Somerville House

Somerville House

Name: Somerville House

Group: Institutional Location

Type: Educational College (Secondary)

Years at Location: 1899-Current

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Fewling’s original idea was that the School would be a place where girls could be equipped with social graces, and would be able to take a leading role in the management of the nation.

The academic achievements of Somerville House during Jarrett’s co-Principalship were amongst the best in the state, and she widened the interests of her pupils by encouraging visitors who were authorities on literature, music, art and international affairs.

The School had branches of the Australian Student Christian Movement and the League of Nations Union, two companies of Girl Guides, and a Cot Fund which supported the ill and disabled.

The unusual wartime history has also made Somerville House a Brisbane attraction. In 1945 when the School reassembled back at South Brisbane, the American forces still occupied the upper floor of the school’s education block with an armed guard at the door. A war-operational military installation housed in an operating girl’s school?

Impact on Brisbane Society

Brisbane High School for Girls was established in 1899 with 39 students on Wickham Terrace, and Principal Eliza Fewings, who had been dismissed as Headmistress of the Brisbane Girls Grammar School. Within three years it the Fewing’s beginnings became the largest girls’ secondary school in Queensland, with 150 students. In 1900, the boarders moved to ‘Whytecliffe’ at Albion, a property which still stands in Whytecliffe Street. In July 1903, the boarders were moved again, this time to ‘Garth House’ on Wickham Terrace, which was closer to the Day School. Early in 1906, the boarding students were relocated once more to “Cheltenham”, which was situated in what is now Jephson Street, Toowong. In 1912, the School again relocated to ‘Erneton’ on Wickham Terrace, which had been located next door to the boarders’ previous residence, ‘Garth House’. By this time two co-Principals, had stepped in, Constance Harker and Marjorie Jarrett. ‘Athol Place’, a few doors away on the Terrace was also rented for extra Boarders and two primary classes.

In 1918, due to these financial struggles, the School with the Principals were transferred to the ownership of the newly formed Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association. In 1920 the school moved from Wickham Terrace to its current site on Mater Hill, in South Brisbane, opening with an enrolment of 225 pupils. The boarding-school occupied ‘Cumbooquepa’, former home of Thomas Blacket Stephens and his son William Stephens. In 1919 the school’s name was changed to Somerville House, in recognition of the work of Mary Somerville (1780–1872), the Scottish scientist and mathematician. During the occupation of the South Brisbane site by the Australian Military Forces, and later, as Base Section Three Headquarters of the United States Army, East Asian Command, the School was temporarily relocated and divided. Pupils from north of the Brisbane River were transferred to Raymont Lodge, at Auchenflower, while those from the south went to the former Queen Alexandra Home, Coorparoo; boarding students were sent to Moiomindah at Stanthorpe, which became the school’s administrative centre. The School reassembled back at South Brisbane in January 1945.


“Somerville House” Study Queensland. Queensland Government. 2007 []. Retrieved 17 March 2008.

Freeman, Phyllis G. History of Somerville House (The Brisbane High School for Girls) 1899-1949. W.R. Smith & Paterson, The Valley, Qld, 1949. [with a foreword by E.N. Merrington]

Hall, Noeline. A Legacy of Honour: the Centenary History of Somerville House, Boolarong Press, Moorooka, Qld, 1999.

Unnamed. The Brisbane High School for Girls: Somerville House South Brisbane, The School, Brisbane Qld, 1920.

Image Citations

Brisbane’s Somerville House loses more staff. The Courier Mail