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The founding of Methodist Ladies College

It is nearly 140 years since the Methodist Ladies' College in Elphin Road opened its doors for its first students on Monday, 8 February 1886.

When the College advertised for students in 1885 it said it would provide the same educational advantage enjoyed by boys who attended the best private schools in Australia.

The school was in an imposing mansion of 21 rooms called Oakburn on Elphin Road with nearly a hectare of grounds, gardens and fruit trees.

Oakburn had been owned by Alexander Corrie who helped establish the Launceston Stock Exchange. When he moved to Brisbane in 1885 the property was offered for sale.

The Methodist Ladies’ College board had plans drawn up to extend the house and remodel the interior into classrooms and boarding house accommodation.

The Daily Telegraph on 6 February 1886, said the school was in a handsome and commodious building situated about a mile from the Launceston Post Office.

“The college stands off the road, and is approached through an ornamental garden, nicely laid out, with a fountain in the centre.

“Passing beneath a substantial porch into the spacious entrance hall, the visitor is forcibly reminded of schooldays in the old country.”

As a school-house, the newspaper said, it was quite equal to many of the collegiate institutions in England.

The first headmaster was the highly credentialled educationalist George Thornton Lewis who had been acting headmaster of Horton College at Ross.

Sydney teacher Miss Carolyn Swindells, who had been educated in Europe, was appointed lady principal.

When the college opened it had 45 students and accommodation for 10 boarders. Pupils from the mainland were offered a free return steamer ticket after six months at the school.

At the end of its first year the school had doubled its enrolments to 75 girls.

In 1890 the college committee decided it would be more economical to combine the leadership positions and in 1890 the Reverend F. J. Nance was appointed headmaster.

Reverend Nance was keen to widen the appeal of the college and oversaw a name change to the Launceston Ladies College.

In 1900 former student Mary Fox joined the staff and in 1903 became headmistress, a position she held until 1941.

The school changed its name again in 1915 to the Methodist Ladies College of Tasmania.

By the 1930s enrolments were over 200 day girls and boarders and by 1952 more than 3,000 students had passed through the school.

The name of the school was changed again in 1969, this time to Oakburn College, and student numbers continued to increase.

In 1979 the school amalgamated with the all-boys school Scotch College.

Today the co-educational Scotch Oakburn College operates on campuses at Penquite Road (where Scotch moved in 1917) and the Oakburn site in Elphin Road.

Images -- TOP: The Methodist Ladies College, Weekly Courier, 22 June 1926. MIDDLE: Headmistress Miss Mary Fox with students, Weekly Courier, 22 June 1926. BOTTOM: The dining room at MLC. Weekly Courier, 22 June 1926.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, 30 June 2024, page 24.


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