outbreak of World War Two she was unable to return to France or go to Australia so she did not actually return to Queensland until after the war. After an accident her health became poor and she lived in a nursing home. She died in 1954.

This is the story of Dorset people who saw a land of need and opportunity 12,000 miles away. The Green sisters introduced a vastly improved and enlightened system of education to the girls of Queensland, with a curriculum including music, art, English, science and physical education. Throughout, the enterprise has been Christian-based. The family must have been very much faith-oriented.

Here we have a story of courage – of people leaving their home surroundings in the late 19th century to work on the other side of the world for the good of mankind and to become “First Australians”. They did not go there initially to improve themselves and their situations, but to improve those of others.

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