Academic versus Family History

I was having lunch with a friend today who classes herself as a ‘family historian.’  However, we both agreed that was an inefficient description of who she was and her interests.  As a Masters student – half way through my degree – I’ve read some scholarly debates from academics and commentators who still consider that family history is still the domain of amateurs and thus, is hardly worth a second glance.

That view has some validity and could be applied to family historians who are only intent on adding as many names as they possibly can to their family tree.  However, in parallel with better access to primary resources, family history has developed immeasurably and many family  historians now realise their ancestors were once flesh and blood.  They are interested  in where they were born, where they worked and where they were laid to rest.  Albeit on a different rung of the social ladder from the rich, the great and the famous who traditionally grace our history books.

A recent research project – still in progress – has illustrated that often the lives of others closely parallel social indicators of the time.  Primary documents (like census records) can demonstrate things like occupation, change of geographical location, family make-up and social mobility, while a document like a marriage certificate can unearth important details like the name and occupation of the parents.   Newspaper resources like TROVE (National Archives of Australia) are also invaluable sources of information for both the academic and family historian.  Even photographs and other resources, like the the mail-order catalogue above, can explain much.

Lets face it, without people there would be no history.

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Lady Edgeworth David: Caroline Mallett, in her own right

The digitisation and availability online of national newspapers, as well as magazines like the Australian Women’s Weekly, are providing family and social historians with a clearer picture of past events.  Thus, it is through this medium that we have a more personal view of the appointment of Cara Mallett to Hurlstone Women’s Training School.  In 1882, the Sydney Morning Herald published correspondence written by Sir Henry Parkes, and the Right Hon. A.J. Mundella M.P. who recommended Cara for the appointment.[1]

The Rev. J.B. Faunthorpe, who was Principal of Whitelands (the college Cara trained at prior to her Australian position) gave her a glowing reference as did the Inspector of
Training Colleges in England, Canon Warburton. The two gentlemen considered she was highly capable and Mundella, an English minister of parliament, suggested that although young, Cara possessed a better knowledge of ‘modern’ teaching methods than older teachers long in the profession.[2]

In her short career Cara had earned a First Class Archbishop’s certificate for religious knowledge, a First Class certificate for advanced botany, a Second Class advanced
certificate for physical geography, a Full drawing certificate, First Class advanced animal physiology, a First Class merit certificate & the  Lady Sudely prize for proficiency in domestic sanitation and a certificate from the St John’s Ambulance Association.[3]

Faunthorpe stated, in his testimonial, that she was an excellent teacher, disciplinarian and manager, with some knowledge of the Kindergarten system.[4]  He also mentioned that Cara had more than a fair knowledge of Greek, Latin and French.[5]  The testimonials however also illustrated their regret at losing such a talented teacher.  Another letter written by Saul Samuel, Agent-General, stated that a berth had been secured for Miss Cara Mallett on the Potosi which sailed from England on the 5th October 1882.[6]  Eventful that voyage would prove to be because it was aboard the Potosi that Cara first encountered Tannant William Edgeworth David (later Sir) who of course was her future husband.[7]

Cara began life as Caroline Martha Mallett.  She was born 26 April 1856 at Southwold, Suffolk in England and was the daughter of fisherman, Samuel Mallett and wife Pamela (nee Wright).[8]  Cara, as she preferred to be called, is said to have been orphaned at a young age and then raised by her grandmother.[9]  However, the 1871 census for England showed that at the age of 14 Cara was living with George and Mary Hurr.[10]  George was also a Suffolk fisherman and the census noted she was the couple’s niece. She was a pupil teacher.[11]

Jennifer Horsfield, who explored Cara’s life in some detail, suggested Cara exemplified what ‘women could achieve’ when they were ‘empowered by education.’[12]  Horsfield confirmed that Cara, with an annual salary of £300, became ‘one of the colony’s first independent, highly qualified professional women.’[13] As an avowal of her standing she was accepted into the Royal College of Preceptors in 1884, which allowed her to ‘use the initials MRCP after her name.’[14]  Horsfield saw this event as not insignificant in a colony that remained wedded to the idea that a ‘British stamp of approval’ was the ideal.[15]

