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Lucy Osburn - A true nursing pioneer

Lucy Osburn
Lucy Osburn

By Freda MacDonnell

In March 1868, Lucy Osburn, with five other nursing sisters, arrived in Sydney to take charge of the Infirmary.

They were sent by Florence Nightingale in answer to an appeal from Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales. A week later they had a royal patient, when the Duke of Edinburgh was wounded by a would-be assassin at Clontarf. But in spite of the public acclaim this brought them, Lucy Osburn and her staff faced a long fight with prejudice and ignorance in their efforts to reform the infirmary.

The idea of gentlewomen working as hospital nurses was still novel, and to many people shocking; Lucy Osburn’s own father had turned her portrait to face the wall when she entered the Nightingale College of Nursing. Thwarted at every turn by suspicion and jealousy, even among the doctors, and by an inefficient system of management, Lucy Osburn battled on undaunted, for 16 years and eight months. Most of the Lucy Osburn sisters took up positions as matrons at various hospitals. By these means the Nightingale teaching and standards became accepted practice in the hospital system of the colony. By the time she returned to England she had laid the foundation of modern nursing in New South Wales, and Sydney Hospital was launched on its long and distinguished career of service to the community.

After some years nursing among the sick and poor in London, Lucy died of diabetes at her sister’s home in Harrogate in 1891.



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