Star Stories

Nellie’s Legacy

The MLC Boarding House has been the heart of MLC for over 140 years. Named Tiddeman Boarding House, this building was constructed over 2 stages. The West Wing opened in 1882 and the Tower and East Wing were finished in 1885. The iconic Academic Gothic styled tower can be seen for kilometres around, a proud beacon of learning and excellence in girls’ education.

But the tower means a lot more to the many boarders who have been through the College. Stories of Nellie Fitchett haunting the tower have been woven through countless students’ educational experiences. Talk of noises, shadows and ghostly happenings make the rounds from generation to generation.

Nellie was the daughter of the Rev. Dr William Henry Fitchett. He was a prominent educator and was the founding Principal of MLC.

His youngest daughter, Nellie, was born in November 1880. She was only 18 months old when Rev. Dr Fitchett became Principal of MLC and the Fitchett family moved to live at the College. Nellie started her formal education at MLC aged 6 (1887). Certainly, a trailblazing moment for father and daughter, as many girls in that period did not commence their education until they were older.

She was an enthusiastic and accomplished musician and athlete, and relished all the educational opportunities MLC could provide. She was embraced as an MLC boarder and would often sit on her father’s lap as he chatted with or read to them.

The Bluebell magazine of the time (later replaced by The Silver and Green) often mentions Nellie as achieving honours status in tennis and piano. She won the prize for pianoforte in 1895 and 1896, as well as the Senior Tennis prize in 1896.

In 1897, Nellie won the pianoforte prize again but sadly, she was too unwell to attend the celebration evening. She died of meningitis on 15 December 1897. Nellie’s death affected the students greatly. They wrote, “All through our home life this year we miss the bright presence of one who was always ready to help, always the same happy, gentle loving-hearted girl. Everyone who knew Nellie Fitchett loved and respected her, and her death has left a blank no one can fill”. The Bluebell, June 1898, p.5

But her death has left a mark, bigger than those students could’ve imagined. Current boarders talk about how they can hear her moving around in the tower in the dark of night.

Valerie Young, upon joining MLC from Hong Kong in 1993, had heard the rumour that Nellie walked up and down the corridor upstairs in the Boarding House. “The green safety light did create a funny shadow down the middle of the hallway,” she recalls.

In 1994 Rohini Chari also boarded at MLC. She recalls how they believed Nellie looked after their boxes that were left in the box room, in the annex of the tower, during the school holidays. She says, “I think she was supposed to be the friendly ghost … with a bit of imagination you can definitely see her!”

Rohini is correct. In They Dreamt of a School, Ailsa Zainu’ddin describes the ghost of Nellie Fitchett lingering around the school she so loved as a "wish to welcome, not frighten new boarders".

It wouldn’t be too much of a leap of logic to believe that Nellie is a guardian over the many generations of young MLC students who have come after her, young women who were educated in the College founded by her father.