Cara proved to be a formidable principal and her active pursuit of higher standards and better training for student teachers often led to conflict with senior bureaucrats in
the Department of Public Instruction.[16]  Horsfield suggested Cara was both outspoken
and innovative and promoted Friedrich Froebel’s radical Kindergarten theories
for teaching young children. It is easy to see why Cara was impressed with
German educator Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) because he was quoted as saying:

“The destiny of nations lies far more in the hands of women, the mothers, than in
the possessors of power, or those of innovators who for the most part do not
understand themselves. We must cultivate women, who are the educators of the
human race, else the new generation cannot accomplish its task.”

Froebel’s methods had an appeal to forward thinking educators like Cara because ‘play’
was considered as vital as more structured activities in the education of small
children.[17]  Froebel even suggested that childhood play was the ‘highest expression of human development’ because it allowed the ‘free expression of the child’s soul.’[18]  Froebel was not interested in turning out clones but in the ‘wholeness’ of the individual.[19] Cara embraced Froebel’s enlightened teaching methods and opposed rote learning which was taught by most teachers in the ‘Victorian-era.’[20]  Froebel’s methods are still being used to this day. While Cara was a strong advocate for the school curriculum to include the teaching of practical and domestic arts, she was equally supportive of girls
being taught science.[21]

 When Cara married mining surveyor, T.W. Edgeworth David, in 1885 she was required,
as was the unequal tradition then, to resign her Hurlstone position.[22] Horsfield
implied that Cara’s early married life, while dedicated to raising three young
children, was somewhat lonely in many respects because her husband travelled
frequently to ‘far-flung geological field camps.’[23] However, Carol Cantrell painted rather a different story by suggesting that Cara and the children often accompanied Edgeworth David.[24]  Cantrell described a trip they made to Funafuti in 1897, where Cara forged a friendship with locals while suffering the discomfort of ‘rain, mouldy clothes and lack of privacy’ quite cheerfully[25]  This trip obviously provided the material for Mission work in Funafuti, which Cara wrote when she returned home.[26]

 Life gained a more normal pace after Edgeworth David was appointed Professor of
Geology at the University of Sydney in 1891.[27]  The couple explored their own social and
educational projects but equally, were at the centre of a ‘group of liberal
intellectuals who dominated Sydney’s cultural life.’[28]  Thus, the Edgeworth David’s could count among their friends people like William Windeyer and his feminist-campaigner wife, Mary; and Professors Scott, Anderson and MacCallum (academics from the University of Sydney).  The group founded the Australian Home Reading Union (AHRU) in 1892 that aimed to provide courses in science, history and general literature for people who had an interest but otherwise lacked higher education.[29]  The AHRU failed in its bid to attract the interest of working class people who, according to  Horsfield, considered it was a club for the ‘rich and privileged.’[30]

 Together with friends like Louisa MacDonald (the first principal of the University
Women’s College) and feminist, Maybanke Wolstenholme, Cara supported the setting
up of free kindergartens in the inner city.[31] Cara put her skills to good use in the early decades of the twentieth-century when she lectured on topics like ‘Foreign missions & the effect they had on natives,’ ‘National Efficiency,’ and ‘Women War Workers.’[32]

 Newspapers of the day confirm that she was involved with the ‘Women’s Prohibition Movement’ which was a body formed from the amalgamation of the ‘Women’s Christian Temperance Union’ and other like societies.[33]  As president Cara addressed a large gathering at Katoomba in August 1920.[34]  She stated that ‘they had been unable to lift
the dead weight of apathy from the general public’ when she addressed another
gathering later that same year.[35] It is not clear whether they took up a suggestion made at that meeting that in order to rouse the apathy the ladies should go about ringing bells while carrying large placards declaring the benefits of Prohibition.

