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Teachers of the Ragged Schools

The Misses Bowie: Louisa (1834-1884), Jessie (1836-1906), Catherine (1838-1918), and Elizabeth (1840-1922); Isabella Brown (1858-1932), Fanny Owen-Smith (1859-1932) and Violet Paterson (1871-1948)

The Misses Bowie, Isabella Brown, Fanny Owen-Smith and Violet Paterson who taught in the Sydney Ragged Schools, are examples of the dedicated, female, vocational philanthropists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While they gave a lifetime of devoted service to the Ragged Schools, they have hardly left a mark on the historical record of the times. This was not because their work was insignificant, but because official reports and newspaper accounts of the day gave much more attention to the governance and financial philanthropists of the charity and gave little mention to those who did the actual work of the organisation. Because of this lack of attention, their work and contribution has largely gone unrecorded and uncommented upon, and the paucity of sources makes this difficult to adequately redress. (more…)

Catherine (Kate) Gent nee Danne (1835-1899)

Catherine (Kate) Gent nee Danne (1835-1899), Teacher and Vocational Philanthropist

A ‘Mr and Miss Danne’ were involved in the Ragged Schools of Sydney as part of a philanthropic attempt to assist the children of the poorest to gain some education and improve their situation in life. They were what might be termed ‘vocational philanthropists’ for they did not give financial support, other than by forgoing more lucrative employment, nor did they serve as committee members overseeing the work. Rather, they were employed by the committee to interface with the poor, assisting the parents and teaching their children, and the level of Miss Danne’s commitment and sacrifice meant that this employment was her vocation. They were both associated with the Ragged School as teachers and Miss Danne was appointed to the paid staff in October 1860[1] to teach the girls and to support Henry B Lee, the one paid male teacher.[2] With Lee’s departure around May 1861, a Mr Danne was appointed to replace him.[3] His salary was 30 shillings per week, while with his appointment, the salary of Miss Danne was increased from 30 shillings to 40 shillings per week.

So who were ‘Mr and Miss Danne’ of the Ragged School? The answer to this question is not immediately apparent as contemporary accounts refer to them simply as ‘Mr and Miss Danne’. The Danne Family, consisting of William Danne (more…)

Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883)

Henry Brougham Richard Lee (1831-1883) The City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen Manager

The name of Henry Brougham Richard Lee, abbreviated to H B Lee, became synonymous with the work of the Sydney City Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen in the period 1868 to 1883. His great gift to the organisation was not just his ability to relate to the ‘down and out’ of the community, but his skill in convincing merchants and business people to donate goods and food stuffs to this philanthropic work.

Lee was born at Finsbury, England, on February 26, 1831, to a shoemaker named Thomas Lee and his wife, Sarah Beal, and he came to the colony of NSW on the Plantagenet, arriving in July 1853. In 1860,[1] he married Harriet Miller (1833-1878) and they had four children: Florence Mary Ann (1861-1909), Eveline Maud (1863-1937), Grace Hannah (1865-1867) and Alfred Ernest (1869-1953). It appears that Henry ‘had the misfortune to be deformed and short of stature’,[2] but this did not impede him as he was frequently described as being energetic and indefatigable. In England he had been apprenticed to a nautical instrument maker,[3] and went into partnership with Thomas Drinkwater in 1854 after his arrival in Sydney.[4] They operated as Drinkwater and Lee, engineers who specialised in brass fittings, but the partnership was short-lived and was dissolved in April 1856.[5] This was to be the first of a number of such short-lived and unsuccessful business and professional positions in which Henry was involved.

