Grace Edwards

Grace Edwards (nee Robertson Williams) was born at ‘Netherbeath’ in Lukin Street in Helensburgh across the road from the school on 9 September 1911. Mrs Edwards had never lived anywhere else but ‘Netherbeath’.

Mrs Edwards’ grandfather moved to ‘Rose Cottage’ in Robertson Street, Helensburgh. This cottage was owned by the mines and was occupied by Mr Robertson and his family after he became surface manager at the mine. Mrs Edwards does not know if the street was named after her grandfather.

Mrs Edwards’ mother, Catherine Robertson was 4½ when she came to Helensburgh. She attended school in a cottage in Robertson Street until mid 1887 when the school was opened. There were only about half a dozen children in this cottage school. There is no documented evidence of its existence but from personal reports it seems to have been in operation from about 1885 until 1888, to provide some basic schooling for the children of the few earliest settlers.

Mrs Edwards recounted the following memories of her schooldays: “I started school in January 1916. I can’t remember my first teacher, but I remember that the band played and we raised the flag every Monday morning first thing. We always marched into school. Mr Doyle was always good with singing and the band. I always recall him saying, when we were singing ‘Advance Australia Fair’; “Stop! It is ‘Let-us-Sing’ not ‘Lettuce Sing’. We are not making a salad!” He made a strong point of that. He was a wonderful teacher.

“We always walked into school quietly in twos and stood at the desk. The teacher followed the last couple. His morning greeting was always exactly the same. The teacher said, “Good Morning Children, be seated, bring out your arithmetic books”. It never changed; it was every morning straight away. We sat two at a desk and the desks were screwed to the floor.

“Miss Der Kenn was the Infants’ Mistress and she boarded at our house for quite a few years. We nearly always had the unmarried teachers (lady teachers) boarding at our house. They had to have a respectable place to live. They were not allowed to board just anywhere, they had to think of their reputations.

“I remember when the town was affected by the Bubonic Plague (Grace actually means the 1919 influenza epidemic (Spanish flu)). My father had the job, if there was no fence, to strike a pole, place a red flag on it and rope off the house. Children were told not to come to school and the school was closed. My Grandad opened the Red Cross in Helensburgh, and my Mum was the vice-president and we had lots of caps and gowns from the Red Cross social work. Girls would come over here and get their caps and gowns and masks before they attended the patients over at the school. We had all the gear at our house, so being so close to the school we had like a store room for the hospital. We always had to wear masks as soon as we left the house. The Red Cross was in enormous demand then and my mother would work all the hours that God would send. Maybe the mine had closed too, because I remember seeing more of my father than I had ever seen before. Miss Payne and Miss Barnett were nurses during the plague (flu) outbreak. They were our school teachers. I don’t know how long it lasted but Grandad died in April 1920 and everything was back to normal by then.

“If our class behaved well all week, we were rewarded by being taken for a walk in the nearby scrub on Friday afternoon; we called it a nature study walk.

“Each class had its own garden at the front of the school. We were proud of our own garden. Woe -betide anyone who touched another class’s garden. Children always brought plants from home to improve their own little gardens. I remember that one room at school had steps in it going up. That was how they sat in that room. The steps were desks like. The scholars sat at the back and the dunces were brought to the front. That was in Miss Payne’s room which was the third and fourth class. I don’t recall those step desks in any other class.

“We had a cleanliness and tidiness check every day. If you were dirty the teacher would hand you a piece of soap and you went to have a wash. There were always checks for head lice too. We had terrible trouble with those.

“Four generations of my family have gone to Helensburgh Public School. My mother, me, my daughter and my grandsons.”

Mrs Edwards’ mother opened a shop in the front of her house (directly opposite the school) in 1925. Mrs Robertson, and later Mrs Edwards, operated the shop until 1963. It provided the school children and teachers with lunches and sweets for all those years. Mrs Edwards’ house, being in such close proximity to the school, was often the venue for school activities. Whenever there was a big social event at the school, ‘Neverbeath’ was used for the catering.

An extract from “The History of Helensburgh School – The Early Days 1886-1920” by Anne Baxter (10 October 1983)

Note: Grace Robertson married Samuel Charles Edwards in 1939 Helensburgh. Grace lived in Lukin Street till the house burnt down between 1992/6.