There were three nursing matrons in my related families, of different generations and widely different experiences. None married. They were:
1. Elizabeth HUNT born 1820 in Pendock, Worcestershire and died in 1893 in Sydney, NSW.
2. Adela WADE born 1868 in Invercargill NZ and died in 1946 in Melbourne, Victoria.
3. Nancy Elizabeth “Betty” D’ARCHY born 1910 Toowoomba Qld and died in 1997 Sydney, NSW.
1. Elizabeth Hunt
Elizabeth was the eldest child of Thomas Hunt 1793-1848 and Nancy Welding 1786-1859. At the time of their marriage Thomas, a Cordwainer (shoemaker) was illiterate but Nancy, believed to have been a governess or lady’s maid, signed her name. They had five children of whom Elizabeth was the eldest and Edwin the youngest; all except Elizabeth were born in Reading, Berkshire. Elizabeth was born in Pendock in Worcestershire, very close to where her father was born in Redmarley d’Abitot. The name “Redmarley” was and still is being use by generations of descendants for their family homes.
It is not known if Elizabeth had any formal nursing training – it is doubtful if any existed in those times. The 1841 English Census for Berkshire shows an Elizabeth Hunt aged 20 employed by farmer Joseph Moore and his wife Anne on Noverton Farm, not as a servant, but as a nursemaid to their 2 week old baby and one year old daughter. It is very likely this was our Elizabeth, as she followed that occupation all her life. Further, after the death of her father in 1849, the family may have been in straitened circumstances; the 1851 Census for Reading shows her mother Ann Hunt in exactly the same occupation, nurse to a young baby. Elizabeth herself cannot be found in the 1851 Census, but the 1861 shows her still in Reading aged 40 and living with her unmarried brother Edwin aged 24, a ‘certificate schoolmaster’, as his housekeeper.
Meanwhile Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary Ann had married William Boshier in Reading in 1853 and had four children, all girls, within the next ten years, after which time William died. For unknown reasons Mary Ann decided to take the four little girls to Australia the following year, and Elizabeth accompanied them on the “Sultana” acting as the ship’s matron. She gave her age as 39 but was actually 43. The sailing ship “Sultana” of 1308 tons departed Queenstown, Liverpool on 12 April 1864 and arrived at Maryborough, Queensland on 29 July 1864. A certificate issued by the Queensland Government Emigration Office and signed by the Surgeon-Superintendent on 8th July 1864 stated that Miss Hunt had faithfully discharged her duties as Matron.
The ‘Sultana’ did not touch at any ports or meet any other vessels during her voyage, and was becalmed for 6 weeks in the Indian Ocean. On arrival the passengers presented a petition for proceedings against the owners, protesting against the poor provisioning of the ship. Despite that she had a clean bill of health. She carried 7 officers, 43 marines and 427 passengers. There were only two adult deaths, from consumption; 1 infant died from croup and another from enteritis; and there were 4 births. The surgeon Andrew Millen reported that many females suffered from dyspepsia and general debility, caused principally by the bread (there was no yeast). The ship leaked very much and was therefore wet and cold. “We had 80 single females on board under the charge of Miss Hunt who acted as Matron, assisted by 2 sub-matrons”.
Unsubstantiated family legend says the sisters applied for a grant of land in Brisbane, but “… coming from a remote English village…”, they were frightened of the aboriginals and moved south to Sydney. No record of a Queensland land grant can be found.
Elizabeth bought a cottage at 75 Ocean Avenue, Double Bay, Sydney and named it Caversham Cottage “after their village near Reading”. Not long after their arrival Mary Ann remarried, but Elizabeth did not approve and the sisters were “not good friends afterwards”.
Elizabeth was a strict Methodist. She brought up her two elder nieces Jessie and Annie Boshier “…and gave them a good education…”, sending them to the Wesley School in Surrey Hills. They stayed with her until their marriages, of which unfortunately Elizabeth also disapproved.
By profession Elizabeth was a nurse. The Sydney street directory of the 1880s has the entry ‘Mrs (sic) Elizabeth Hunt, Accoucheuse’. She nursed the Knox Family, originally also from Reading, at their residence “Fiona”, Darling Point (later to be part of Ascham School, which several of her brother Edwin’s descendants attended, including the author, and where her sister’s daughter Annie Elizabeth was for a time the French mistress).
Elizabeth died in 1893. At that time she was living at ‘Boorooma’, St. Mark’s Road Randwick. In May of that year she wrote a letter to her sister Emma in England, which was found among her belongings after her death; it was never posted.
My dear Sister,
I wish while I am alive, to say that I am leaving you a few pounds in my brother’s charge, which I have directed him to send you in small instalments while it lasts. I think it best to make this arrangement, as if it was sent you in a lump sum, you would probably spend it and not get the amount of good from it which I wish and intend.
After smaller legacies to many of her nephews and nieces she directed that the residue of her Estate be given 2/3 to her brother Edwin and 1/3 to her niece Annie Elizabeth Boshier (Mrs Annie Elder).
The Estate consisted of land at Double Bay, valued at 451 pounds in 1893, which was apparently “hard to sell”. Brother Edwin did not give Annie Elder anything, saying that expenses took everything. There was a “big family row” and Elizabeth and Mary Ann’s family did not see the Edwin Hunts again.
