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History of the Nagle Library

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The College has had a library since the original building was completed and occupied in 1863. Early records make reference to an ‘Archbishop’s Library’ and a separate ‘Students’ Library’. Wardell designed the library rooms as one element of a triad of principal spaces – Chapel, Hall and Library – arranged around the central staircase. These three architectural spaces embody the three functions of a traditional college: worship, fellowship and study.

The rooms shown on Wardell’s plans consist of a ‘Room for Philosophical Instruction’ on an east-west axis (transverse to the direction of the main range), and the ‘Library’ proper extending north-south. These are now called the Philosophical Room and the Reading Room respectively.

In 2018 the St John’s College Library was named the Nagle Library in honour of Justice John Nagle (1914-2009) whose benefaction enabled the complete refurbishment of the Philosophical Room and Reading Room in 2018. These rooms were opened on 7 November 2018 by the NSW Minister for Education the Hon Rob Stokes MP and blessed by Bishop Terence Brady. The balance of the Nagle bequest is invested as an endowment to support Library operations in perpetuity.

Justice John Nagle 1914-2009

John Hailes Flood Nagle entered St John’s College in March 1929 aged 15, from Christian Brothers College Albury; he was the second of nine children of Valentine Flood Nagle, a solicitor, and his wife Margaret. John remained in residence at St John’s until 1935, taking his BA in 1933 and LLB in 1936; he was admitted to the Bar in 1937.

Nagle’s war service from 1939 to 1945 included service as a gunner in the Middle East and as a major in the 1st Australian Parachute Battalion in the south-west Pacific. His younger brother Valentine (SJC 1931-1936) was killed in action in New Guinea in 1943; Nagle was deeply affected by the loss of his brother. In 1944 he married Stephanie Scott with whom he had a daughter, Winsome.

After the war Nagle resumed practice at the Bar, being appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1959; in 1960 he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales From 1976 to 1978 Mr Justice Nagle conducted a royal commission into prisons in NSW, which exposed many abuses and resulted in significant reforms. He was Chief Judge at Common Law from 1979 until his retirement in 1983.

Justice Nagle was a Trustee and then Chairman of the Art Gallery of NSW. In 1979 he published a biography of his longstanding friend, the painter Sir Russell Drysdale. He also published a biography of the early colonial lawyer, David Collins (1756-1810).

John Nagle served on College Council from 1959 to 1987. In 1993 he donated a window in the St John’s Chapel depicting St Thomas More, in memory of his brother Valentine. In his Will he made provision for a second window, depicting Cardinal (now Blessed) John Henry Newman, which was erected in 2016 in the bay opposite the Thomas More window.

John Nagle also left a gift by Will for the restoration and endowment of the College Library. This has funded the refurbishment of the Philosophical Room and Reading Room, with the balance held in trust for the permanent endowment of the Library.