Mrs Bruford’s School for Ladies

The Age reported today on results of an archaeological dig on a site at the corner of King and Little Lonsdale Streets in Melbourne. The foundations of an early building there are made from sandstone, which in the mid 1840s would likely have been sourced locally, or perhaps from the Barrabool Hills near Geelong. Coarse ferruginous sandstone could also be found from the late 1830s in the vicinity of present-day Alexandra Gardens on the south side of the Yarra (and was used in construction of the Customs House, Gaol and St James’s Church), while other deposits could be found not far from town and were used extensively in Port Phillip buildings.

But who was Mrs Bruford, who advertised a school for ladies at the site in 1846?

Eliza Harris Ferguson was born in 1814, the daughter of one James Frederick Ferguson. Her father was in fact a Frenchman by the name of Jacques Frédéric Jaquemain, who left revolutionary France, changed his name and settled in London in 1793. He married Dinah Macklin in London in 1804, and at some point went to America and took up a position as a postmaster in South Carolina, where his son James Frederick Ferguson was born in 1807. After the death of his wife in 1811 he returned to London, where he married for a second time, to Elizabeth Mary Harris, in 1812.

In 1819 two children Margaret Caroline Ferguson and Elizabeth Harris Ferguson were baptised in the parish of St Andrew, Holborn, though their birth dates were recorded respectively as 1813 and 1814, and as we shall see, it is quite likely that they were also born in America. Their father’s occupation was given as “private teacher”, and other sources note that he was a language teacher who later set up a school in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. James Frederick Ferguson junior (1807-1855) is best known as an archivist who indexed the Irish Exchequer Records [Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee (eds), The Dictionary of National Biography (London: Oxford University Press, 1917), Vol. VI, pp. 1211-1212].

In 1842, Eliza Harris Ferguson (22) turns up in Hobart where she married ‘accountant’ Alexander Bruford (41) according to the rites of the Church of Scotland.

Alexander Bruford’s father was also Alexander Bruford, both living in Hobart as free settlers in the 1830s. In 1833, Alexander Bruford is mentioned in connection with a flour mill, and again in 1836 when he is declared insolvent.

Bruford senior died in 1837, while Alexander junior was recorded at the 1843 census.

Alexander and Eliza Bruford had three sons in Hobart — Alexander Blake (1843-1919), Henry Buncombe (1844-1924), and Frederick Horatio (1846-1920)— and arrived in Melbourne on the schooner Flying Fish in April 1846. They had five more children in Melbourne: Mary Blake (1847-1925), Charles Augustus (1848-1900), and Eliza Selby (1850-1851), Francis James (1852-), and Martha (Prahran 1853-).

Mrs Bruford advertised her intention of opening a school for young ladies in Melbourne in July 1846; in October, Alexander Bruford advertised his wares as a flour miller; and in December, Mrs Bruford was seeking a competent young woman as a nanny for three children.

By 1848, Mrs Bruford (residing at the corner of King and Little Lonsdale Streets) again advertised for the services of a housekeeper or nursery governess.

In 1852, Alexander Bruford advertised the sale of a store at Forest Creek (Chewton), and in 1855 the Mount Alexander Mail noted Mrs Bruford’s intent of establishing School for Young Ladies in Castlemaine.

By 1860, she was in charge of the boarders at the High School in Geelong, her address Hermitage Road, Newtown.

The following year, her husband Alexander died at that address aged 61.

Finally, on 27 February 1876, Eliza herself passed away at Belfast (Port Fairy) after a spell of gout, aged 61, and she was buried at the Belfast old cemetery. Her death certificate records her father as James Frederick Ferguson, Professor of Languages. Interestingly, her place of birth is given as Baltimore, America, with 13 years in Tasmania and 30 in Victoria.

Just over two weeks before her death, Eliza’s son Frederick Horatio Bruford married Sarah Susannah Stewart at Emerald Hill. Frederick was the Customs Officer at the time of the wreck of the Loch Ard in 1878. He also painted The Scene of the Wreck of the Loch Ard which is currently on show at Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool.

F.H. Bruford had five paintings exhibited at the Centennial International Exhibition in Melbourne in 1888—“On the Road to Walhalla”, “At Sandridge”, “View near Moe”, “On the Thompson River,” Gippsland”, “Sunset”—and on her death in 1925, his sister Mary Blake Bruford bequeathed his “View at San Remo” and “Brighton Beach” to her niece Effie.

We have little information on the children who may have received an education from Mrs Bruford in Melbourne, Castlemaine or Geelong, but at least one of her own children inherited that ‘knowledge of the beauty and order of creation’ that she prized so highly.

Andrew May

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