Eliza Hassall

Eliza Marsden Hassall (1834-1917), superintendent of the Marsden Training Home, was born at 'Denbigh', Cobbitty, New South Wales, on 2 November 1834, the seventh of eight children of Anne (a daughter of Rev. Samuel Marsden), and Thomas Hassall, farmer, grazier and clergyman. She was taught by an 'excellent' governess and her brothers' tutor. She learnt also the art of needlepoint; a lace collar, a birthday gift to her mother made by Eliza and her sisters, is held by the Royal Australian Historical Society.

'Denbigh' had a large resident labour force. Eliza's letters reveal an intelligent interest in the management of the estate: she wrote to her brother about sheep and horses, crops, servants' meals and Aborigines. Her father, 'the galloping parson', bred horses and there were always sufficient for a picnic party of 20. Eliza shared the genteel lifestyle of well-established pioneering families. Her father, a strict Evangelical of the Clapham Sect tradition, was interested in practical religion rather than theology. He wrote of her (aged 21): 'Dear Eliza is a great assistance - she takes up things so earnestly'.

Thomas suffered in the 1840s depression. He was a shareholder in the Bank of Australia which failed, and he was forced to sell several properties. Eliza was the only daughter not to marry. After her father died in 1868 she moved to Parramatta, caring for her mother until her death in June 1885, and doing parish work at St John's. It was said of Eliza that it was a 'pleasure to listen to her conversing on spiritual and intellectual topics'. She founded the first Australian Scripture Union in 1880, acting as secretary for many years. By 1889 the Union claimed 1200 members.

Responding to an appeal from the Church Missionary Society in 1892, Eliza offered 'Cluden', at Ashfield (where she was then living), as a training home for women missionaries. The Marsden Training Home opened in 1893 and her offer to serve as voluntary superintendent was accepted. Candidates received lectures from the clergy and under Eliza's supervision studied the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Revelation, other Bible readings and missionary geography. The first student was her niece, Amy Isabel Oxley, who went to China in 1896 as an accredited missionary and there established a home for blind boys. In response to demand, Eliza added two rooms to her home, enabling it to accommodate seven women. As president of the ladies' committee she organised fundraising activities, and in 1898 larger premises were leased. A Missionary Loan Exhibition in 1899, was a conspicuous success. She was awarded the distinction of honorary life membership of the Church Missionary Society, London.

Advancing age led to her retirement and the closure of Marsden Training Home in 1903. The Diocesan Deaconess Institute at Newtown took over the training of women candidates. Eliza died on 26 December 1917. She was buried in the churchyard at Cobbitty where she had worshipped and had been encouraged to foster in her own life the inheritance of practical mission activity.

Winifred Ward