Charles William Thompson
Born: 1868; Died: 1948; Married: Matilda Jane Weatherspoon
Charles Thompson's lifetime teaching career began in 1886 as a youth in the isolated hill country west of the Murrumbidgee in the county of Murray and ended with compulsory retirement at the age of sixty-five in 1933. Thirty eight of his forty seven years as a teacher were, remarkably, spent in the Ginninderra - Hall district, where he and his wife Matilda Thompson and their four children were part of a thriving community.
Charles was born in 1868 at Sutton Forrest NSW, the ninth child in a Catholic family of eleven. Charle’s father William came from Liverpool, England, arriving in Australia in 1841 aged fourteen. His mother, Catherine Tierney, was an Irish orphan, one of forty selected from the workhouse at Cashel, County Tipperary under the Earl Grey Scheme, whereby over 4000 adolescent female orphans emigrated from Irish workhouses to the Australian colonies between 1848 and 1850. Most were between 14 and 20 years of age, ready and willing to grasp the opportunity of a new life in the Antipodes. Catherine arrived in Australia on the Lady Peel in July 1849, aged eighteen. It is recorded that she was a kitchen maid, 'unable to read or write' and had a brother, John Tierney, 'supposed to be living near Yass'.
William and Catherine married in 1852 at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. In 1871 the family moved to Towrang just north of Goulburn. Charles grew up and went to school in the district, possibly at Towrang Public School. A labourer with no known relatives, his father was a fettler on the Main Southern railway line - an essentially itinerant workforce. Their address in 1873 was 'Railway line, Goulburn'. Life as a fettler typically involved isolation, rough conditions and lack of amenities, with fettlers and their families camping by the line in tents or rough mobile dwellings and shanty camps. This is likely to have been the case for the Thompsons; youngest son Frederick was recorded as actually being born on the railway line. The subsequent isolation and physical hardship of teaching 'House to House' in Nass and Gibraltar would perhaps have not have been unduly daunting for young Charles.
The line had reached Goulburn in 1869, the year after Charles' birth, and construction continued towards Yass, where the station opened in 1876. His father was tragically killed in a train accident in 1888 when Charles was twenty, and into his second year as a teacher. Two of his brothers, Edward and Frederick, followed their father into the railways. Edward was a fettler, and may have 'inherited' his father's position when he was killed at work on the line. Frederick became an engine driver and for twenty years was in charge of trains to Canberra and Cooma (Qbyn Age 21.11.1933)
Charle's forty-seven year teaching career spanned a particularly interesting and challenging period in the development of education in NSW. The Public Instruction Act of 1880 made schooling compulsory, reduced the enrolment required for a Public School from 25 to 20, and for a Provisional School to 12. It also introduced a new type of Half Time school to benefit sparsely populated areas - the 'House to House' school was to consist of three or more families or groups of families residing some miles apart, each forming a teaching station to be visited in turn by an itinerant teacher. The Act also ended State aid to denominational schools, and established secondary education.
These measures, along with a rapidly growing NSW population (from 750,800 in 1881 to 2,554,500 in 1931) meant there was a sustained growth of schooling throughout Charles' career. The number of one teacher bush schools kept growing until motorised transport enabled gradual centralisation of provision; the total number of schools in NSW peaked at 2,839 in 1913. This was also the year in which the first examinations for the NSW Leaving Certificate took place, and the Councils of Parents and Citizens Associations were established. By this time too a small revolution in teaching methods was well underway. The 'new education' developed after an extensive Royal Commission into 'existing methods of instruction' was vigorously promulgated by an enthusiastic new Director of Education, Peter Board. After twenty years of teaching Charles was challenged to adopt progressive new ideas and teaching practices.
Charles was evidently a bright student and at the end of his normal schooling at age fourteen most probably became a ‘pupil teacher’, assisting, and being tutored by the teacher. In 1886 at age eighteen Charles joined the NSW teaching service and was appointed ‘House to House’ teacher on the lowest pay rate at the remote and difficult locations of Naas and Gibraltar. These were sixteen miles apart, and Charles taught alternately for one week at each. It is not known where he lived or where the schooling took place. His application in 1888 for removal after two and a half years in the position was endorsed by the Inspector:
Mr Thompson is an energetic, pains-taking teacher. He is a diligent student and has an excellent character. I estimate his skill as tolerable, and would recommend that he be removed to a small school above the rank of House to House
The number of House to House schools peaked by 1890 and by 1910 had declined to a handful - but it may well have been a solid grounding for young Charles. His next two postings were to public schools in the Goulburn district; Claremont (1888-1890) and Run of Water, or Yarra (1890-1895), before he was posted to Ginninderra in1895, where there had already been a dozen teachers since the school opened in 1873.
