A Remarkable Woman

Matilda Dixie’s teaching career began with much excitement in tent schools on the gold fields! A strong gale in September 1854 had blown ‘the rotten tent away’! When Inspector Venables visited Red Hill school in 1858 he found ‘appalling conditions’ with Matilda teaching in ankle deep mud. Inspector Sircom visiting the Benevolent Asylum school in 1863 found her ‘not deficient in energy or ability’ but, he thought, she needed a little more firmness in her teaching. Queen’s College in Ballarat was founded around 1877 by this remarkable woman.

Matilda Dixie nee Broadbent emigrated from Yorkshire in 1854 with her family, and, at the height of the gold rush, they first tried gold mining in Bendigo and then Ballarat. After teaching in some tent schools on the Ballarat gold fields, Matilda Broadbent married Joseph Dixie (twice her age) in 1859. In July 1860 their son Arthur Willoughby was born. Owing to Joseph’s poor health they sold all their belongings and left for South Australia, but unfortunately he died three months later leaving Matilda with a young child.

With James Oddie’s help she returned to Ballarat and was appointed teacher at the Ballarat Benevolent Asylum Common School where she remained until 1868.

Much emphasis was put on the education of boys in the mid 1800s. However, Matilda strived to make the same education available to girls. She thought that they should be taught more than merely needlework and music. In 1874, only three years after the matriculation (equivalent to Year 12) examination was opened to girls, Matilda Dixie, an excellent teacher, presented some successful female candidates from Alexandra College in Hamilton. She left the Hamilton college in 1876, the year of her father’s and sister’s deaths and returned once more to Ballarat.

Councillor Shoppee, the owner of a substantial brick building at 98 Dana Street, and aware of her teaching ability, encouraged her to establish a school in Ballarat, renting out this building to her and sending along 13 little Shoppee’s for her tuition. She thus established an elementary and secondary school. The first group of 30 girls reportedly began their tuition at the premises in Dana Street in January 1877, which she named “Queen’s College”. (Queen’s College is now amalgamated with Ballarat Grammar and is located in Forest Street, Wendouree. For many years the girl’s school, Queen’s Grammar, was at 1200 Mair Street, the premises now occupied by Australian Catholic University.)

The curriculum established at Queen’s Grammar by Matilda Dixie comprised English Grammar, Spelling and Composition, Latin, French, Geography, History, Arithmetic, Euclid, Algebra, Needlework, Scripture, Singing, Drawing, Music, Daily Exercise and Chemistry.

Matilda, during one speech night, reflecting on her own misfortunes called upon her students to ‘use their faith in relation to their experiences in the public examination. In the case of failure’, she urged them ‘to bear defeat with Christian cheerfulness and resignation’.

Matilda’s second marriage, to Frank Goldstraw, took place during 1878 and her subsequent children, Winifred and Amy Rose were born in 1880 and 1882 respectively. Matilda, a remarkable woman, outlived her second husband by 2 years, dying at the age of 69 years at Caulfield.

Matilda Dixie 1878