Mrs Bridget Johnston of Eurobodalla Public School, 1882-1927

In 1924, when she was 65, the Education department’s age for retirement in those days, the powers-that-be asked Mrs Johnston to continue teaching. She retired three years later at the age of 68

Sixteen Women of Early Eurobodalla
Noel Warry, Moruya and District Historical Society

In my research over the past week I have come across recounts of some amazingly effective teachers.

Monday’s post, based on the autobiography of AV Colefax, mentioned Mr Egan, an outstanding headmaster of Moruya Public School.

Today’s post – the wrap-up for Education Week – is an account of a truly amazing woman – who was in charge of Eurobodalla Public School from 1882 at the age of 23 until she retired, at the age of 68, in 1927.

To lead a school is challenging; to lead an isolated school for 45 years is remarkable and possibly unique.

As a fellow educator, I recognise a burning drive in Bridget Johnston to make a difference in the lives of not only  her students , their families and the Eurobodalla community but also to society as a whole. The results her students achieved enabled them to proceed into a wide range of careers in which many of them were able to make their difference on the growth of our state.

I also found her life in a tiny country school in the late 1800s and early 1900s to have real parallels to the lives of current educators.

The importance of higher education and the achievement of a student’s individual potential drives quality teachers today just as it drove Bridget Johnston in the late 1800’s.

Parental desire for excellence in education  certainly hasn’t changed. The father who pitched a tent near the Eurobodalla Public School so that his son could attend the school was motivated by the same beliefs as modern parents who move so that their children are in the local catchment area of a desirable school (or those who submit false documentation!).

The bursaries that were highly prized in Mrs Johnston’s era have, as their modern equivalents, placements in OC classes in some public schools or in selective high schools.

The more things change the more they stay the same!

Born Bridget Ann Ryan, at Deua River, in 1859, Mrs Johnston completed her formal education at Blackfriars, Sydney, where she took a two year teacher training course.

Bridget Ryan’s first appointment was at Moruya Public School, after which she was posted to Cleveland Street Infants School, Sydney. Then, on 23 August, 1882 when she was 23, she was appointed to the public school at Eurobodalla.

The high quality of Mrs Johnston’s teaching – strict, dedicated and inspired – soon became apparent, and it did not take long for knowledge of her skill to spread. At various times pupils were sent to her from as far away as Tilba Tilba, Narooma, Bodalla, Trunkatabella, Eden and Nerrigundah. Her pupils came from many backgrounds; from the humble, the wealthy, the illiterate and the educated.

Parents who lived outside of Eurobodalla arranged for the children to board. One father from further south was so keen for his son to be educated by Mrs Johnston he set up two tents near the school and in them installed his young son, and a woman to look after him during the school year.

Sixteen Women of Early Eurobodalla
Noel Warry, Moruya and District Historical Society

Eurobodalla Public School, 1906
Bridget Johnston on the left

As the teacher of an isolated bush school Mrs Johnston dealt with all classes from the then equivalent of Kindergarten to higher education entrance. She let it be clearly stated that no pupil, however reluctant a student, ever left her school without being able, at the very least, to write, to read and to do arithmetic. This was a promise that Mrs Johnston carried out , from 1882 to 1927.

She kept good discipline. She set high standards in both learning and living and expected everyone else to do the same. Under her tuition several generations faced life equipped with a thorough grounding in basic learning and living skills

Sixteen Women of Early Eurobodalla
Noel Warry, Moruya and District Historical Society

A quick search of TROVE illustrates just how effective and how highly regarded a teacher Miss Ryan, later Mrs Johnston, was.

The Moruya Times and South Coast Journal (NSW : 1888 – 1915), Wednesday 20 November 1889, page 2 has the following report

A Good Example
We are informed that Miss Ryan, who has charge of the Eurobodalla Public School, Intends on Thursday next to give a picnic to the scholars attending her school. We believe that Miss Ryan has made practice of giving this picnic every year.

The Cobargo Chronicle (NSW : 1898 – 1944), Friday 16 June 1899, page 2 has a glowing reference to Miss Ryan’s abilities and popularity.

Miss Ryan, the popular and clever teacher of the Public School at Eurobodalla, is again to the fore with three candidates for the Junior Examination which is to take place during next week. This lady’s abilities as a teacher, have, on many occasions, been rewarded by the success of her pupils.

The Bega Budget (NSW : 1905 – 1921), Saturday 6 April 1907, page 5 states:

At Eurobodalla on Saturday of last week, Miss B.A. Ryan, public school teacher at Eurobodalla, was entertained at a picnic and presented with a silver tea and coffee service by the parents of the school to mark the occasion of her marriage on Easter Monday. Miss Ryan has held the position of teacher at Eurobodalla public school for many years.

Her examination results were outstanding and the ratio of her students’ successes was far greater than those of the State’s ‘top’ schools.

The Sydney Morning Herald  (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Friday 1 November 1889, page 4 contains an article listing the successful candidates at the senior and junior public examinations held in connection with the Sydney University. The article listed the educational establishments that the successful candidates came from.

Tiny Eurobodalla certainly is featured in that year’s list. To see the full list click here.

During those times the Intermediate was an important and difficult examination. The Department of Education offered four bursaries for higher education to the best students of the Cooma Inspectorate, a large area stretching from the mountains to the coast.

Almost every year at least one of the candidates from Mrs Johnston’s small school would win a bursary.
One year they won all four!
This result, with all four bursaries going to one small school, was so startling that the Education Department decided to look into the matter.

Sixteen Women of Early Eurobodalla
Noel Warry, Moruya and District Historical Society

An inspector was sent out to the school without notice and he immediately conducted a re-examination of the four examinees. His snap re-examination only enhanced the original results. Three of those students gained medical degrees while the fourth student gained a Bachelor of Arts!

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald of Friday 22 July 1927 following Bridget Johnston’s retirementstates:


…..she took charge of Eurobodalla, in which position she continued for 45 years. Forty-seven teachers who are now in the service of the department passed through her school and came under her influence…

Mrs Bridget Annie Johnston died in 1939, at the age of 80. Her grave is in Moruya cemetery.

One response to “Mrs Bridget Johnston of Eurobodalla Public School, 1882-1927”

  1. The Adelaide Hotel, racing in Moruya, a wedding in Bodalla and news from Nerrigundah – MORUYA and District Historical Society Blog Avatar

    […] – (From our Correspondent). Miss Madeline Mather, who was a pupil of that talented teacher, Mrs. Johnstone of Eurobodalla, received notice last week that she had been appointed teacher of a school at Kyogle at a salary of […]

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