Lucy Osborn

Lucy Osborn was sent to Australia from England to work at the Sydney Infirmary, and fought for necessary improvements.

Honour Roll

Lucy Osborn was born on 10 May 1835 in Leeds, England. Her father was an Egyptologist and she was given a good education. She had a long-standing interest in nursing and she worked at hospitals in Germany, Austria and Holland. In 1866, she entered the Nightingale Training School in London to study nursing, much to the displeasure of her family. As part of her training she spent three months studying midwifery, completing her studies in 1867.

Around this time the New South Wales Government wrote to Florence Nightingale asking her to send a team of trained nurses to work at the Sydney Infirmary. Florence was impressed by her recent graduate so she sent Lucy Osborn as the lady superintendent with a staff of five sisters. They arrived in the colony on 5 March 1868 and found the hospital in a state of neglect - filthy, disease and bug-ridden and with no plumbing. Colonial medicine was still in its rough pioneering stage. The nursing staff there were completely untrained, so Lucy dismissed some and trained those with the most potential.

Within a week of arriving at the hospital, the visiting Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, was shot and wounded by an Irish patriot. The bullet was removed and Lucy took care of him. During this period she became close to the Governor's wife who in turn supported her when necessary.

Late that year Lucy, herself, fell ill with dysentery. Once recovered she took up the daunting task of trying to improve conditions in the hospital. The Board and the doctors became irritated by her demands, which implied that management was negligent. Eventually the government responded with a Royal Commission, which looked into its operations. The only bright spot the Commission found was its nursing. Lucy reported back to Florence Nightingale that year that she had graduated eighteen nurses.

Unfortunately, she made many enemies within the hospital system owing to her outspokenness and demands for improvements. Some bad reports about her filtered back to Miss Nightingale in England. Nevertheless, many women were trained in nursing by Lucy and her graduates worked throughout Australia. One of them, Florence Abbott, was very successful as the matron of Brompton Hospital in England.

Finally, in 1881, the Sydney Hospital Act was passed abolishing the Infirmary and its board. In 1884, after a series of administrative crises, Lucy resigned and returned to England. Her position was taken up by one of the trainees, Miss Mackay. Lucy continued nursing in Britain and in 1888 was a foundation member of the British Nursing Association. She wrote to her friend, Mary Windeyer, of her plans to return to Australia but never did. She died in December 1891 while staying at her sister Ann's boarding school at Harrogate.