Collingwood Notables Database
Ella Tolhurst was the youngest daughter of Henry Tolhurst, an architect who was the surveyor and engineer for the City of Collingwood. The family moved into Clarke Street Abbotsford in the 1880s. Living in a substantial house with a tennis court, the four daughters were well occupied with home duties and social engagements among their many connections in the district, while the two surviving sons pursued careers in the law and surveying. Ella, however, broke away from the life lived by her three elder sisters to forge a professional career.
Ella studied at Ormiston Ladies College in East Melbourne and completed Matriculation examinations in 1892 and 1893. She then tutored the children of prominent architect, councillor and Member of Parliament William Pitt who lived nearby in Trenerry Crescent. She would have been well known to Mrs Pitt through her father’s council circles as well as mutual attendance at St Philip’s Anglican Church in Hoddle Street. In 1898 she was appointed as a teacher at Miss Hensley’s School, which became Melbourne Church of England Girls Grammar School a few years later.
After her father’s death in 1902, Ella continued living with her mother and five siblings in Clarke Street as well as spending time as a resident teacher with the boarders at the Grammar School. The name of the family home was changed to Greenhithe in remembrance of Mr Tolhurst’s birthplace. Ella resumed her studies while working full-time. At the University of Melbourne, she obtained first class honours in the School of Modern Languages, as well as a Diploma of Education, and was granted an M.A. Among her subjects were Greek, Latin, French and mathematics. Towards the end of 1911 she left MCEGGS when she was appointed Senior Mistress at Warrnambool Agricultural High School. Here the inspectors’ reports describe her as a skilled French teacher, but uninspiring when it came to English Literature. Her strong personality and refined manner were commented on. Ella spent just over a year in the state system, obtaining the position of headmistress of Rockhampton Girls Grammar School at the end of 1912. Five years later she was appointed headmistress of St Helier’s School for Girls in Orange, NSW, where she worked until 1922 or 1923. At the prize giving in December 1920 her speech outlined her educational philosophy and gives us some insight into her family:
The aim of education surely is to develop the powers that a child possesses, and I claim that we make an honest effort here to fulfil this aim, having due regard to each girl’s probable future. No girl here can truthfully say that she has been denied the opportunity of learning any school subject for which she showed aptitude; but … I refuse to force the study of uncongenial subjects on minds and temperaments totally unfitted for them. I myself grew up in a home where, along with a profound respect for education, there existed a horror of the woman who, while able to solve any mathematical problem, or to set anyone right on any matter of fact, history or philosophy, was less successful in her management or control of her own appearance, conversation or household. So that mental achievement was not regarded as necessarily desirable for a woman. Yet I ultimately found my way to the University, and I believe every girl whose tastes lie in that direction will do the same if she is not led to hate all study by the injudicious efforts of those who direct her early education. I have lived long enough to see the results of educational methods with which I have become Identified … I am proud to have taken part in the training of girls who faced peril and hardship in the theatre of war in Egypt, Serbia, France and at sea, and more than one of them have been decorated by the King for distinguished service. Not every girl has the capacity or opportunity for such service ... [or to] make a gift of £1000 to her old school ... But the same spirit can be traced in those whose lot lies in the quieter but no less important sphere of home —a spirit that has its origin in the desire for right things, in the early training in a sense of duty and a pleasurable and useful activity, with pleasure taking its due place, but not regarded as the only end in life.
Leader (Orange) 13 Dec 1920 p. 2
The 1920s was a difficult time for the family. First sister Harriet died in 1921, aged 60, followed by Alf the following year aged 55. Charles who had been living with his wife in Clifton Hill died in 1924, possibly spending his last days in an asylum. Ella and her remaining two sisters Emily and Catherine packed up the old family home in 1925 and moved with their mother to Elsternwick where Mrs Tolhurst died before they had scarcely settled in. But the surprises in Ella’s life were not yet over. In 1928 she married Robert Heaney, a well-known golfer. The wedding took place in Colombo but the couple took up residence in Elsternwick, sharing their marital home with Emily and Catherine.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|14 July 1877||Eaglehawk, Victoria|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|Robert James Heaney||1928||None|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|Clarke Street, corner St Helier's Street||Abbotsford||Demolished|
|St Philip's Anglican, Abbotsford|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
Mercury and Weekly Courier; The Age; Fitzroy City Press; Melbourne Punch; The Australasian; The Telegraph (Brisbane); The Capricornian (Rockhampton); Leader (Orange).
MMBW Detail Plan No. 1285; VPRS 10061/P0 Teacher Registration file; VPRS 11354/P1, Unit 14, Teacher cards (non-Government Schools); VPRS 13718, Teacher Record 16866.