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Lady Mabel Louise (Mab) Grimwade (1887–1973)

by Thea Gardiner

Mab and Scottish Terriers at Westerfield, December 1931,  by Russell Grimwade

Mab and Scottish Terriers at Westerfield, December 1931, by Russell Grimwade

Papers of Wilfrid Russell and Mabel Grimwade, Archives and Special Collections, University of Melbourne, 2002.0003.00889

Lady Mabel Louise Grimwade (1887—1973), philanthropist, was born on 4 January 1887 at St Kilda, Melbourne, eldest child of Agnes Dalziel Kelly, née Wilson, and George Coleman Kelly. The Kellys were a wealthy Victorian family who made their money through early investment in Broken Hill Propriety Company (BHP).[1] George Kelly’s parents emigrated from Ireland to New South Wales in the 1850s, while Agnes emigrated from Scotland to live with her married sister, Jeanie Weatherly, in the late nineteenth century.

Mabel, or Mab, as she preferred to be called, had two younger brothers: Charles and Sir George Dalziel. All three children were baptised in the Presbyterian Church, and she continued to attend Presbyterian services throughout her life. The siblings inherited the family’s pastoral holdings, including Barwidgee, a 13,500-acre sheep property at Caramut, Victoria.[2] In 1897 her parents purchased ‘Montalto,’ one of the largest estates in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Toorak.[3] She attended a private girls’ school nearby, most likely Oberwyl College in St Kilda.[4] In 1899, when she was thirteen, the family travelled to Edinburgh, where she was a weekly boarder at a French school for three years.[5] Kelly finished her schooling in Melbourne. During this time she developed an interest in sport, becoming captain of Toorak’s Montalto cricket team.[6]

In 1908, Kelly met the Victorian botanist, industrialist, chemist, and philanthropist Sir Russell Grimwade at Woolongoon, a property near Mortlake, Victoria, owned by her relatives, the Weatherly family. The couple announced their engagement a few months later, only for it to be cut off in the same year. In 1909, almost immediately after returning her engagement ring to Russell, she left Australia with a friend to visit South-East Asia, accepting his proposal on her return.  In the same year the couple married; from 1911 to 1955 they lived together at their home ‘Miegunyah’ in Toorak, which Russell bought as a wedding present for her.[7] Russell noted that he was ‘one of the privileged and fortunate ones who has had a very long and very happy married life’; not having been ‘blessed with children,’ the couple doted on their nieces and nephews and directed their altruistic energies to various philanthropic and charitable causes.[8]

As members of Victoria’s social elite with a strong sense of noblesse oblige, Grimwade and her husband were involved in extensive philanthropic and charity work. Most notably, she served as the president of the Fitzroy Mission Free Kindergarten (renamed the Isabel Henderson Kindergarten in 1949) from around 1946 to at least 1955.[9] She remained involved in the central organising body for the Free Kindergarten Movement, the Free Kindergarten Union of Victoria, well into the 1960s. She was also a patron of numerous charitable organisations including the Australian Red Cross, the Victorian Association of Braille Writers, and the Victorian Blind Association. From the 1950s Grimwade took on the role of benefactor and committee member at the University of Melbourne, presiding over the International House committee in 1953, and the University Centenary Appeal in 1955.[10] She was instrumental in the opening of the university’s Russell Grimwade biochemistry school in 1958.[11]

As both a conservative nationalist and a loyal member of the British empire, Grimwade was associated with various other cultural and civic institutions formed to both foster Australian culture and preserve imperial ties, such as the Victoria League for Commonwealth Friendship, the Royal Horticultural Society, the National Trust of Australia, the Native Plants Preservation Society of Victoria, and the National Gallery Society. Her interests often became investments in the future of Australian culture: a passion for art collection encouraged her support of the creative arts in Victoria; she was a member of the Arts and Craft Society and the Victorian Artists’ Society; a regular correspondent and donor to the National Gallery of Victoria; and a member of the Little Theatre Guild and the Australian Ballet Company.[12]

Described by her niece by marriage, Camilla Kelly, as ‘thin, small [and] neat [and] very active till late in life,’ Grimwade was energetically engaged with all aspects of her life.[13] She enjoyed a variety of recreational activities including golfing, polo, tennis, horse racing, motoring, and gardening. Younger members of her family recall her as an attentive and stimulating companion, eager to escort them to interesting performances and places.  Her social calendar was filled with art exhibitions and openings, theatre and ballet performances, race meets, polo games, charity events, and open gardens, which she both attended and organised. She was one of the original members of the Alexandra Club, and a member of the Lyceum Club.[14] In 1917 Grimwade joined the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, establishing herself on the council of the associates in 1924, becoming vice president (1930-1932), and then president (1933-1935). During her time as vice president, she instituted an annual trophy for the associates for a foursome’s match-play on handicap; she called it the Mab Grimwade Cup.[15] As a tribute to her love of gardening, in 1937 Russell registered a sport of Alister Clark’s fuchsia pink rose ‘Lorraine Lee,’ named ‘Mrs Russell Grimwade’, with the National Rose Society of Victoria.[16]

The Grimwades’s homes—Miegunyah and Westerfield at Baxter, near Frankston—were the centres of their social and family life, and an expression of their interests and tastes. While Miegunyah and Westerfield provided her with a sense of permanence and a physical tie to her beloved home country, she and Russell were frequently called beyond national borders, eager to experience different cultures and expand their large art collection. They travelled from the centre to the peripheries of empire, visiting India, East Asia, Egypt, Europe, Britain, and the United States throughout the twentieth century.

