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Sarah Windsor

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 8 months, 2 weeks ago

Time Travellers in Essendon, Flemington and the Keilor Plains



Mrs Windsor’s Life Among Books


by Lenore Frost


I would like to acknowledge Jane Duckworth, a great-great granddaughter of Sarah Windsor, whose detailed and meticulous family history research forms the basis for the background material on Sarah Windsor, and who also provided many of the illustrations for the talk at the Sam Merrifield Library in August 2018 on which this article is based. Other material is drawn from earlier articles I wrote on this website about local libraries. 


In 1892, in the days when library committees were determined to stamp out creative writing, Mrs Sarah Windsor became the first professional librarian in Essendon. I will return to the disdain for fiction a little later. Mrs Windsor’s association with what became the Essendon Public Library had begun ten years earlier in 1882, when she was appointed to be the caretaker at the recently built Essendon and Flemington Institute, also called the Essendon Athenaeum, and the Moonee Ponds Institute.   In 1884 the Institute sold the building to the Borough of Essendon.  After an acrimonious divorce from the Flemington end of the Borough (irreconcilable differences) the Borough of Essendon was in need of new Council Chambers and Town Hall, and the Essendon and Flemington Institute fitted the bill, being central to the new Borough, and offering a spacious interior and charming exterior, having been designed by the architect J J Clark.


During negotiations for the purchase of the building in January and February of 1884, it was agreed,


council to covenant to keep up the library on a similar basis to the present one’.  Further, ‘that the library shall be managed by a joint committee of the council and representatives of the subscribers to the library. It was decided, after an animated discussion, that the council and library committee should meet in conference, with a view to settling the matter.


It seems there was no designated librarian at this time, and the library managed by the committee.  When the accounts were being settled after the sale to the Council in 1884, ‘The committee, in consideration of the valuable services rendered by their energetic secretary, Mr. G. Macartney during the past six years, voted that gentleman a sum of £50. The caretaker, Mrs. Windsor, was also presented with £5 for services rendered’.


This detail from a Charles Nettleton photo of the south end of the Essendon Town Hall, dated circa 1885-1887, shows “Public Library” and “Reading Room” painted on the glass of the upper storey windows.  Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria Collection, H4521; LTAF 858.  See the full photo http://handle.slv.vic.gov.au/10381/173265


We can see that Sarah Windsor was employed as a caretaker of presumably the hall and the library by the Institute, and retained that position when ownership of the building passed to the Council. We know in later times that the post of caretaker came with a residence in the building, and this would have been a major benefit to a widow with two small children, but the building was still under construction when the Council took it over.  In 1884 Mrs Windsor was listed in the Sands & McDougall directory living in Brennan St, now Aspen St, not far from the new Town Hall.


Over the next eight years the library grew beyond the capacity of the library committee to operate it as volunteers, and thus Sarah Windsor was given the opportunity to morph into a librarian.  In 1892 the library would have only been open two or three days a week, and some evenings, and she may also have continued as the Town Hall Keeper, possibly improving her earning capacity. 


Apart from the benefit of being on the spot when the job of librarian was on offer in 1892, was Sarah qualified in any other way to fill the position?


Well, yes she was.  Rather surprisingly, for the daughter of a Van Diemen’s land convict, Sarah was well educated with some knowledge of libraries and books.


Sarah was born in Launceston in 1850, the daughter of Thomas Stubbs and Mary Ann Girle.  In 1830  Thomas was convicted at the Old Bailey for the theft of bed-linen from his boarding house. He pawned the linen in a local pawnbroker’s shop, giving the reason as being in distress, and intending to return the goods to the boarding house keeper. On another occasion he stole two carriage lamps.   Stubbs was sentenced to 7 years transportation. 


Stubbs was then aged 25, and a saddler and harness maker.  His native place was London, and he was taken from the Middlesex Gaol for the Convict ship “John” which arrived in Launceston in January 1831. In February 1836, five and a half years later, he received a Conditional Pardon.   A few short years after this Thomas went into a saddlery and harness-making business in partnership with John Tevelein in Charles St, Launceston. 


In 1836 Thomas Stubbs was left a bequest in the will of his aunt Mrs Elizabeth Ives.  As he was a felon, the Crown instituted a case in the Court of Chancery to claim those funds, and Thomas left Launceston to return to England to make his own claim for the bequest.  It is not clear at this stage whether he won the case, but it is interesting to note that after Thomas was done with the case,  he boarded a ship to return to his life and business in Launceston. His future was in the new colony. 


