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Public benefactor and "mother" to hundreds of Victorian girls and boys, Selina Sutherland worked tirelessly to better the lives of Melbourne's neglected women and children. As the Australian Dictionary of Biography records, "Selina's work must rank with that of Catherine Helen Spence and Caroline Chisholm - it was never confined by any limitation of class, creed or colour".
Selina entered nursing after being strongly influenced by the work of Florence Nightingale. In her early 20s, she moved from Scotland to New Zealand where she drove the development of Masterton's first public hospital in 1877, becoming its first matron. After an accident that left her partially disabled, she toured Fiji, Sydney and finally Melbourne where she decided to stay after meeting the citys homeless women and children.
In 1885 Selina joined the Scots Church Neglected Children's Society where she helped establish the Melbourne District Nursing Society.
In 1888, under new legislation, Selina was the first person to take children into her care legally. Until then children became wards of the state and were placed in homes.
According to a 1904 police report: "There is no institution in Melbourne where a woman with an infant will be admitted except at Miss Sutherland's home".
In December 1894 the Victorian Neglected Children's Aid Society was born, with Selina as its agent and superintendent. Here she cared for babies, elderly and mentally disabled women till health issues forced her departure.
Later, in 1908, Selina established the Sutherland Homes for Neglected Children. Selina's epitaph probably says it all: "For 28 years an unwearied friend of Melbourne's poor, the truest helper of its fallen, and devoted foster mother of all destitute ones, for whom she taught Victoria how to care, having rescued 3,000 waifs from its streets and slum. "She hath done what she could"
Reviewed 25 May 2022