In the 19th century, very few Italians migrated to Queensland and to find one who also had tertiary qualifications is indeed an unusual thing. Fernando Papi was a lay graduate in Philosophy from the Pontifical Seminary in Rome in 1869 and a year later completed Mathematics Degree at the Royal University of Rome1.
He later travelled to Dublin to study English where he met James Quinn. Quinn had been appointed as the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Brisbane in 1859. The bishop was in Europe in 1870 for the First Vatican Council and also spent time recruiting priests and others for his diocese. He convinced Papi to migrate to Queensland to become a school teacher.
A 20 year old Papi arrived in 1871 and he began teaching at St. James School in Boundary Street and later was headmaster at Ipswich. A stumbling block was his English, but by 1873 it had improved greatly. In 1877, with his Italian qualifications now recognised, he began a long career teaching in Queensland’s Sate Schools.
His career took him to such places as Maryborough, Toowoomba, Goodna, Bulimba and Ipswich before becoming Headmaster of The Woolloongabba School which was later renamed the Dutton Park School. He was there for 22 years.
In 1904, he was came first in a public examination surpassing 17 native English speaking candidates to become a District Inspector. However this work didn’t suit him and he returned to teaching after several years. In 1912 he became headmaster of the Windsor Sate School and reluctantly retired from there in 1921 at the age of 70.
The Windsor Sate School building built in 1916 is heritage listed and was designed to accommodate the requirements of the most modern of education philosophy in Queensland. It was known at that time as a “model school”.
Papi was a keen artist and a trustee of the Queensland National Gallery, the forerunner of the Queensland Art Gallery.
Sir Samuel Griffith, Supreme Court Judge and onetime Premier of Queensland was a friend of Papi’s. He sought Papi’s advice regarding his translation of Dante 2.
He retired from teaching in 1921 and passed away just 2 years later.
Fernando married Josephina Hannah Cunneen at Brodis Plains in NSW in 1876. They had three daughters and a son between 1876 and 1881.
Josephine was very active in the Queensland community. She founded the Queensland branch of the Wattle Day League in 1912, three years after the first such group began in New South Wales. The first Queensland Art Scholarship awarded by the Society was won by Daphne Mayo who went on to produce such works as the Brisbane City Hall timpanum and the Tattersall’s Club frieze. For more see my post Daphne Mayo – Brisbane Sculptor .
The Society was a heavy supporter of returned service men during and after World War One. The association continued to focus on helping people with disabilities. The Wattle Day Society is now known as Open Minds and provides Mental Health and Disability support.
Josephine Papi was also a founder of the South Brisbane Croquet Club around 1903. It was active in Musgrave Park until around the year 2000.
At the time of Fernando Papi’s death, they were living in Maud Street, Highgate Hill. This street is now called Audenshaw Street. Earlier they had lived on Brighton Road and Dornoch Terrace. Jospehone died in 1925. Fernando and Josephine’s last resting place is in the Mt. Gravatt Cemetery.
1 Italians of Brisbane 1, Baggio, Fabio; Brisbane Scalabrini Migration Centre; Rintocchi Brisbane, 2004
2. The Divina Commedia of Dante Alighieri literally translated by Sir Samuel Walter Griffith, Oxford University Press London-Melbourne 1911.