SWANN, William (1837–1909)

William Swann, first headmaster of Naremburn Public School.
William Swann, first headmaster of Naremburn Public School.
Willoughby Museum collection, courtesy Ellen Errey and Elizabeth Plimer (granddaughters).
Naremburn Public School was indeed fortunate to gain William Swann as its foundation headmaster in May 1887. Swann had previously served as headmaster of Bowning Public School from 1877 to 1880 and had then been in charge of several challenging country schools, where he had displayed his ability to cope with the many difficulties that beset such appointments. William had married Elizabeth (nee Devlin) at Grenfell in 1870.

Swann demonstrated his competence building up the new suburban school, never an easy undertaking. Staff and pupils alike admired him as their senior. School records bear testimony to his flair in penmanship and his concern for his scholars, particularly to assure their interest in their school involvements. By the end of 1887 the roll stood at over 180 in the two small schoolrooms. After two years at Naremburn, during which William set the course of the school in a firm direction, he was appointed to a series of schools in the Parramatta area.

In his concern to house his family of 11 children (nine daughters and two sons), William purchased the then derelict Macarthur family’s Elizabeth Farm house on nearly six acres of land in 1903. Because of the condition of the house, it was deemed valueless and Swann paid £600 for the land. William was convinced he could restore the house to make it habitable. This he accomplished, meeting the mammoth task as another challenge.

Swann died in 1909 aged 72, but his activities had assured the future of Elizabeth Farm House. Elizabeth survived him by 31 years. The women of the family continued to maintain the house, keenly aware of its historical significance. It was finally sold to Parramatta Museum Trust in 1968 and was acquired by The Historical Houses Trust of New South Wales in 1984.

Naremburn is proud indeed of its connection with its illustrious first headmaster whose contribution to our heritage is beyond valuation.

–Judy Baird