An important thing to note from this bequest is that Thomas was not from the very poorest of the thieving classes of England.  His father was a goldsmith, and family members were property owners.  We can only assume he was having a run of bad luck when he turned to theft. 


On the way home from England on the “Union Queen”, bad weather drove the ship onto rocks at Flinders Island.  All were saved, however and Thomas returned safely to Launceston. 


In March 1842, Thomas Stubbs attended an inaugural meeting of the Launceston Mechanics Institute and Library.  His partner John Tevelein likewise attended that meeting and was elected to the committee.

In May 1847 a meeting was held of those who supported a petition to cease transportation, and the extension of an elective legislature to Van Diemen’s Land.   A long list of attendees was appended, with the commentary:   


From the above list it will be seen that the meeting comprised twenty-two justices of the peace, ministers of the gospel, country residents from a number of districts, the leading mercantile and professional gentlemen of Launceston, and many of the most respectable tradesmen and mechanics.”  


And at least one former convict.  You would have to regard Thomas’s attendance at that meeting as a bit cheeky.


The Tevelein family and Thomas Stubbs attended many progressive meetings of this sort in Launceston, supporting temperance, the benevolent society and so on.  Stubbs’ interest in the formation of the Mechanics Institute attests to his interest in reading, even if only the newspapers of the day.


And in 1842, at the Wesleyan Chapel in Patterson St, Launceston, Thomas Stubbs, 37, married Mary Ann Girle, aged 17. 


Mary Ann Girle had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land aged 11 with her mother, Mary Martha Girle and two brothers in 1836.  My reading of the available documents is that Mary Martha Girle was hiding out in Hobart from her husband.  She claimed to be a widow on the passenger list, did not respond to letters from her husband’s family, and even married later on.  The second marriage fell apart some years later when her husband turned up in Hobart.


On their arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Mrs Girle took up a position as sub-matron of the Queen’s Orphan School.   Two of the children, including Mary Ann, were admitted to the school, Mrs Girle again claiming their father was dead. 


Historically, the Queen’s Orphan School was notorious for harsh conditions. The cat-o-nine-tails was used to punish boys, one unfortunate lad receiving 31 lashes, it was discovered during an enquiry. The buildings were sparsely furnished and cold; food was often in short supply; Epidemics of scarlet fever in the 1840s exacted a heavy toll among the children in the Orphan School; and many of those responsible for caring for the children treated them harshly. Mrs Girle herself complained of treatment of herself by a Mr Gazard, another teacher at the school. Before that particular complaint was made, her daughter Mary Anne was recorded as residing in the home of Ely Gazard and his family in 1837.  Mary Ann was aged 12, though her age was recorded as 14.   Teachers in those days were trained on the job, as apprentices.  They participated in the teaching of younger children, and received tuition from more senior teachers at night.  Mary Ann’s presence in the Gazard household was likely to have been connected to being trained as a teacher.


By 1839 Mrs Girle had reason to complain about Mr Gazard, and she began looking about for another situation.   That situation arose when the Frederick St Infant School looked for a new teachers to replace a husband and wife team whose health had failed.  The numbers at the school had declined from around 70 pupils to 30.   Mrs Girle and her daughter Mary Ann applied for positions at the school, and relocated to Launceston in May 1840.


Although Mary Ann married Thomas Stubbs in 1842, Mrs Girle and her daughter are still reported running the Frederick St Infant School in 1846.  This year was the last time the Girles were mentioned in connection with the school.  Mrs Girle’s son Samuel also engaged in a teaching career, teaching in several schools in country areas around Launceston.


In January 1848 Mrs Girle remarried, which probably allowed her to give up teaching.  Mary Ann, now Mrs Stubbs and married to a former convict twenty years her senior, put in a solid effort in populating the colony, having seven children in the next ten years.  She might have gone on to produce even more, given that she was by this time only 27, but her husband Thomas Stubbs died in 1853 aged only 48 of a lung disease.


At the time of her father’s death, Sarah Stubbs was only two years old, one of only two children of Thomas and Mary Anne Stubbs who survived to adulthood.   Her mother Mary Anne remarried in 1855 to Andrew Gillan, a Scottish baker.


To summarise Sarah’s background to this point, despite her father having been transported to Van Diemen’s Land both her parents were educated, and from lower middle-class families.  Her father was a business-man, and on her mother’s side there were several generations of teachers.


Sarah Stubbs was evidently also raised to be a teacher, and it is thought that she worked as a governess at the Archer property, Woolmers, at Longford in Tasmania.  Also working at Woolmers was William Windsor, coachman.  As an aside, my own great-great-great grandfather also worked at Woolmers as the coachman, so Jane Duckworth's ancestors and mine both occupied the coachman’s residence at Woolmers, though at different times. 

