Lady Grimwade, born Mabel Kelly and known as Mab, was born in 1887 to George and Agnes Kelly. Mab’s early years were spent in Melbourne, before her family moved to Scotland. Mab attended a French school in Edinburgh as a weekday boarder and during these years the family travelled more broadly in Europe. Following their return to Australia a few years’ later, Mab and her younger brothers Charles and Dalziel finished their schooling and took advantage of sporting and social opportunities in Melbourne.
In 1909, aged 22, Mab married Russell Grimwade and soon after the couple settled in their new home, ‘Miegunyah’ in Toorak. Their life together centred around their families, their home and garden, their travels, Russell’s work and their support for a range of causes.
Russell died in 1955. Mab continued to live at Miegunyah, supported by staff members and her extended family. Mab continued with her care for her home and garden, travelled internationally and later in life attended fine arts lectures at the University of Melbourne. She also continued the couple’s philanthropy. In particular, Mab was actively involved in the opening of the Russell Grimwade School of Biochemistry at the University of Melbourne and was a significant donor to the National Art Gallery and Cultural Centre on St Kilda Rd, now known as the Melbourne Arts Precinct and Arts Centre Melbourne in Southbank.
In 1973, Mab died, leaving their family home ‘Miegunyah’ and their collection of art, books, furniture and personal papers to the University of Melbourne, in accordance with her and Russell’s wishes to continue their support for the institution.
Mab and Russell’s support of a range of causes had an impact on the development of Melbourne and its institutions during the 20th century. Beyond their enduring support of the University of Melbourne, Mab’s philanthropic interests included the Free Kindergarten Union, the Australian Ballet and the National Gallery of Victoria, among many other educational and cultural organisations.
University of Melbourne
In particular, Mab and Russell were strong supporters of the University of Melbourne. In addition to financial donations, Mab chaired the women’s committee of the Melbourne University Centenary Appeal in 1955 and Russell served on the University Council for many years. The couple made multiple gifts, the most significant those that helped develop the Russell Grimwade School of Biochemistry, which incorporated the Mab Grimwade Library. Only Mab saw these donations come to fruition, opening the new school in 1958 alongside Head of School, Professor Victor Trikojus, and the Chancellor of the University, Mr Justice Dean.
Home and garden
Mab’s much-loved home, Miegunyah in Orrong Road Toorak, was a wedding present from Russell. Mab took great pleasure in the gardens that surrounded the house and particularly enjoyed spending time there with the couple’s adored Scottish Terriers. Mab loved roses and in 1937, the Mab Grimwade rose was bred by gardener and farmer Mr Griffiths at their property at Westerfield with the proceeds from its sale donated to the National Rose Society of Victoria.
Mab and Russell had a country property, Westerfield, set amongst sprawling bushland in Frankston South, and Mab also loved visiting family in country Victoria.
Sport and Leisure
Mab was known as a skilled sportswoman in her school days, and her love of cricket and golf in particular, was maintained through her life. She also led an active social life and was a member of a number of women's clubs in Melbourne.
Mab’s life allowed her to travel widely. As a teenager she had lived in Edinburgh and travelled in Europe with her family, then as a young woman she travelled through Japan, Singapore and Myanmar (then named Burma) prior to her marriage. With Russell, she travelled to London, New York and Canada for their honeymoon, and through their lives together they explored many parts of the world. After Russell’s death, Mab continued to travel as her health allowed.
Mab and Russell both came from large families. Mab’s family, the Kellys, had invested in Broken Hill Proprietary in the 1880s, and within a very short time had made a fortune. The Grimwade family were in pharmaceuticals, Felton Grimwade & Company.
Mab and Russell did not have their own children and were very supportive of their wider family of nieces and nephews.
The Sir Russell and Lady Grimwade Papers in the University of Melbourne Archives include correspondence, books, photographs, newspaper clippings and ephemera. The Grimwade Collection held at the Ian Potter Museum of Art comprises over 700 works of art.
Together, these collections provide insights into life in 20th century Melbourne, art, culture, philanthropy, business and travel, and also a glimpse into the world of Mabel, Lady Grimwade