Objects of Substance: A treasury of material culture at Girls Grammar

What is material culture and why did we choose this methodology to capture Grammar’s essence? As Henry Glassie elegantly argues, ‘studies focused on words, whether written or spoken, omit whole spheres of experience that are cumbersomely framed in language but gracefully shaped into artefacts’.

Art historian, Jules Prown, stated that material objects ‘help us discover the beliefs—the values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions—of a particular community or society at a given time’. We hope that this treasury has been tangibly illustrating how material culture has created, sustained, and enriched the culture of Brisbane Girls Grammar School over its 148 years.

Over the last three years, we have featured the School Archives’ treasured objects, locations, and ephemera. These treasures and treasured places, capture the essence of the Girls Grammar journey from ‘an experiment’ founded in 1875 to the most respected secondary girls’ school in Queensland and one of the most prominent girls’ schools in Australia.

We continue this intriguing research in 2023, starting with the Burrell Cup in honour of the Interhouse Swimming Carnival, to be held next week. Read our first Objects of Substance article below.

Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short (1971)
Manager, School History and Culture



Harvey-Short, P unpublished thesis 2014 pp24, 25.


Sometimes the engraving does not tell the whole story: the Burrell Cup

Why is the oldest sporting interform/interhouse trophy in the School a relay trophy and not the aggregate prize? Because it wasn’t originally a relay trophy! The Burrell Cup began life as the aggregate cup for Interform Swimming in 1915. How was this elegant silver cup created in Birmingham in 1912 apparently relegated to the Interhouse Swimming Relays Cup?

The Burrell Challenge Cup 1915 to 1987

Swimming has always been an important element of the Health and Physical Education Program at Girls Grammar, ever since the sinking of the Quetta that resulted in Sir Charles Lilley donating prizes for swimming at the 1890 prize giving.

With the Spring Hill Baths, established in 1886, within walking distance of the School, it is assumed swimming lessons were conducted there in the 1890s. These lessons were most certainly held there in the 1920s, as clearly remembered by Dorothy Hughes (White, 1926-28). She tells of single file processions to the Baths from the Spring Hill campus in full uniform with hats, gloves, and ports.

Competitive swimming was most definitely conducted at the Spring Hill Baths with newspaper reports as early as 1901 detailing the Brisbane Girls Grammar School Swimming Tournament taking place on 2 May 1901. The program included 25 yards Senior, 10 yards Junior, jumping from board Junior (incidentally won by Kathleen Lilley), diving Senior, 10 yards lifebuoy Junior, back race Senior, 10 yards beginners, 10 yards Junior championship, 25 yards Senior handicap, and 25 yards School championship.

Relays became a feature as programs progressed, especially with the establishment of the Brockway Cup in 1904. Dr Brockway donated a silver Challenge Cup for the Secondary School Teams’ race. The School’s intramural relays were a little more creative with an egg and spoon race (interesting to imagine how swimmers navigated the water with an egg and spoon), obstacle race, and a more conventional relay.

It was within this climate that swimmers such as Mary Lilley, Joan Lilley, Kathleen Lilley, Alvena Parkinson, and Joan and Alison Burrell emerged.

Daughters of Arthur Cothingham Burrell and Hilda Burrell (nee Ellwood) of Eagle Junction, Joan, and Alison, attended Brisbane Girls Grammar School from 1912-15 and 1915-1918 respectively. It appears from newspaper reports that Joan was the stronger swimmer. In 1913, Joan, as a IVth Former, won the Lower School Championship and was the ‘Breast and Back’ winner. In 1914, Joan was selected by the School team as a member of the Brockway Cup relay team with Grammar placing second. Greater success was to be had in 1915 when Joan, with Hedwig Eschenhagen, Essie Wilson, and Joan Lilley, won the Brockway Cup.

Alison, Joan’s younger sister by three years, represented the School in swimming in at least 1918. She also received a half-blue for 1st 6 in 1917.

c1917 Sporting teams Alison Burrell middle row, second from right

With such athletic daughters, it is no wonder Mrs Hilda Burrell saw fit to donate a silver cup in 1915, Joan’s last year at Girls Grammar and Alison’s first. The 1915 Annual Report states:

1915 Annual Report, Miss Annie Mackay, Lady Principal

Research shows that this cup, donated by Mrs Burrell, was for interform swimming and was an aggregate trophy presented to the winning form. It was often referred to as The Burrell Challenge Cup in Annual Report prize giving lists. So how did it become the Relays Cup?