Sarah Stubbs, circa 1867 in Tasmania.  Courtesy of Jane Duckworth.


Sarah and William married in Launceston in 1874, and their first child, Will, was born there in 1875.  Their second child, Florence, was born in Carlton in Victoria in 1878.   Their third child Laurence Rosewell Girle Windsor was born in Essendon in 1880 a few months after his father William died of typhoid fever. 


It is perhaps surprising that Sarah did not return to her family in Launceston after her husband's death – perhaps she had no money to afford the fares at the time, but with two small children to support, she needed to find work.  In 1880 the newly built Essendon and Flemington Institute, also known as the Essendon Athenaeum, opened on a triangular piece of land at the junction of Mt Alexander and Pascoe Vale Roads.  It was to be a cultural and social institution and included a library.  


The reference to Mrs Windsor receiving five pounds for services rendered establishes the  beginning of her long association with the Essendon Council and the Essendon Public Library.  At this time, and for some time afterwards, her role was more properly described as caretaker, but her association with the library also dates from this early period.   Although Mrs Windsor’s primary duties were not as a librarian she may have attended to the opening and closing the library.


 As there was an agreement to maintain the library on the same basis, we can assume that early arrangements in the Essendon Public Library were much the same for the earlier Institute library.


 Essendon Public Library 1884-1940


The formal handing over of the Essendon and Flemington Institute Library occurred in August 1884.  We learn a little more of the operation of the library from a report delivered in 1885.  The library was open for limited hours, from 3 till 5 pm, and 7 till 10 pm.  Mrs Windsor was the attendant, and prepared to take subscriptions for the lending library.  It was probably not open on Sundays.


The 1885 report indicated that they had only 57 subscribing members on the roll who could avail themselves of the lending library.  The rest of the residents so inclined could call in and use the reading room, either to browse through newspapers and magazines, read books, and play chess or draughts. The fee to use the lending library was 10 shillings for men, and 5 shillings for women and youths under 16 years. At this time donations of either money or books was a normal part of the operation of a free library. The financial part of the report mentions subscriptions and donations amounting to £34/10/0 and a government subsidy of £5/1/2/6.


The committee was pleased to report ‘an increased number of books, comprising very many standard works of universal interest, in addition to a large supply of the latest fiction and general literature together with English, American, and Victorian illustrated and periodical literature, including the Graphic and Harper's Monthly.  They appealed to the residents to join the library as subscribers and thus increase the amount of funds available to continue stocking the library.  The need to attract subscribers tended to push the libraries in the direction of the more popular but less well-regarded novels.


We know a little about the type of books in the Essendon Public Library collection.  In 1888 an  Essendon Councillor and member of the Essendon Public Library committee, Edward Dale Puckle, wrote to the Kensington Public Library, saying:  "I have presented to the Essendon Public Library most of the books in the enclosed list, and I shall be happy to donate to the Public Library of your borough as many of them as may be obtainable in Melbourne at the present time, if the managing body like to accept them. The following are some of the books referred to:- 


"Life of Dr. Arnold, by Dean Stanley

Tom Brown's School Days, by T. Hughes, M.P.

Life of Christ, by Archdeacon Farrar

James Nasmyth [engineer: an autobiography], by [Samuel] Smiles, [1883]

Sinai and Palestine, by Dean Stanley

“Rob Roy” on the Jordan, by Macgregor, [1874]

Julian Home: [a college story], by Archdeacon Farrar

Memorials of Washington Abbey, by Dean Stanley

Thrown Together, by F[lorence] Montgomery

Misunderstood, by the same Author

Life of Paul, by Aid Fanae [sic, Frederic William Farrer]

Early Days of Christianity, by same Author

Nineveh and Babylon by [Austen Henry] Layard, [1867]

The Poetical Works of Frances Ridley Havergall

History of Christian Names, by C. M. Tonge

The Verity of Christ's Resurrection, by [Thomas] Cooper

Present Day Tracts and Biblical Things not Generally Known, by various writers

Thoughts at Fourscore, by Cooper

In the Days of Thy Youth, by Archdeacon Farrar

Danesbury House, by Mrs. H. Wood, [1860]

Great African Travellers, by Kingstone

In the Golden Days, by Edina Lyall

Life of Bishop Hannington, by Dauson

and numerous others of an equally interesting character".