In January of 1856, Lee published the first volume of The Australian Band of Hope Review and Children’s Friend which was a journal for the promotion of temperance.[6] It was to be published fortnightly, cost three pence, and was to be a children’s magazine consisting of anecdotes, stories and poetry, and often promoting the temperance message. Over time, it changed its emphasis from children to a more general audience and changed its title to The Australian Home Companion, but it remained a temperance advocate. Whatever else the newspaper may have done, it had the distinction of being the first newspaper to publish a Henry Kendall poem in February 1859.[7] The poem was entitled ‘Oh Tell Me Ye Breezes’ and was on the disappearance of Ludwig Leichhardt, the explorer.[8] It is clear the newspaper was not a commercial success for as early as 1857, after only fourteen months of publication, it was in trouble as its circulation was just 1,000 copies. The paper was barely covering its expenses and attempts were made by the public to raise £100 to defray its expenses.[9] By October 1859, the circulation had increased to 1,900 but the paper still struggled financially. Lee remained the proprietor until December 1860 when he was forced to sell the paper to cover his debts.[10]

In 1860, Henry became the first teacher for the Sydney Ragged School, the school founded by Edward Joy. Joy had advertised for a special sort of teacher who was more than just a teacher of reading and writing, but also someone who ‘has a truly Christian interest in the welfare of the class of children for whom the school is intended and who has at the same time the gift of winning the attention and securing the affection of such children.’[11] Lee[12] was engaged as a teacher and his (more…)

John Kent (1843-1916)

John Kent (1843-1916), Accountant and YMCA supporter

John Kent

John Kent

 John Kent was born in 1843 in Hinton Waldrist, Berkshire, England, the son of John Kent, a farmer with some 435 acres and employing 15 labourers, and Jane Gee. John was the fourth child and the eldest son among seven children. Around 1860, John left the farm and at 17 was placed under a private commercial tutor for special training in accountancy and commerce, possibly in connection with the drapery business.[1] After gaining experience in a solicitor’s office that specialised in bankruptcy, further work in private banking and then in a sales department of a warehouse in London, he decided on a commercial career in Australia.[2]

Kent arrived in Sydney in 1863[3] and obtained a position with the drapers and silk merchants Francis Giles and Co and by September 1864, the company had been placed in the hands of administrators as its debts were twice its assets.[4] This experience provided John with a personal understanding of company insolvency, and this proved very useful for his later business career which involved overseeing and administering such insolvencies. His employer’s business was bought by John Thompson and continued to trade under the name of Francis Giles and Co with Giles as manager.[5] It is possible that Kent retained his job despite the difficulties, but may have left after a fire destroyed the business in 1867.[6] Kent’s obituary says cryptically that after his time at Francis Giles and Co he spent some time in the country and then, after three years, ‘resumed his business career’.[7] It is probable that he spent some time, at least up to 1869, as an ‘Episcopalian catechist’ in the Kurrajong/North Richmond area.[8] During his time there he was involved in public controversy over the abandonment of denominational schools and the commencement of public ones. Kent was concerned that the public education system would not allow the scriptures to be taught within it, a concern he maintained throughout his life. On his return to Sydney he began work for W Gardiner and Co who ran a soft goods warehouse, a similar line of business to his former employers.[9]

In 1871, John married Helen Clayton (nee Felton) (1828-1902), a widow with two daughters Elizabeth (1856-1916) and Catherine (1857-1913), and John and Helen had one son, Walter John (1872-1873), who died at eight months and three weeks.[10] Initially living in Francis Street, Sydney (1871-1879), they began to move with the increasing success of John’s business. They moved first to Marlborough Street, Leichhardt (1880-1883), then to Marion Street, Leichhardt (1884-1897), followed by O’Hara Street, Marrickville (1898-1904) then, after Helen’s death, John moved to  Union Street, North Sydney (1905-1910) followed by a final move to Cleveland Street, Wahroonga (1911-1916).[11] At least from 1888, Kent also owned a country residence, farm and orchard of some 445 acres at Barber’s Creek, later known as Tallong.[12] Here he planted apples with a view to exporting them to England[13] which he did from 1892,[14] for he correctly foresaw that England could become a major market for the export of Australian fruit.[15]

(more…)

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