 When the ‘Wattle Day League’ formed c1910, Cara and feminist campaigner, Rose Scott,
became the vice presidents.[36] The League president was Joseph Henry Maiden who was Director of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. Among other organisations Maiden was one-time president of the Linnean Society 1901-2; president of the Royal Australian Historical
Society 1905-07 and president of the Horticultural Society 1903-17.  The objective of the Wattle League, in its formative years, was to instil a sense of national pride and patriotism for their country in Australian citizens.

 Rose Scott’s tireless campaign to improve women and children’s rights also inspired
Cara to become a devoted advocate. Cara founded her own branch of the ‘Women’s
Political Educational League,’ begun by Scott in 1904, in an effort to alert women to their new responsibilities after gaining the vote.[37] Edith Fry (1858-1940) another devotee
of the Women’s League was related to Woodford Academy principal John McManamey.

 During World War One Cara turned the David’s Woodford cottage (Tyn-y-coed) into a Red Cross convalescent home for soldiers.[38]  She was president of the ‘Women’s National Movement,’ which aimed at social reform, like sex education for young children and the eradication of venereal disease.  Cara, given her involvement
with the ‘Women’s Prohibition Movement’, strongly supported prohibition and endorsed any measure to bring about six-o’clock closing.[39]

 Cara was divisional commander (1920) and then State commander (1928-38) of the NSW
branch of the Girl Guides and organised the purchase of Glengarry at Turramurra
for use as training headquarters.[40]  This amazing woman spun fleece into wool to knit hundreds of socks for World War Two servicemen and she even had a hybrid tea rose named in her honour.[41]

 Edgeworth David once said of his wife ‘Whatever success I may have achieved in life is
due chiefly to my wife.’[42]  That testimony, glowing as it might be, only sums up a portion of the important contributions made by Cara or Lady Edgeworth David.

Pamela Smith


[1] Sydney Morning Herald, 30 October 1882,
p. 5, copies of correspondence Parkes & Mundella,  testimonials & correspondence from
Mallett to Mundella, reference from Rev. J.B. Faunthorpe Principal of
Whitelands College to Sir Henry Parkes, reference from Mrs. Newton, Superintendent
Whitelands College & Miss Kate Stanley, Governess of Whitelands College,
correspondence from Mallett to Parkes, Saul Samuel to Colonial Secretary.

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, Mundella to
Parkes (3).

[3] Sydney Morning Herald, copy of reports.

[4] Sydney Morning Herald, testimonial Rev. J.B. Faunthorpe.


[6] Sydney Morning Herald, Saul Samuel to Colonial Secretary.

Carol Cantwell, ‘David, Caroline Martha (Cara) (1856-1951), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, Volume 13, 1993, pp. 575-576.



[10] English Census records, 1871 Southwold Suffolk.


[12] Jennifer Horsfield, ‘Cara David A Forgotten Feminist,’ in The National Library Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 1, March 2011, p. 24.





Froebel Web, ‘Friedrich Froebel created Kindergarten,’, updated regularly, accessed 24.7.2011.



Jennifer Horsfield.




Carol Cantwell.



Jennifer Horsfield.





[32] Sydney Morning Herald, 7.8.1900,p. 9; 9.11.1915, p. 5; 31.7.1920, p. 15.

[33] Sydney Morning Herald, 10.7.1920, p. 13.

Ibid, 27.9.1920, p. 4.

[35] Sydney Morning Herald, Prohibition, Women Fighters, Picturesque Ideas For the Campaign, 24.11.1920, p. 10.

Ibid, 2.9.1914, p. 8.

Jennifer Horsefield.

Carol Cantrell



[41] Australian Women’s Weekly, 27.6.1942.

Carol Cantrell.

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Who Am I?

The objective of this blog is to make history enjoyable and show that it is more than just a bunch of famous names and dates.  I hope to make this blog absorbing and interesting.

I am a qualified historian located in the lower Blue Mountains of New South Wales.  I have a BA (Hons) History degree and an Advanced Diploma in Local, Family & Applied History.  Currently, I am part way through a Master’s Degree.

The topics might at first appear electic but hopefully, as the blog develops, they will follow a theme.

Happy reading.

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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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