News & Events

Clara Murton, an education pioneer

April 30, 2019

Clara Murton was a pioneer of education with a fascinating background before she resided in the Old Colonist Homes in Rushall Park. A generous benefactor, Clara built and donated two cottages to the Association. She moved into her cottage in 1909.

The idea to build and live in the village came from a friend of Miss Murton’s who for years, ‘had many vicissitudes moving from place to place.’[1]The chance to settle was something that Clara longed for.

A Londoner, Miss Murton was born in 1822 and christened in St Martin’s in the Fields. Her sister, Emily, was five years younger than Clara. Both were well educated, at a time when it was not fashionable for young women to be educated.

Clara Murton, in an interview with Punch, says that the need to be independent “was a probably necessity…we got permission from our parents to have a small school in our drawing room. Our classes numbered 30 pupils, and we carried on the school successfully for six years, then to qualify for better appointments, we went abroad.”

In 1855, after a stint in Germany and France, Clara and Emily received a letter from their brother who had been in Australia since the gold rush. They sailed in the Roxburgh Castle from London in 1857. Among the passengers were Mr Condell, who later became Melbourne’s first Mayor, the Dalgety and Hepburn families.
Clara’s first appointment was as finishing governess in Mrs. Macarthur’s Seminary for young ladies, in Robe Street, St. Kilda.

“I found the educational methods very primitive, and had uphill work reorganising but Mrs. Macarthur, recognising my training and qualifications, gave me carte blanche. Many of the girls— young ladies we called them in those days— were in their last year, and I had complete charge of them,” she told Punch.

Two years later, Clara and Emily went to Sydney to teach before returning to Melbourne and then England where she worked as a governess to a French family. She was in Paris just before the Franco-Prussian war broke out.

In 1870, the sisters returned to Melbourne to open a school for young ladies in Powlett Street, East Melbourne. Emily’s health was failing, and so they closed the school. By 1878, the sisters were back in England, with Clara working with the Marquis of Bristol’s family.

“Our parents, having died, we found it no longer necessary to teach, and having no ties in England, we returned to Melbourne in 1888. We bought land in Hawksburn Road, Hawksburn, and built a house on it, but before it was completed my sister passed away,” Clara told Punch.

She lived in the house for a short while but could not endure the loneliness. She donated the house and furniture to the China Inland Mission.

In 1909, Clara donated funds to the Old Colonists to build one cottage in honour of Emily and shortly afterwards requested permission to build another cottage to live in, which she pledged to the Association after her death.

“For years, I had many vicissitudes moving from place to place. All the discomforts of lodgings and apartments I think I have experienced,” she told Punch.

Architect James A. Wood was commissioned to draw up the plans for the four-room cottage which were approved in 1910. It was the first cottage design Wood worked on, but he went on to design the Keep Cottages, The George and Harriet Hebden cottages, Sir William Zeal cottages, and Sumner Hospital.

Clara rejected a grand celebration for the laying of the foundation stone for ‘Murton.’ The honours went to one of her trustees Miss Agnes M Miller on 10 November 1910.

Shortly afterwards Clara moved into her cottage, and became one of the few colonists to be both an ‘inmate’ and life governor at the same time. She lived in the cottage for two years before her death on 4 April 1913.

In her obituary, we learn that her donations to the Old Colonists amounted to about £2,000 altogether. In accordance with her wishes her own cottage was divided into two, and made available for the use of deserving old colonists.

Clara was buried in St Kilda Cemetery.


Volunteering is important to Deb, enabling her to contribute in the aged care sector. “I love it when the residents get downright cheeky. I love it when we get a bit too loud with laughing."

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