 Edward Dale Puckle was a relieving bank manager, and later a bank inspector for the London Commercial Bank of Australia. He was also a Justice of the Peace, sitting in the local court, and was a Sunday School teacher for many years at St Thomas’ Church of England in Moonee Ponds where his father had been the minister.  Puckle’s choice of books, mainly of a religious or improving character, was leavened by a handful of novels by ladies, whose works were regarded as “conservative and Christian”, such as those by Mrs Henry Wood, and Florence Montgomery.


At the opening of the Flemington and Kensington Free Library in 1883 we get the following report:

Mr. Deakin, who was received with cheers, said that he felt proud to attend for the noble purpose of opening the library, which he felt sure would be most beneficial to the people of the district, who he hoped would use their utmost endeavors in promoting the interests of the grand institution they were now about to establish. He earnestly approved of libraries, and hoped that the present one would be a success. Free libraries were the means of making the poorest portion of a population intellectual, because they could obtain knowledge without paying for it. He, however, thought that in the colony there was too great a tendency to devour unwholesome light trashy reading. This was to be lamented, and he hoped that the young members of the new library would partly ignore light reading, and endeavor to wrestle with the more instructive and useful literature, which, although sometimes ponderous, would be in the end the most profit able and pleasing. He heartily wished prosperity to the movement, and expressed his intention of donating to the library 12 volumes of some useful English works’.


Councillor Barrett, in 1887, was reported as saying:


“Efforts are being made at Newmarket to establish a library and reading room……. Such institutions are of great advantage to any district blessed with them, and their influence on the morality and respectability of its inhabitants, weaned from the pernicious practice of street roaming at night, and even if they pass their time in the library, only in the perusal of sea-novels and the records of the deeds of North American Indians, it is time infinitely better spent than chewing cigar butts, rendering the footway loathsome, and remarking on the appearance of every unprotected female.  The selection of books is an important question, and one that needs careful consideration. It is no use cramming the shelves with works on theology and philosophy which no one will look at; and, on the other hand, a library full of works of fiction, is simply a vitiating of people's mental health with literary sweetmeats.


Contemptible sea novels and stories of North American Indians were not regarded as suitable reading.


When the boys did leave the streets and come to the library, another wave of outrage occurred at their bad behaviour in the library, and they were doubtless expelled into the street again.


The Community Heritage Collection of the Moonee Valley Library Service, held at the Sam Merrifield Library, Moonee Ponds, holds one other clue to the nature of the Essendon Public Library holdings: a book called The Earthly paradise, by  William Morris   published in 1872.  This is described as an epic poem, featuring mythologies from Greece and Scandinavia.


The Early Paradise by William Morris,  from the original collection of the Essendon Public Library.

It was published in 1872.  Considering the good condition of the 146 year old library book,

it can't have been borrowed very often.  Courtesy of the Moonee Valley Library Service.


Book plate for the Essendon Public Library from The Earthly Paradise, indicating a fourteen day loan period .  Sarah Windsor may herself have written the number and pasted the bookplate inside the book.  Courtesy of the

Moonee Valley Library Service.


Stamp for the Essendon Public Library, also from The Earthly Paradise.

Courtesy of the Moonee Valley Library Service.


In 1886 the North Melbourne Advertiser announced that an ‘enterprising business firm at Moonee Ponds are bringing out a local directory, and have arranged with the library committee to inter-leave a catalogue of the books, which have been carefully classified by Mr. George Macartney, the able honorary secretary, and another member of the committee. When this catalogue is in circulation, the ratepayers will awake to the fact that they possess a literary property such as few other boroughs of a similar standing own’.   No example of that early catalogue has come to light so far. The fact that the honorary secretary, Mr Macartney and another committee member were cataloguing the books would suggest that there was still no person occupying the role of librarian.   In order to boost the number of subscribers to the library, a long article was published in the North Melbourne Advertiser, extolling the new reading rooms, the availability of fiction, the number of volumes (rather less than some private libraries), and lest the library be thought too low brow, a list of important works of interest to the clergy.  One imagines that these would be the least numerous among the resident subscribers they hoped to attract.  


In September 1892 the Essendon Public Library recommended that a ‘lady or gentleman librarian should be employed for the convenience of those attending the library’. It can be assumed that the librarian appointed at this time was Mrs Sarah Windsor, whose long service as the Essendon Librarian was recognised on her retirement in 1938.


At the same time local ‘rich men’ were encouraged to make donations of ‘valuable volumes’ to the library, an indication that library purchases could not be supported only from rates. Additional support (though slender) would come from the State government.  In a list of correspondence the Council minutes recorded one ‘From the Chief Secretary's office, intimating that the sum of £2 18s. 9d. had been allotted to the Essendon Public Library from the Library fund’.