As sometimes happens, many of the attributes of a person may skip a generation and then turn up in a descendant or close relative. Elizabeth’s great niece, coincidentally named Nancy Elizabeth (d’Archy) but always known as Betty, was in many ways similar to Elizabeth Hunt – she too remained unmarried, was said to have had an unrequitted romance when a young girl, travelled to England several times as a nurse-companion, and at the height of her career was a hospital Matron. Her story is told later. She always retained the English values imbued in her by her mother Lily Hunt, Elizabeth’s niece. For example tea was always served in an ornate silver teapot with good china on a white lace or embroidered tablecloth. Sadly Betty probably never knew about her great aunt who died before she was born, because the two main branches of the family in Australia had by then severed contact.
2. Adela Wade
Adela, the second eldest daughter of solicitor and barrister Frederick Wentworth Wade and Adela Macloskey, was born in Invercargill in 1868. She never married. Like her elder sister Annie Theresa she may have been taught at home initially, but then went to Southland Girls’ High. She left Invercargill in 1885 when she was only 17 to go to Melbourne, the same year as her brother Robert and approximately two years after her brother Frederick. Was this because the elder children didn’t get on with their father or stepmother, or was it simply because there were better nurse training facilities in Melbourne for Adela and she would have been surrounded there by her mother’ family the Macoskeys. Adela’s mother had been one of 15 children and her stepmother one of ten children.
Adela graduated from the Alfred Hospital School of Nursing, Melbourne in 1891.
It is not known where Adela went after completing her nursing training, but in about 1910 she became the much-loved Matron of Manifold House at Geelong Grammar Boys’ School. She retired in 1932 aged 64, at which time she was presented with a silver teaset which is still in the author’s possession.
Unfortunately, the school was such a masculine community in those days that Matrons didn’t appear in House photographs, nor were they listed in the school magazine. At the suggestion of the school archivist I wrote to some Old Boys who would have been at the school during her time. Almost all of them replied with wonderful tributes, including a 94-year old living in Kenya who wrote “she was one of the ‘old school’, whose loyalty and understanding of the boys was greatly appreciated.” Another said “She was always kind – a much appreciated quality in a boarding school in those days (where) life tended to be rugged – gentleness was not common.”
They told me she had the nickname ‘Pie Crust’ or simply ‘Pie’, a term of endearment, and was in many ways the ideal Matron, firm but compassionate, helpful and comforting, ‘and a real institution’. One sent me a photo of four of her ‘boys’ and told me a delightful story, about how three of them took it in turns to play Auction Bridge with the Matron every Saturday evening in front of her cosy fire. The boys discovered that if they stacked her bridge hand so that she always won, she kept asking them back “with the suppers getting better and better as each Saturday passed” (personal communication, Dick Glass). Another wrote that over the years he learned that under the ‘Piecrust’ image was the real person, kind, sympathetic, helpful and extremely observant and adroit.
Adela died in East Malvern, Victoria in 1946, some years after her retirement, of carcinoma of the colon. Sadly, nothing is known of her last years, but she would certainly have been in contact with her younger sister Bertha who lived in Sydney, the author’s grandmother.
3. Nancy Elizabeth “Betty” d’Archy.
Betty, the elder of the two children of Lily Hunt (the niece of Elizabeth Hunt) and Dick d’Archy, was born on 28 November 1910 at “Redmarley”, Toowoomba, South Queensland. At that time her father was managing ”Chatsworth”, a remote cattle station in NW Queensland and her grandmother was living in Toowoomba, a rather more salubrious location to have a baby. Betty must have been taken back to “Chatsworth’” at an early age judging from the photo. Her younger sister Vada was born 2½ years later at “Chatsworth” or possibly in the township of Cloncurry (then known as Friesland) during the ‘Wet’ season which probably precluded travel south.
Like so many other patriotic Australians, Betty and Vada’s father rushed to enlist in World War I. Lily took the girls back to her mother in Toowoomba, then later they moved to a large home in Sydney which was shared with several uncles and aunts. Meanwhile Dick d’Archy, in the 13th Light Horse, was invalided out of the Army after injuring a knee during deck sports on the way to France. He was a countryman through and through never at ease in the city, and took to droving and station management so his family rarely saw him.
While still a schoolgirl Betty went overseas with her family, visiting England and the Continent, skiing in Switzerland, etc – which may have instilled a lifelong love of travel.
Betty trained at the Camperdown War Memorial Hospital in Sydney. After some years at Camperdown and possibly elsewhere, Betty set up a private nursing home in Beecroft, Sydney in a large old house named “Redmarley” after the Hunt family village in England. She ran it very successfully for some years.
In 1955 she sold the business and sailed for England, initially as companion to a blind violinist. An entry in the UK Nursing Registers is dated 11 November 1955; she was also in the London electoral roll for 1957. In London she worked as a private nurse and/or companion. Returning to Australia in the early 1960s, she became Matron of the prestigious Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital on the Parramatta River in Concord, Sydney. The author remembers visiting her rather formidable-looking “Auntie Bet”, resplendent in starched white uniform and nursing veil and white lace-up shoes. Afternoon tea was a formal affair with a silver tea set and fine bone china.
But one terrible morning in 1968 the Matron, hurrying down the grand staircase, tripped and fell. A shattered hip meant the end of her nursing career. She never worked again but lived a further 30 years, finally passing away aged 86 in Sydney. She never forgot her nursing training nor lost her authoritative manner although it became considerably mellower with time.