The Principals of Somerville House

With our 120 year celebrations set to take place in the second half of the academic year, it is fitting the School take a moment to reflect on our history of strong leadership, and the significant achievements from previous Principals and their positive influence on the School.

Current Principal, Mrs Kim Kiepe, the twelfth Principal of Somerville House, spoke of how she believes it is important to commemorate the visionaries that paved the way for the School’s outstanding reputation as a leader in girls’ education.

“Effective Principals can influence a variety of positive school outcomes through their ability to identify school vision and goals,” Mrs Kiepe said.

“Throughout the School’s history, I believe our past Principals have shown great tenacity and steady guidance beginning with the Schools founder Miss Eliza Fewings,” she said.

Founding the School on the 5 October 1899, Miss Eliza Fewings established the Brisbane High School for Girls (Somerville House) with thirty-one students.

“Miss Fewings founded a school designed to educate young women and equip them to take a leading role in the creation of an emerging nation,” Mrs Kiepe said.

“In just three years the School quickly became one of the largest girls’ secondary schools in Queensland with over 150 students,” she said.

Remaining Principal until 1909, Eliza Fewings went on to be appointed warden of Alexandra Hall in Aberystwyth, Wales and sold the School to Miss Constance Harker and Miss Marjorie Jarret.

Arguably two of the most influential Somerville House Principals, second to that of founder Miss Eliza Fewings; Miss Constance Harker met Miss Marjorie Jarret during her time as a senior English and classic mistress at the Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon, New South Wales.

“In 1908 Miss Harker became acting Head of School; eventually purchasing it from Miss Eliza Fewings in 1909 going into co-Principalship with Miss Jarrett,” Mrs Kiepe said.

“In 1918, hoping to finance more modern facilities including a Boarding House, the pair transferred ownership of the School to the newly formed Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association (PMSA), while retaining their Principalship,” she said.

According to the School’s Archivist, Ms Kate Bottger, in 1920 the School moved from Wickham Terrace to Vulture Street, South Brisbane, and was later renamed Somerville House after renowned Scientist, Mary Somerville; opening with an enrolment of 225 pupils.

“During their tenure as Co-Principals, the School, through the PMSA, saw many upgrades to the campus including the purchase of Cumbooquepa from the Stephens Family in 1919,” Ms Bottger said.

“A twenty-five yard pool in 1923 and a separate Junior School building in 1929,” she said.  

“In 1934, thanks to the efforts of Old Girls, a library was built, and a few years later, an Art studio was added to the building. This building was converted to the Chapel in 1993.”

The School’s ever-increasing development hit a stalemate during the Second World War, as day students and boarders were relocated across Queensland when the United States Army commandeered Somerville House as a headquarters in 1942. The war, which saw the School divided into three, with boarders being sent to Stanthorpe, and day students relocated to both Cooparoo and Auchenflower, most notably defined the tenure of Miss E Frances Craig, the fourth Principal of Somerville House.

“It was through Miss Craig’s persistence that boarders and day students were able to return to the campus in 1945, earlier than expected,” Ms Bottger said.

“When the School returned to Vulture Street, the United States Army was still partially in residence, with armed guards stationed at the doors,” she said.

Assuming the role of Principal after the retirement of Miss Craig in the August of 1953, was Miss Ellen Christensen (1953 to 1956). Though relatively short, Miss Christensen’s Principalship saw a new wing of the Junior School open in 1955 and paved the way for the fifth and sixth Principals of Somerville House, Miss Isobel Taylor (1957 to 1969) and Mr Rod Wells (1970 to 1973).

The first Principal to live in a purpose built house on campus, Miss Isobel Taylor’s term saw a Science block (B Block) constructed, along with the opening of the MK Jarrett School of Music and Drama. Similarly, Mr Rod Well’s tenure, though short, saw a new library built on top of the MK Jarrett School of Music and Drama in 1972, which is now known as D Block.

According to Ms Bottger, seventh Principal of Somerville House, Reverend Sam Seymour, began his Principalship at the School during one of the worst floods in Queensland’s history, and, not one to be perturbed, in the same year continued with the opening of the new assembly hall, named Harker Hall.

“In 1985, Reverend Seymour also led the construction and grand opening of a new five storey Science building named the Mary Somerville Science Centre,” Ms Bottger said.

“Reverend Sam Seymour lived on campus with his wife Pat, who also became an integral part of the daily life of the School,” she said.

Forming lasting relationships with many teachers, pupils and their parents, Pat also began the group that became Mothers of Past Students and upon Reverend Seymour’s retirement, was given an honorary life membership to the Old Girls Association.

Upon Reverend Seymour’s retirement at the end of 1987, the following year brought with it not only World Expo 88, hosted in Southbank, but the eighth Principal of Somerville House, Dr Murray Evans. Dr Evans saw a multitude of capital works during his time as Principal, most notably the construction of the gymnasium in 1992, and the Olympic sized swimming pool in 1996, which is now known as the Murray Evans Sports and Aquatics Centre. He was also responsible for leading the construction of the railway bridge connecting the two sections of the campus together. It wasn’t until 1999 that Somerville House purchased the South Brisbane Municipal Chambers, nowadays known as The Chambers building, with the first stage of renovations completed by the end of 2005, one year into the Principalship of Dr Ness Goodwin, the ninth Principal of Somerville House (2004 to 2010).

Dr Ness Goodwin formerly served as Principal of Somerville House from 2004 to 2010 and was appointed interim Principal for 2018. Throughout her years at Somerville House, Dr Goodwin led many projects, but most notably the construction of the new Junior School and Boarding House. Two houses on the School property (originally the Mavis and Craig Boarding Houses) were removed to accommodate what is nowadays referred to as the Goodwin Building. The construction of the new Queensland Children’s Hospital across from Somerville House meant the School only had a short time-frame of twelve months to complete the building. The development of the building also involved the removal of the original Junior School (located where the Foundation Building stands today).

Along with her passion and commitment to girls’ education, the tenth Principal of Somerville House, Mrs Florence Kearney, is remembered for her dedication to an energetic capital Works program. The program included the Bauer Building, housing our state of the art Boarding House, and the construction of the School’s Foundation Building. Mrs Kearney also led the acquisition of the Dunn Road sporting fields, with her strategic insight into the development of the School benefiting both students and staff for years to come.

Acknowledging the unique and outstanding contributions of Principals that have gone before her, Mrs Kiepe spoke of her aspirations to leave a legacy that Somerville House will continue to educate young women for a modern world, with honesty, integrity and an eagerness for further education.

“It is my aim to ensure the School is known for providing the highest standard of education, inclusive of a broad curriculum to cater for tertiary pathways and provision for vocational pathways,” Mrs Kiepe said.

“I want the School to develop each student's critical thinking skills and encourage emotional intelligence so that she can discern for herself, with a sense of compassion and concern for others,” she said.

“I strongly believe the leadership seen throughout the history of the School has set the stage for me to make my mark and continue the outstanding reputation of Somerville House.”