It is highly probable that if you have gathered at the rear of Saint Peter’s Church for refreshments after services, you would have, at some time, been seated on a large ornately carved oak pew bearing a brass memorial plaque which states:-
‘To the Glory of God and in loving memory of David Swan who faithfully discharged his duties as Church Warden of St. Peter’s Church for a period of 27 years’.
David died from a Stroke on 8th August 1911 whilst addressing a Parochial Council meeting in Saint Peter’s Parish Hall where he had taught many years earlier when it was a School house.
The Maitland Mercury of 18th May 1912 records, in part, that “the parishioners of St. Peter’s Church East Maitland have decided on a fitting memorial to the late Mr. David Swan which will take the form of a pew.”
David Swan is my paternal great grandfather. He was born in Kirriemuir Angus (now Forfarshire) Scotland. A school teacher aged 25 years, he emigrated to this Diocese, recruited by Bishop William Tyrrell to teach in the Church of England schools. David sailed on the ship “Owen Glendower” on 5th September 1860, where he met 24 year old Hannah Maria Twining, a member of the Tea Merchants and Coal Merchants families who was travelling with family friends to Melbourne. David disembarked at Morpeth (the ship didn’t anchor in Newcastle) and took up his first teaching position at Dungog.
Three months later, Hannah sailed from Melbourne to join him and they were married in St. James Morpeth on 18th June 1861. We can only assume that an understanding had been made between them on the voyage, which took 140 days! Enough time obviously to conduct a courtship.
David and Hannah built a home, now fully restored and heritage listed, which stands diagonally across the road from the Roman Catholic Church in Morpeth. This would have been at the time he was teaching at Morpeth.
Eventually, they moved to Banks Street, East Maitland where David taught at the school which is now Saint Peter’s Parish Hall. The family were committed and involved members of the Church and when the foundation stone was laid 1on 12th December 1884, David as a Church Warden was listed as being on the building committee. The Church of Saint Peter was completed and dedicated on 29th September 1886.
On 25th July 1880, the family had mourned the death of their eldest child, Margaret, who died aged 18 years from Typhoid Fever. On the completion of the new St. Peter’s Church, David and Hannah ordered a pair of beautifully carved oak chairs and prayer desks in Margaret’s memory, to be used for the services of Morning and Evening prayer, facing each other across the lower area of the chancel, but for many years now they have not been used for that purpose.
The two magnificent carved oak chairs, have been used in the Sanctuary, but the prayer desks have led a chequered life, stored in various places and gradually deteriorating. They have now been rescued by Father David, and thanks to his creative imagination, have found a home at last forming a Reredos at the back of the Saint. Barnabas Chapel. They were repaired and restored to near perfect condition by our gifted wood worker John Price, and we are delighted at the result.
Strangely, there was never a plaque attached to any of this furniture identifying the memorial, but this has now been rectified.
Denominational schools were responsible for most of the childhood education at the time. Government State Aid was received, but this was discontinued at the end of 1882 when the State took responsibility for education. The church schools then closed. I assume that David was then employed by the State until his retirement, or death in 1911, as his death certificate states that he was School Inspector for the region, employed by The Education Department.
Further information has come to hand that David was involved in adult education at the Mechanics Institute in Maitland, mostly arranged for men with little education who wanted to better themselves.
The following letter written by The Rev. Sidney C. Davis, St. Anselin’s Vicarage, Beech Forest, Victoria, and published by the Maitland Mercury on 23rd August 1911, is synonymous with the esteem in which David was held. It reads in part,
“I should be glad if you would allow me space to ask the Old Boys of St. Peter’s School, East Maitland, if they will do something in the way of creating a memorial to Mr. David Swan’s life and work. There are many who owe him a debt of gratitude, both for their secular and religious education, many are in good positions, because of the grounding he gave them. I, for one, would gladly subscribe for a memorial to one who has done so much in preparing us all for our life’s work.”