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Lady Janet Marion Clarke (1851–1909)

from Age

It will be learned with deep sorrow by the whole community that Janet Lady Clarke died yesterday morning at her residence, "Cliveden," East Melbourne. In 1903, when returning from England, she contracted Maltese fever, and became seriously ill at Colombo. From this attack she never completely recovered, and about a year ago, contracting broncho-pneumonia, she took such a turn as to cause her family grave anxiety. She was unable to leave "Cliveden" from that time until her death, being so weak that she could do no more than move from her bed and rest a while on a sofa. Miss Clarke, Miss Ivy Clarke, Mrs. F. G. Hughes (Janet Lady Clarke's sister) and two nurses tendered her through her illness, and medically she was under the care or Drs. Maudsley, Stawell and Hamilton Russell. On Tuesday her condition became very low, and soon after 7 p.m. her life was despaired of. She died peacefully at 1.20 a.m. yesterday. Her stepson, Sir Rupert Clarke, and several members of her family were at her bedside before the end came, and others arrived later. Her eldest daughter, the Hon. Mrs. Lindsay, who is on her way from England, reached Colombo yesterday. Mr. Russell Clarke, her eldest living son, is in Switzerland. The funeral will leave "Cliveden" to-day for the Melbourne General Cemetery, and a service will be held at St. Paul's Cathedral at 3 p.m. We have been asked to state that the resident members of Trinity College will join the funeral procession at the end of the University-avenue, at the corner of Madeline and Elgin streets.

It is now considerably over a year since the deceased lady had taken any active part in public or private affairs. Until that time she was an apparently untirable worker, and it is open to question if any woman in Melbourne took a deeper or more intelligent interest in public movements of a philanthropic nature. She gave her best energies with a generosity which has doubtless had much to do with bringing a life of unusual usefulness to a comparatively early close.

Janet Lady Clarke has occupied for many years a unique place in Australian society. As wife and as widow of the first Australian baronet she has had control not merely of a large fortune, but of much influence. Broad in her sympathies and generous in her instincts, she has filled a somewhat difficult position in a manner that has not merely endeared her to her friends, but has made a lasting impression in the history of the community. The daughter of the late Peter Snodgrass, M.L.A., of Victoria, she married the late Sir William Clarke in 1873, a year after the death of his first wife, to whose children she was governess at "Rupertswood." Sir William Clarke died in 1897, since which time she has resided permanently at "Cliveden," East Melbourne. Even before leaving "Rupertswood" she was largely occupied with metropolitan movements and charities. She came constantly from Sunbury to attend meetings in connection with the Melbourne District Nursing Society and the Women's Hospital. From the time of her husband's death she devoted herself to such an extent to public work that it was only by reason of the nicest management that she was able to discharge her many private duties. "Cliveden" came to be regarded as the starting point of careers as well as of movements. Numerous young singers and musicians owe their start to Janet Lady Clarke, and it was at "Cliveden" that the first meeting in connection with the National Council of Women was held. There, too, was practically inaugurated the Australian Women's National League, of which organisation Janet Lady Clarke was president, in matters connected with education and the care of girls and women she has always been deeply interested. In 1901-1905 she was mainly instrumental in raising a large sum to assist the Melbourne University Fund. It was she who built at a cost of £6000 the Trinity College Hostel. Fully alive to the fact that a domestic education is essential to the well-being of any woman, she interested herself wholeheartedly in the Australian Institute of Domestic Economy, and did not rest till the College of Domestic Economy was fittingly established. The City Newsboys' Society was under her very practical patronage, and she furthered to a great extent the educational work being carried on nightly as well as daily in the Newsboys' Hall. The youngsters always regarded her in the light of a personal friend, their greetings to her on all occasions being characterised by the greatest heartiness. The first meetings of the diocesan festival were invariably held at "Cliveden," where much other work in connection with the Anglican Church was also carried on. An institution that benefited much by the untiring efforts of Janet Lady Clarke was the Talbot Colony for Epileptics, she being one of the original movers in its establishment.

Indirectly, the mistress of "Cliveden" did much to benefit the poor, within their own homes and in institutions. The sewing society Time and Talents met frequently at "Cliveden." This society exists to make clothing for the poor, and is the means by which very much charity is distributed. Apart from the larger charities, the list of Janet Lady Clarke's smaller efforts to relieve individual cases was practically unlimited. It may be said, without fear of contradiction, that she never refused either money, time or influence in a worthy cause. Men, women and children permanently or temporarily handicapped always found in her a helper when their case was put before her. Whenever entertainments were organised to obtain funds, Janet Lady Clarke's excellent business head and administrative capacity were always counted upon, and rarely indeed did she fail to respond to even the most extravagant demand on her energies.

In a semi-social way she accomplished much excellent work. She was vice-president of the Austral Salon, the Dante Society, the Alliance Francaise, and numerous friendly societies of a somewhat similar order. As a social centre "Cliveden" has occupied for years a very important position. Visitors of note from all parts of the world have been received there with the greatest hospitality. In a private way Janet Lady Clarke entertained constantly, and guests were very rarely absent from her home.

Her private life was full of interest. Sir William Clarke's first wife died as the result of a carriage accident. Miss Snodgrass and two of the children were in the carriage at the time, and escaped without injury. Even before her marriage with their father there was much attachment between the children of the first marriage and herself. As their stepmother this bond was strengthened, and the relations between the two families have been of the warmest. With the exception of her eldest son and a daughter, who died in infancy, her children all survive her. These include Mr. Russell Clarke, Miss Mary Clarke (who married Captain Lindsay, fourth son of the Earl of Crawford), Mr. Frank Clarke, Miss Vera Clarke and Miss Ivy Clarke.

Janet Lady Clarke made numerous trips to Europe — it was in Naples that Mrs. Lindsay was born— and she is probably better known socially than any Australian in England. Much of her time during her absences from Australia was spent in the homes of representative members of British society. She had also visited the East, and had travelled extensively in Australia itself. Before leaving "Rupertswood" she was able to indulge in riding and gardening— probably her favorite forms of recreation. After taking up her residence in Melbourne. she found her pleasure in the works with which her name is likely to be associated for many years to come. Kindly and unselfish, her womanly qualities, combined with a masculine capacity for management, made her a personality of real importance. Her death removes a woman who was not only held in high affection and esteem, but one whose influence has been great on behalf of sound and lasting work.

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Citation details

'Clarke, Lady Janet Marion (1851–1909)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 25 June 2024.

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