The Burrell Cup’s relegation began with the introduction of the Lieutenant-Colonel FC Plant Memorial Cup which was first presented in 1933 and awarded to ‘the form that wins the greatest number of points in the Annual Interform Swimming Carnival, exclusive of the Burrell Cup’ (1936 Annual Report). This trophy has been presented ever since.

In 1964, there was a significant organisational change in the School. Houses were introduced under the stewardship of Mrs Louise McDonald. In her Annual Report, Mrs McDonald explained the concept of the Houses and their naming. In doing so she stated:

‘It was very pleasant and fitting that Miss Lilley presented the cups at our first Interhouse Swimming Carnival. She gave us a new “Lilley Cup” for the House with the highest aggregate points.’

And so, with the awarding of a new cup, the Burrell Cup was relegated to the Interhouse Relay cup which was then engraved on the actual trophy. It is this engraving which proves the reallocation of the trophy as Houses did not exist in the School for the first 48 years the cup was presented. Interestingly, the School temporarily returned to Form competition from 1974 to 1979 with the Houses reinstated in 1980.

The Burrell Cup detail

Significant winners are interesting to trace. In 1932, IV Form won the Burrell Cup as an aggregate trophy. In the following two years, V and VI Forms won the trophy. This writer was fascinated to see if the same girls were in the forms. It appears there were three IV Forms in 1932 which combined into a significant V Form and nearly identical VI Form. It comes as no surprise that the successful forms carried school swimmers and, in 1934, VI Form boasted four School representative swimmers, including Barbara Parkinson, the School Swimming Captain and champion swimmer.

Since the presentation of all three cups in 1964, the Burrell Cup, the Lilley Cup, and the Lt-Col Plant Cup, seven Houses have won all three cups outright. England has won the ‘clean sweep’ four times followed by Hirschfeld and Gibson, three times each.

1934 Swimming Team Back row: Frances Cossins, Joan Clowes, Joyce Chapman, Dora Krummel Seated: Joyce Partridge, Barbara Parkinson (captain), Shirley Anlezark Front: Marjorie Messervy, Alison Whiting, Margaret Pedler, and Joyce Parkyn

In 1987, the Burrell Cup was fully engraved, and it was decided that rather than place the original cup on a wooden pedestal to create more room for engraving, that a new trophy be purchased. Subsequently, in 1988, the new Burrell Cup replaced Mrs Hilda Burrell’s silver trophy as the Interhouse Swimming Relay Cup.

The Burrell Cup, Interhouse Swimming Relays, since 1988

When making decisions with regard to the material culture of the School, it is important to have the whole story. Well done, Mrs Burrell, for acknowledging the importance of swimming and the joy of competition. Thank you, Miss Lilley, for your generosity. However, we must always be aware of our history when making decisions which can change who we are, what we represent, and the perception of ourselves.

Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short (1971)

Manager, School History and Culture


Brisbane Courier, “Swimming—The Brockway Cup” March 15, 1913, 11

Brisbane Courier, “The Brockway Cup” March 13, 1915.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School Annual Reports 1915-1979

Brisbane Girls Grammar School Magazines 1918-1969

Harvey-Short, Pauline – To become fine sportswomen—The History of Health, Physical Education and Sport at Brisbane Girls Grammar School 1875-2010 Brisbane Girls Grammar School, 2011.

The Telegraph, Grammar Schools – Reports and Prizes – Speech by the Governor 1915, December 11, 9.

The Telegraph, Brockway Swimming Cup – Won by Girls’ Grammar School 1918, March 10, 2.

2017 Interhouse Swimming trophies—(left to right) the modern Burrell Cup, individual goblets, Lilley Cup (behind), Lt-Col Plant Cup, and Lifesaving Cup

2019 Mackay House Sports Captain, Catherine Ta, receives the Burrell Cup for Relays at the Interhouse Swimming from Swimming Captain’s mother, Ms Trish Szonert