I would like to consider how the books in the Essendon Public Library were organised.  In 1898 a conference of the Library Association of Australasia was held in Sydney.  The Essendon Public Library was a member of this institution, and presumably received the report of the proceedings.  The very first lectures given at the conference were those promoting the use of Dewey Decimal Classification and Cutter Numbers, with comments about the very slight advances in the use of Dewey in Australian libraries.  It seems probable that in the early days of the Essendon Public Library the classification system was fairly rudimentary, and similar to the organisation of Mechanics Institutes Libraries.


I was very interested to see an example of an old Mechanics Institute reconstructed at Old Gippstown from the original shelves and books of the Narracan Mechanics Institute.  The shelves had the original labels still stuck to them.  The books were numbered from 1 though to 300 or thereabouts, so the shelving was quite simple.  The catalogue was an old ledger book, with no index that I know of.


Bookshelves and books from the original Narracan Mechanics Institute, now at Old Gippstown, Moe. 

The books are shelved in numerical order using the number painted on the white dot on the spine.

Photo: Lenore Frost 2012.


The library was closed in the 1960s, and the books and shelving transferred to Old Gippstown in 1978.   When the shelves were reconstructed and the books put back on the shelves, the subject matter of the books matched the subject headings of the shelf labels precisely.   Since the new Narracan Mechanics Institute has become known and talked about, people have been returning books they had in their possession when the library closed.  They are easy to shelve, as they pop right back into their numerical order with the subject heading on the shelf.   This is the type of arrangement that may have been used in the old Essendon Public Library. The Earthly Paradise has no spine markings, so an even earlier arrangement might have been by subjects marked on the shelves.


Sarah Windsor would have been there when the library moved to a Dewey classification.  Her knowledge of books and libraries would have grown along with the complexity of classification of books and the demands of new clients in the library. 


This portrait of Mrs Windsor was included in the 1926-27 Annual Report of the

Essendon Council.  Courtesy of the Moonee Valley Library Service.


Throughout the 1930s Depression, compulsory retirement of municipal workers reaching the age of 65 began to be discussed by municipal councils, generally with reference to widespread unemployment, and the intention to provide work for younger unemployed men.  The Collingwood Council discussed it in late 1930, and it slowly spread to other suburban councils. It was not until 1938 that the Essendon Council made a resolution to compulsorily retire their older workers, after considering a superannuation scheme for them.  By this time Sarah Windsor was eighty-eight years old and had been in the Council’s employ for over 54 years.  


A number of elderly council staff were farewelled with presentations from the Mayor Cr L T ThompsonMurray Pullar, the city surveyor, and John Oliver, the city curator, along with eight members of the ‘outdoor staff’ were presented with wrist watches, rugs, and a cheque as a retiring allowance.  Mrs Windsor was to continue as librarian until a new one was appointed.






















The medal presented to Sarah Windsor upon her retirement.  Courtesy of Jane Duckworth.


Sarah was replaced briefly, but when the new librarian resigned in 1940, the council used it as an opportunity to close the library.   Very little money had been spent on the book stock, and it had been allowed to run down to an alarming degree. This was further ammunition for the councillors who wanted the library closed in favour of filling potholes.      


Cr. Divers said some of the books were bound in the days of Queen Anne, if someone could name one good book in Essendon municipal library he would eat it. "We have seven people who patronise the library regularly. They come down for a sleep every Tuesday, and they get it", he said.


The library was stoutly defended by local resident Gordon Hartnett, and the Melbourne Chief Librarian, Ernest Pitt, but the council resolved to close the last chapter on the Essendon Public Library.  Essendon was one of the last municipalities in Melbourne to open a new library, in 1968.


Before her retirement, Mrs Windsor was interviewed by the Essendon Gazette, so we can have her last few thoughts on her clientele.  


“Mrs. Windsor's manner and her under-standing of the tastes of customers have endeared her to the thousands of people who have visited the library. "The tastes of readers have changed considerably," she said yesterday. "Many readers keep abreast of the times both in general literature and in novels, but a few of the older ones still ask me when Mrs. Henry Wood is going to write a new novel! There is little demand for classics”.


 "Children always ask for Mary Grant Bruce and Ethel Turner's books and also for 'The Little Black Princess,' but they no longer seem to read fairy tales. The boys never tire of Jules Verne."


"Far fewer really good books are read by the young people of today," she continues.  "They seem to go in so much for the light literature - film magazines, detective magazines, and pictorial magazines".


Mrs Sarah Windsor, about to be retired by the Essendon Council, aged 88.

  Herald 30 March 1938.


 Since 7/10/2023

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