The History of Leith

May 26, 2006

Flying flag for an old friend from Australia

A MYSTERIOUS 95-year-old connection between schools in Leith and Sydney, Australia has been discovered.

Bonnington Primary School and Nicholson Street Public School – one of the oldest in the dockland Balmain area of Sydney – exchanged gifts in 1911 and 1912.

Despite the difficulties of travel and communications in the pre-First World War years. the two schools struck up a relationship.

However, it seems to have been forgotten almost as soon as it began as there is little evidence in either school about it.

It was only when an Australian woman who had been left a box by a dying friend returned it to Nicholson Street last year that the two schools started delving into their history.

The words “To Nicholson Street Public School, Balmain, Sydney, from Bonnington Primary School, Leith, Scotland, 1912,” were written on a silver plaque on top of the box.

After reading it, excited staff at Nicholson contacted Bonnington, where teachers found a Union flag hanging on a wall with an inscription in one corner, which read: “From Nicholson Street Public School, Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, to our cousins in Scotland, 1911.”

That prompted staff to make a 10,000-mile trip from Sydney to Edinburgh as the schools joined forces to investigate the link.

Nicholson Street administrator Theresa Mortimer said: “We were a little bit amazed and thought we would try and find out more.”

When they arrived at the school they were shown a diary entry which revealed the flag had been unfurled on May 17, 1912, and Provost Smith was invited to attend the ceremony.

However, it was other records that could hold the key to how the two schools stuck up a friendship all those years ago.

Mrs Mortimer said: “We found out that a family called Reith left Leith for Australia in 1896.

“And on May 5, 1912, a girl called Margaret Anderson, who was a pupil at Bonnington, went to Sydney with her family. It is possible that she brought the box with her.

“When I go home to Australia I will try and find out if she ever attended Nicholson Street.

“I also think there could be a shipbuilding connection. Balmain harbour has seen a lot of shipbuilding all around the shore.

“I think there’s a very big chance there’s a connection because of the two industries that were in Leith and Balmain.”

However, the schools are not content to look only at their shared history and are hoping to link up in the future. Andrew Hunter, headteacher at Bonnington Primary School, said: “We were really excited when we found out we had this link and we are very keen to develop it further.

“We would also like to know if anyone could help us get to the bottom of the connection. It must be down to children from Bonnington going out there, and I am sure there are people in Leith who will be able to shed some light on it.

“The year 1912 is such a long time ago, the world was so much larger then. I’ve never come across a link which dates back so far, between two schools so far apart.

He added: “We’ve an idea to create another box to send over with things from the children of Bonnington. We’ve no idea what might have been in the first box, but we could include items connected to the school in the second.

“I’m also going to Australia to spend two or three days working in the school, to find out how their education system is different to ours.


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