In 1962 Grimwade was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her service to charities. She continued to live at Miegunyah after Russell’s death in 1955, accompanied by friends, family, and a small staff. She died on 6 September 1973 in Melbourne, following a period of mental and physical deterioration. Today, she is best known for leaving, alongside her husband, the ‘Miegunyah Fund and Bequests’ to the University of Melbourne and the donation to the university of a large, diverse, and highly valuable collection of books, artworks, botanical specimens, and Australiana. Their bequeathed possessions were foundational for the university’s cultural collections, providing following generations with a vital source of materials that document Australia’s settler-colonial, political, and cultural history.[17]

 

[1] J.R. Poynter, Russell Grimwade (Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press at the Miegunyah Press, 1967), 98.

[2] Alan Barnard, ‘Kelly, Sir George Dalziel (1891-1953)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kelly-sir-george-dalziel-6919

[3] The Toorak Heritage Citation Report on 687-689 Orrong Road states that George Colman bought the property in 1895. Katrina Weatherly gives the purchase date as July 1897, see: Katrina Weatherly, The Daddie of the Field: The Kelly Story from Ballinasloe to Barwidgee (Streatham, Vic: Katrina Weatherly, 2008), 137.

[4] It has also been suggested by family members that Grimwade may have attended Toorak College, although there is insufficient evidence for this claim.

[5] Thea Gardiner, The World of Mab Grimwade (Carlton, Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing), 14.

[6] ‘Montalto Cricket Team,’ Table Talk (Melbourne), 20 April 1905.

[7] ‘Grimwade and Kelly,’ Punch, 21 October 1909.

[8] Poynter, Russell Grimwade, 77.

[9] See: ‘Full House at Hat Show to Aid Kindergarten,’ Argus (Melbourne), 9 July 1951; ‘Principles in the Ceremony’, Age (Melbourne), 4 June 1949.

[10] ‘International House given Large Cheque,’ Argus (Melbourne), 1 July 1953; ‘An Original Idea,’ Herald (Melbourne), 7 November 1931, 20.

[11] Lady Grimwade’s Speech at the Opening of the Biochemistry Building, 1958, Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade papers, MS 1975.0089/5/6, University of Melbourne Archives.

[12] Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade papers, MS 1975.0089/16/14, University of Melbourne Archives.

[13] Camilla Kelly, Memories of Mab, written for Alisa Bunbury, May 2019. Held in the Grimwade research files, University of Melbourne Art Collection.

[14] Lady Grimwade, various papers, 1964–1966, Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade papers, MS 1975.0089/16/1, University of Melbourne Archives.

[15] The Mab Grimwade Cup, Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Black Rock, bio for the Royal Melbourne Golf Club. Held in the Grimwade research files, University of Melbourne Art Collection.

[16] 2 1/22 88 142 – Correspondence (inward and outward) re. ‘Mrs Russell Grimwade’ rose, developed by W.H. Griffiths (Miegunyah gardener). Correspondents include W.A. Stewart (Hon. Secretary), The National Rose Society of Victoria, 27 September 1937-13 January 1938, Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade papers, 1975.0089/ 16/9, University of Melbourne Archives.

[17] J. R. Poynter and Benjamin Keir Thomas, Miegunyah: The Bequests of Russell and Mab Grimwade (Carlton, Vic: Miegunyah Press, 2015).

 

 

Select Bibliography

  • Age (Melbourne). ‘Principles in the Ceremony,’ 4 June 1949, 9
  • Argus (Melbourne). ‘Full House at Hat Show to Aid Kindergarten,’ 9 July 1951, 8
  • Argus (Melbourne). ‘International House given Large Cheque,’ 1 July 1953, 6
  • Barnard, Alan. ‘Kelly, Sir George Dalziel (1891-1953).’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1983. https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kelly-sir-george-dalziel-6919
  • Gardiner, Thea. The World of Mab Grimwade. Carlton, Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2023
  • Govanstone, Tilley, and Andrew Govanstone. The Women behind the Roses: An Introduction to Alister Clark’s Rose-Namesakes 1915-1952 (Kenthurst, NSW: Rosenberg, 2010), 189
  • Herald (Melbourne). ‘An Original Idea.’ 7 November, 1931, 20
  • Kelly, Camilla. Memories of Mab, written for Alisa Bunbury, May 2019. Held in the Grimwade research files, University of Melbourne Art Collection
  • Poynter, J. R. Russell Grimwade. Carlton, Vic: Melbourne University Press at the Miegunyah Press, 1967
  • Poynter, J. R., and Benjamin Keir Thomas. Miegunyah: The Bequests of Russell and Mab Grimwade. Carlton, Vic: Miegunyah Press, 2015
  • Punch (Melbourne). ‘Grimwade and Kelly,’ 21 October 1909, 29
  • Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade papers. 1975.0089. University of Melbourne Archives
  • Table Talk (Melbourne). ‘Montalto Cricket Team,’ 20 April 1905, 21
  • Weatherly, Katrina. The Daddie of the Field: The Kelly Story from Ballinasloe to Barwidgee. Streatham, Vic: Katrina Weatherly, 2008

Citation details

Thea Gardiner, 'Grimwade, Lady Mabel Louise (Mab) (1887–1973)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/grimwade-lady-mabel-louise-mab-34454/text43273, accessed 18 June 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Mab and Scottish Terriers at Westerfield, December 1931,  by Russell Grimwade

Mab and Scottish Terriers at Westerfield, December 1931, by Russell Grimwade

Papers of Wilfrid Russell and Mabel Grimwade, Archives and Special Collections, University of Melbourne, 2002.0003.00889

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kelly, Mabel Louise
Birth

4 January, 1887
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Death

6 September, 1973 (aged 86)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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