Collingwood Notables Database
Mary Ann Clarke Shakespeare
Mary Ann Shakespeare, born to an illiterate mother in London’s East End, operated a private school in her parents’ house in Collingwood in the 1870s and 1880s. While a school run by an unmarried daughter was fairly common at the time, the duration of Mary Ann’s school in comparison to most in Collingwood was unusual. Her family also serves to demonstrate the localised and close-knit nature of life in nineteenth century Collingwood, as well as the expanded opportunities available to British immigrants in the more egalitarian colony.
Her father, William Shakespeare, hailed from Henley-on-Arden in Warwickshire. After moving to London, he was employed by a glass manufacturer, probably the man who was the father of his future wife, Ann. With their four children, William and Ann arrived in Melbourne in February 1855 and by the late 1850s William was the owner of three timber houses in Cambridge Street, Collingwood, where he was a hay and corn dealer until his death in 1874. He also owned a shop and dwelling around the corner in Peel Street where the eldest son Edward would live and establish his saddlery business after his marriage. Mary Ann was their second child and only daughter.
Whether the Shakespeare children had attended school in London is unknown, but they obviously had the opportunity to go to school in Collingwood, and had plenty of choice near their residence. When they settled in the densely populated part of Collingwood around Cambridge Street, there were two National Schools just a stone’s throw away in Peel Street; if, on the other hand, her parents had wanted something smaller or more genteel for their daughter, they might have considered one of the many little private schools in the area, such as Mrs Fookes’ in Oxford Street, or Mrs Wheeler’s in Wellington Street. These would also have provided a model for Mary Ann’s own school.
Miss Shakespeare’s school existed from at least 1878 until 1891, and thus was fairly long-lived for a little Collingwood school. There is a clue that it could have been operating earlier: a reference to ‘Brother Shakespeare’s schoolroom’ as the venue for the Rechabites meeting of the Undaunted Tent, first listed in the Sands and McDougall Directory of 1869 (Her father William, a Temperance supporter, was a member of the friendly society known as the Independent Order of Rechabites, which his son Edward also joined). Miss Shakespeare’s school may therefore have been the longest-lasting single-teacher private school in Collingwood.
Following the introduction of compulsory schooling from 1873, the education bureaucracy gradually began exercising more control over, or at least keeping records of, non-state educational institutions, partly to help keep track of truancy. From 1878 private school operators were obliged to submit a return to the Ministry of Public Instruction, and so we know that Mary Ann’s enrolments numbered around 40 most years, and that the majority of her pupils were girls. The fact that she already had 40 pupils in 1878 is another indicator that the school might have been operating prior to this date, but apart from these scanty statistics, there is virtually no information available about the school. The Shakespeares would have been well-known to their neighbours so word-of-mouth would have ensured sufficient enrolments without the need for advertising.
While her three brothers were getting to know local girls from the Wellington Street shops near the family residence, and eventually marrying into those well-known Collingwood families, a pattern that was to continue into the next generation of the Shakespeare family, Mary Ann remained a spinster until later in her life.
The school closed in 1891 because she married George Stone, an elderly widower and Brunswick Street confectioner, and moved to his comfortable house in Charles Street Fitzroy. His children were opposed to the marriage and were perhaps justified, as George blew out his brains with a revolver just a few weeks after the marriage, an incident reported on in detail in The Argus. His daughter claimed he had been not sound in his mind at times, so we should not necessarily think that Mary Ann was to blame for his extreme action.
Mary Ann moved back into her mother’s house, and there she died suddenly in 1899. Some members of the family remained in Collingwood well into the twentieth century. The site of the Shakespeare’s three houses in Cambridge Street has been developed by the City of Yarra as a ‘pocket park’, known as the Cambridge Street Reserve.
Note that this biography updates some elements in the entry on Miss Shakespeare’s school in Bitter roots, sweet fruit, and corrects her identity.
|Birth Date||Birth Place|
|c. 1845||Poplar, Tower Hamlets, England|
|Spouse Name||Date of Marriage||Children|
|George Stone (c. 1818-1891)||29 July 1891||None|
|Home Street||Home City||Status of Building|
|102 Cambridge Street||Collingwood||Demolished|
|Death Date||Death Place||Cemetery|
|7 April 1899||Collingwood||MGC|
Report of the Minister of Public Instruction, 1879-1891; Bitter roots, sweet fruit; The Argus; The Australasian; Riverine Herald; The Mercury; Sands & McDougall’s Melbourne and suburban directory for 1869, p.709.