Marriage and family
In 1893, while teaching at Yarra, he married Matilda Jane Wetherspoon (born 1873) daughter of James and Mary Jane Wetherspoon (nee Parker), a prosperous farmer from Cotta Walla (now known as Roslyn) sixteen kilometres south-east of Crookwell. Matilda was the first of ten children. She may well have been a pupil at the new Cotta Walla school, which opened to elaborate celebrations in 1880. She and Charles were married at St Mary's Catholic Church at Crookwell on 4 July 1893.
Charles and Matilda were to have five children: Bertha (b. 1894), Doris (b. 1901), Kevin (b. 1906), and Kathleen (b. 1909) were all pupils of Charles, and the girls were taught by Matilda. It was a requirement of the Education Department that a teacher's spouse (married women were generally not employed) would conduct classes for girls in needlework. A fifth child - William (b. 1896) - died on Christmas Eve 1899 aged four.
A Ginninderra home
On his appointment there in 1895, Charles, Matilda and one year-old Bertha took up residence at the Ginninderra Schoolhouse where they lived and raised their family until 1933. Charles initially taught at both the Ginninderra and Gungahleen ‘Half time’ schools. Matilda, who took weekly classes in needlework assisted him. Charles on occasions also conducted adult classes in the evenings and helped members of the community with their business and private correspondence.
In 1907 Ginninderra became a Public school with about forty-five pupils and Gungahleen became a Provisional School with its own teacher. In 1910 the Ginninderra School closed when a new school opened at Hall with twenty-nine pupils. Charles and Matilda continued to live in the Ginninderra schoolhouse however, and were able to continue their associations with many community and sporting activities.
In 1913 when Postmistress Rosanna Blewitt took a post elsewhere, the Ginninderra post and telegraph office was relocated to the Schoolhouse and the position was officially taken up by Charles. His daughter Bertha, then nineteen, performed the duties, lightened by a decision to conduct it as a 'semi-official' 'allowance office'. Business had been declining for some years. This arrangement - with the Hall teacher residing at Ginninderra Schoolhouse and carrying out the postmaster duties - persisted until the post office finally closed in 1962. When Charles retired it was Matilda who was carrying out the post office business.
It was usual for school teachers of this time to be active in community affairs; they were typically among the best educated in the communities they served in, were known by all and generally accorded great respect. Males in particular often also become valuable members of local sporting teams - tennis, cricket, football - and participants in the popular pastime of shooting.
Particularly after the turn of the century Charles became deeply involved in the wider Ginninderra district community. In 1896 he was Treasurer of the newly established Ginninderra Football Club. In 1899 he moved the motion to establish a Ginninderra School of Arts and became Vice President - and an enthusiastic supporter. In 1906 he was an enthusiastic organiser of a fund-raising ball for the School of Arts in Edward Crace's woolshed. He joined the Ginninderra Farmer’s Union shortly after it was established by Crace in 1905 and was the Hon Secretary for the eleven years of its existence. At the penultimate meeting in 1916 he was presented with a Swiss-made, silver fob watch engraved 'To C.W.Thompson March 1916. A token of esteem and gratitude from the members of the Ginninderra Farmer's Union'. Matilda was given a silver tray inscribed 'MJT 1916'. When a Parents and Citizens Association was established in 1908 he became Treasurer. After his playing years with the Ginninderra team he was President of the Ginninderra Cricket Club in 1910, and of the Hall club in 1926.
As well as serving as an officer in a range of community organisations, Charles was in regular demand to help organise fund-raising events - balls, sports days, and fetes (for St Francis Xavier church, the School of Arts, Great War patriotic funds), and 'farewell' gatherings for departing community members such as Mon and 'Doll' Lazarus when they left the Cricketer's Arms, and 'Harry' Landon the teacher at Mulligans Flat. He was scorer at a gymnastics exhibition put on by the Ginninderra Athletics Club in 1899, and secretary for a meeting to set up a Rockley Club in 1901. A man closely in touch with his community.
He was also an aspiring writer - a poet, the author of many school magazine articles and a contributor to the local press, mainly the Queanbeyan Age, where his articles appeared over the initials 'CWT'. Many hand-written stories and notes are recorded in his notebooks, particularly nature study stories which he submitted for publication, often successfully. His 1933 'retirement' poem was published in the Canberra Times along with the account of his farewell.
