Photographs of Tunisia by Irene Petter

Scope and Content

Glass slides and photograph album of visit to Tunisia, 1928-1929.

Irene Petter left Cheltenham Ladies' College in 1928, planning to read Economics at the London School of Economics. Before going up to university she spent six months in Tunisia visiting her aunt, Gertrude Petter, a missionary with the Bethesda Mission, Tunis. While Irene was there, aunt and niece visited Carthage, Dougga and Thudurbo Majus. They also went on a tour visiting Souk Ahras, Tebessa, Sbeitla, El Hamma and Nabeul. On her return Irene carefully prepared a photograph album recording her Tunisian experiences. Thirty-seven of the photographs were copied as glass 'magic lantern' slides and coloured, apparently for use in church gatherings to raise support for the mission.

Administrative / Biographical History

(Gladys) Irene Kennan Petter was born on 6 April 1910. She was the third of six children of Percival Waddams Petter and Emily Jane Petter (née Kennan), a devout Plymouth Brethren family with roots in both original centres of the Brethren in the 1830s at Plymouth and at Dublin where her mother had been brought up. Her early childhood was a privileged one thanks to the highly successful engineering business enterprise, Petters Ltd, run by her father and his twin brother, Ernest. In 1914 the firm accepted the government's challenge to build aircraft, air frames and engines and established a new company, Westland Ltd, which built a plant on the western outskirts of Yeovil. Irene went to Cheltenham Ladies' College in 1921, and then to the London School of Economics, where she became the first woman to graduate with first-class honours in Economics from the LSE, majoring in Sociology. As a member of the London Inter-Faculty Christian Union (LIFCU), she was a delegate at the first conference of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship in 1928, when the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Evangelical Unions was established.

Irene felt called to social work in the East End of London, and worked there for two years. In July 1931 she met Geoffrey Young. They were engaged in 1933 and were married in Yeovil, on 19 January 1935. During the next twelve years five children were born: two in England and three in Australia, where Geoffrey had family concerns that required his presence. The Youngs reached Sydney on New Year's Day, 1940. With the worsening wartime situation, Geoffrey joined the RAAF and served as a medical officer for the next three years. The Japanese attack on Sydney Harbour in 1942 led Geoffrey to move his family away, and he bought his mother's house, 'Khandala' at Katoomba. At this time, Irene's brother, Beaufort, who was a pilot in the RAF, died in a flying accident in India. Geoffrey was discharged at the end of 1943 to provide aerial medical services to communities in western New South Wales. Irene gave her husband substantial support, maintaining the medical records and throwing herself into the Forbes branch of the Country Women's Association. She represented the CWA of Australia at the conference of the Associated Country Women of the World in Copenhagen in 1950. The Youngs were foundation members of the Forbes Baptist Church. As the wife of the flying doctor, she was respected in the community.

The Youngs would leave a substantial mark on the Christian community in Sydney. Foremost for Irene was her work with overseas students that would in 1993 earn her the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM). The government was looking for people to extend hospitality to overseas students studying in Australia under the Colombo Plan and for many years the Youngs' home was thrown open to new arrivals in need of support. From this came participation in the Overseas Christian Fellowship. Irene joined the executive of the IVF as Overseas Student Secretary. In 1965 she undertook the post-graduate Diploma in the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language (Dip TEFL) at Sydney University. She was also a beach mission worker at Perranporth in Cornwall in 1927. In Australia, she and Geoffrey were Camp Parents at the Blue Lagoon Beach Mission in the 1950s.

Irene became a leading figure in the Crusader Union of New South Wales, serving on the council for twenty years, ultimately being appointed Vice President. She was Commandant or House Mother to many girls' camps and spoke at schools meetings. In the Billy Graham Crusade in 1959 she was a leading figure. Irene's involvement in women's work also developed steadily. She joined the Council of the Women's Christian Convention which held annual conventions at Stanwell Tops where she was a sought-after speaker. The WCC promoted Bible study, and Irene devoted much time and care to preparing Bible study booklets on Exodus, Proverbs and Luke. They were studied by some 30,000 women in Know Your Bible groups. She led a weekly Bible Study Fellowship class at Balgowlah. These commitments were in addition to her membership of the flourishing Epping Baptist Church, where in 1975 she became the first woman deacon.

In retirement, and following the death of Geoffrey in 1993, Irene was able to fulfil a long-held wish. She had supported the Leprosy Mission for 60 years, and in 1995, aged 85, she visited two of the mission's stations in Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. Returning to Australia, she spoke at the Day of Prayer of the United Bible Society, of which she had been since 1987 a Life Governor. Irene died on 22 September 1996.


Irene had carefully numbered the slides, and there was probably an accompanying list, now lost. The photos and the slides were subsequently re-listed by the family, and the list has been reproduced here.

Access Information



Acquisition Information

Donated to SOAS Library on 18 June 2015 by Patricia Braga, daughter of Irene Young (nee Petter).

Custodial History

After Irene died in 1996, her family found the photo album of her time in Tunisia and also the box containing the coloured slides.

Geographical Names