Abernethy was born in Ireland in 1830. He married and came to Australia in 1853, initially working for Terence Murray at 'Woden'. From 1857-1863 he was overseer and then superintendent at Yarralumla, then owned by Colonel Augustus Gibbes. In 1863 he was appointed schoolmaster and church clerk at the Anglican church of St Johns.
It is said that he was a very religious, conscientious man with a high moral sense of duty. Prayers were said on opening an closing school each day. Instruction consisted chiefly of the three R's and Bible teaching. At times members of the School Board - George Campbell, William Davis, Parson Smith, and others would listen to the teaching and ask questions. When the Public Instruction Act was passed in 1880, St John's closed, and Abernethy moved to the government school at Springbank - Canberra Provisional, near Sullivans Creek, Acton. In April 1883 he moved to another small school - Wodonga Public and stayed there until retirement. He retired in December 1890 at the age of 60 before spending his last years in Mudgee, where he died at the age of 90 in 1920.
The following item comes from the Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser:
"The Abernethy family, which gives its name to Abernethy Close, was a prominent part of the early Mudgee community through the first part of the twentieth century. James Abernethy came to Mudgee in 1890, at the age of 60, after a career as an overseer and a schoolmaster around Canberra.
Abernethy was a schoolmaster for 17 years, assisted by his four daughters. He is remembered in the naming of one of the Glebe Park gates in Canberra city - the Abernethy Gate.
A Dubliner born in 1830, Abernethy married Eliza Dougherty in Ireland before migrating to Australia and working his way up from farmhand at Woden Station to overseer at Yarralumla.
In 1863, he left the land and taught at St John the Baptist Anglican School at Canberra until 1880, before becoming the teacher at the Canberra Provisional School, the area's first public school.
His wife was one of Canberra's first postmistresses, and was the first woman in the area to own a sewing machine, which she taught the locals to operate. She also bore ten children, Mary, Thomas, Kate, William, Ruth, James, Harold, Edward, Eliza and John.[Ed. Kate Abernethy is listed as teacher at Majura school in 1878]
He came to Mudgee in 1890, settling at Montrose, dying in 1920 at 'Woodlands', a property on the northern outskirts of Mudgee owned by his eldest son, William. William Abernethy was a grazier and a government surveyor, and worked across the central west with wagon teams carrying his equipment and assistants. He enlisted with the 2nd Infantry Regiment in 1879, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and was active in the Mudgee Agricultural Society and the Bligh Amateur Race Club.
A son, Percy, followed him into surveying and married the daughter of the Mudgee Inspector of Schools, while another son, Cecil, was a doctor in Annandale".
[Mudgee Guardian and Gulgong Advertiser:
Hope Hewitt, Canberra's first schoolhouse, Canberra 1987
'Canberra Past and Present', from the Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1931.
'Canberra School', museum.hall.act.au
- Canberra School
04/1880 - 04/1883