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Gordon, Sarah

Sarah Gordon was born in 1871, one of about twelve children, to John Gordon, blacksmith, and Catherine Mary nee Cantwell, in Picton, NSW. In 1874, the large family move to Gulgong as indicated by the birth and death records of several children. Later the Gordons moved to Sydney where Sarah, aged 19, applied for and was accepted to teach in a small school.

In March 1890 Sarah was appointed to Wallaroo Provisional School located on Richard Southwell's property, renamed [Brooklands] shortly after her arrival. A new building had been erected in place of an earlier hut and a preference for a female teacher was expressed by residents since most of the pupils were girls. Accommodation was offered at Richard Southwell's place, a short walk from the school, at a cost of eight shillings a week.

Sarah appears to have settled into her position, although an application for removal after one year, raises a question, but as she was an unclassified teacher this request was denied. By the end of her third year at Brooklands, the school building needed urgent repairs to fix 'wide openings between the slabs and some of the flooring boards.' The repairs, which involved resetting slabs and fixing calico strips between them as well as papering internally, were undertaken by Richard Southwell, and within two months Sarah communicated his satisfactory completion of the work to the Department.

In May 1894 Sarah expressed concern over the non-arrival of her salary cheque of £7.5.7. While her monthly payment had been delayed previously, this time the cheque seemed to have gone entirely astray and she demanded the department rectify the situation stating, 'I do not think that I should be the loser. I think another should be sent ... without delay'. The matter however stretched on for months due to bureaucratic protocols. Sarah had to indemnify the Department against the lost cheque being presented. She eventually arranged co-surety with Mr B.R. Southwell, Hall storekeeper, who was 'financially speaking ... unencumbered in any way'. She submitted the completed paperwork in November, six months after the cheque's disappearance. A few days later she also submitted her resignation, effective 31 December 1894, 'for the purpose of matrimony', and requested her substitute salary cheque (still outstanding) be sent to a Sydney address.
On 15 January 1895, Sarah married Benjamin Roffe Southwell, her indemnifier in the lost cheque saga, at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Newtown. The registration of their son's birth later that year suggests they commenced married life in Hall, but they later moved north as shown by electoral rolls, eventually settling in Nimbin where Benjamin went into dairy farming. Sarah now also had a daughter who went on to have a long teaching career with NSW public education. Sarah lived with her daughter in Hornsby in her final years, dying in 1955 after outliving her husband by twenty years.

[Biography prepared by Joanne Toohey, 2023. Sources consulted include NSW school teachers' rolls 1868-1908, NSW school and related records 1876-1979, historic newspapers, NSW births, deaths and marriages index, and 'Early Education and Schools in the Canberra Region' (1999) by Lyall Gillespie].


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