As the Archivist, I recently had reason to open the substantial 1882 to 1902 Brisbane Girls Grammar School Register of Attendance. This is not an Entrance Register—but a record of the daily attendance of every single student for every day of the school year, for 20 years. It is a rich source of primary information.
You might wonder why someone would need to look at this 140-year-old, very large, very heavy (at 7.7 kilograms), leather-bound book? I refer to it on frequent occasions, because it is reliable and provides first-hand evidence of past students who attended the School, and who have somehow slipped off the radar and cannot be found on any class rolls.
The Register helps to answer questions such as ‘did Jessie Stephens ever attend Girls Grammar? If she did, what years did she attend the School and did she complete the whole year?’ This record is vital because this illustrious student is not named on the 1882 School roll. Also, in various records, a name might be misspelt, or a date incorrectly entered, but this book is a portal which connects us in the 21st century to the girl whose attendance was so carefully recorded every day of her year.
And what is notable about the starting year of 1882? It is the year of a milestone in the history of this School. In 1881, the Board of Trustees of Brisbane Grammar, decided that, because of increasing numbers, a girls’ branch of the School was a viable education institution to establish. There were 78 pupils enrolled at the School, then situated on Wickham Terrace, with no more space to take any new students. The Brisbane Grammar Board therefore made an important decision to make Brisbane Girls Grammar a separate, independent institution. This is our very first register of attendance.
I touch this special item with genuine reverence as it preserves the start of Girls Grammar as a School in its own right. I think about the girls whose education and experiences began the traditions and history that have continued for more than 140 years. I think about the hands that touched these pages and the pens that meticulously marked every day for every girl in the days long before computers. It is as if we can imagine them in their classes and at their desks in the house on Wickham Terrace and then, later, in the building on Gregory Terrace.
And why did I need to refer to this special record so recently? I was assisting a staff member who was writing an article on the Speech Day tablecloth and needed confirmation that a student whose name was embroidered on that tablecloth (but did not appear on the Annual Report School roll compiled at the end of each year) actually attended the School. I needed to find the answers to the following questions: why wasn’t she on the roll, and did she leave early? The women who created the tablecloth obviously counted her in their cohort as she is included in the embroidered names. So, what happened to her? She is not here to tell us the answers herself but, in the Attendance Register, the answer was simple: the student left the School at the end of the third quarter.
Thank you to those teachers who assiduously mark each girl’s attendance every day. It is important to be right, and sometimes you have to look in a number of places for that correct answer.
Ms Jennifer Davis
Librarian in charge of Special Collections