Charles was both school master and, with his family, a Ginninderra resident for thirty eight years, and Ginninderra post master for twenty. He and Matilda would have known the Ginninderra and Hall communities extremely well. Before retiring, Charles was teaching children whose parents were pupils of the previous generation. Their time at Ginninderra and Hall was a period of considerable social and economic development - the final flourishing of the highly enterprising Ginninderra farming community, the growing up of the village of Hall, and the birth of Canberra and the Capital Territory.
It was of course in their departing that the community's full esteem for Charles and Matilda was manifest. A meeting of the P & C determined on a 'fourfold' recognition, and ceremonies in the afternoon and evening of 8 February 1933. Mr T M Shakespeare, founder of the Federal Capital Press and the Canberra Times (1924) attended the meeting and observed that 'it had been a privilege of few to have exerted the same influence for good by precept and example over three generations as that performed by Mr. Thompson and the effect would live for years to come in the enlightened outlook and character of those he had taught in the Ginninderra and Hall Schools'. 'Babe' Curran (Mulligans Flat and Ginninderra), Eb Brown (Hall and Wallaroo) and Samuel Southwell (Spring Range) were appointed canvassers for a testimonial fund, with Curran as chair and Ross Brown as treasurer. Mrs Kinleyside was deputed to call a meeting of the ladies to organise the social functions (some things never change?!).
Ceremonies began at the school where the pupils unveiled a memorial tablet - a large polished cedar shield on which was inscribed the words: "Erected by the citizens of Hall and surrounding district in grateful recognition of faithful services by C. W. Thompson Esq, master of the schools at Ginninderra and Hall for 38 years". Charles observed that he had never heard of such a tablet being erected at a country school and was greatly honoured.
In the evening Kinlyside Hall was the venue for a very large gathering at at a farewell social 'for Mr and Mrs C.W.Thompson, Master of the Hall Public School and Postmistress of the Ginninderra post office respectively'. Eb Brown, after paying tribute to his long service :
'pointed to the success in life achieved in the number of scholars who had passed through his hands. These were to be found in the professions, commerce, industry as well as in rural pursuits, and were the outward and visible proofs of the influence exerted by their teacher. In addition to being a great teacher, he had proved himself a good citizen in times of peace and war and was transparently honest. He wished their departing guests many happy years of well-earned rest'
This tribute was supported by an impressive group of Canberra luminaries who attended the gathering:
- Dr Frederick Watson, distinguished editor and historian, resident of Gungahleen homestead.
- Hon A.T.Shakespeare MLC, father of the rural NSW press and founder of the Canberra Times.
- Lt Col John Goodwin, former Administrator of the Capital Territory, member of the ACT Advisory Council and renowned servant to the Canberra community.
- Rev. Canon C. S. Robertson, Rector of St John's, Canberra.
The Thompsons were presented with a customary wallet of notes and a fine illuminated address recording the community's appreciation. Charles responded that his greatest privilege was in 'personally knowing the original pioneers of the district. Knowing what a sterling lot they were it was not to be wondered that their grandchildren, many of whom he had taught, had made a success in life'.
Eldest daughter Kathleen was also recognised. Miss Grace Kilby presented her with a gold mounted fountain pen as a keepsake 'for and on behalf of the Hall Ladies Hockey and Cricket Club'.
In 1933 Charles and Matilda retired to Manly, NSW, where they named their home at 30 Eurobin Avenue ‘Ginninderra’. When they arrived at Ginninderra it was with one young baby, Bertha. By the time they departed only one of their children, Kathleen, the youngest, was still to marry. Charles died on 10 December 1948 at age 80 after a short illness. Matilda and her family received many letters of condolence when his past pupils and friends heard of his passing. There were obituaries in the Manly Daily, Canberra Times and the Queanbeyan Age relating to his esteem as a teacher, to his involvement in the Ginninderra district and with the Village of Hall.
Matilda lived on at their Manly home for another fifteen years. Like Charles, she had an affinity for young people which seemed to increase as she grew older. She died on 5 July 1963 aged 90 and is buried with Charles in the French's Forest Cemetery.
- Gillespie, L.L., Ginninderra, Forerunner to Canberra, Canberra, 1992.
- Gillespie, L. L., Early Education and Schools in the Canberra region. Campbell, 1999
- Archives ACT, Charles Thompson. Sighted 7/10/2016
- Descendants of Catherine Tierney. Monaro Pioneers database. Sighted 7/10/2016
- Splendid tributes to retiring master of Hall school, Canberra Times 9th February 1933
- Semken, Karen Orphan profile: Catherine Tierney from Cashel, Tipperary, November 2012. Sighted 7/10/2016.