Archived News Item

Ursula and the Swan River Colony Revealed, A new learning opportunity for Year Five Students


In 2016 Mercy Heritage Centre Perth partnered with Heritage Perth to produce an education program based on Mother Ursula Frayne.  With a grant of $2000 and support staff from this organisation the curator was able to see the dream of an education program for year five classes who visit the heritage centre become a reality. The Mercy Heritage Centre Perth is proud to be able to present this new resource for teachers and students called “The significance of the Sisters of Mercy in shaping the Swan River Colony 1829 to 1900”.


The arrival of the Irish Sisters of Mercy, led by Ursula Frayne to the small colony of Perth Western Australia, had a significant impact upon the level of education made available to it’s people as well as giving some gender balance to those who wielded influence in the early days of colonial settlement. Now primary school students can learn about the colony and see it from the point of view of those energetic and intrepid women who came to educate the colonists.


Teacher Merredith Southee, who was engaged to create the program from the rich resources in the Mercy archives and heritage that were made available to her, said it was a privilege to work on it. Merredith also reflected on the process:


“The original Sisters of Mercy who arrived to establish a foundation in the Swan River Colony in January 1846 were strong, determined and dedicated women. Led by 29 year old Mother Ursula Frayne, this group of women were to change colony in fundamental ways. They were determined to educate the children in the colony and so  they rapidly developed a well respected schooling system which motivated the Government to formally establish colonial schools.


“The challenges facing the Sisters were shared in many letters from Ursula and others in her community to the Mother Superior in Dublin. These letters provide an insight of the hardships and frustrations facing the Sisters in the small isolated community, but also the spiritual strength which gave them the ability to persevere against great odds. The letters provided me with some wonderful primary sources to use in this educational resource for year 5 students as well as a deep respect for these women. I loved reading the letters and Ursula’s memoir, as well as interpretations of the Sisters’ experiences in the colony. Bishop Brady’s inflexibility, the Protestant dominance over decision making in the colony, extreme poverty and physical hardships did not deter Ursula during the eleven years she led the foundation in Perth.


“The original Sisters of Mercy began a strong and respected education system which still flourishes in Western Australia. Their story of selfless dedication, also found in many artefacts and even the beautiful woodwork at the Mercy Heritage Centre Perth, must be shared with the Western Australian community”, she said.



This program, aimed at the Year 5 HASS Western Australian and National History Curricula   links enables  students to learn about the role of Mother Ursula Frayne and her religious companions and their contribution to shaping the colony of Perth. It is hoped that teachers will embrace this opportunity to work with the history of the Sisters of Mercy with students and also share the rich resource that is the Mercy Heritage Centre Perth.



For heritage education program information and tour bookings:

Contact Curator Anne Q. Medley at

T: 08 93254155