• 1885 Melbourne Lying-In Hospital training extended to six-months
  • 1888 Melbourne Lying-In Hospital training extended to twelve-months
  • 1893 Sydney Benevolent Asylum has an outbreak of puerperal sepsis, resulting in the death of 8 women and closure of the hospital. It relocates to Paddington as the Hospital for Women, and the Royal Hospital for Women from 1905

Lying in homes & private hospitals

By the 1880s midwives working within their communities were able to earn a living from attending births. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Australia, the majority of women still gave birth at home; however, the lying-in house was another option for some women. The lying-in house had become popular in the eighteenth century in Britain, where its aim was to provide poor women with somewhere to go to birth, and then stay for a period of time following the birth to regain their strength. Increasingly, towards the end of the nineteenth century some Australian midwives began to offer this service. Rather than just attending women at their own home home, midwives would also provide midwifery care to women in their own residence and ‘private maternity hospitals’.

A new type of midwife

During this period nursing began to evolve as an occupation, and the medical profession gained power and influence within the State and the community, and there was a push for the registration of nurses and midwives. These events, and changes in the socio-political environment, led to the absorption of midwifery into nursing and the associated subordination to medicine. Nursing and medicine gained increased control over midwifery, and led to legislation which placed restrictions on midwives’ practice. This in turn led to the loss of autonomous midwifery practice, and ultimately their distinct role as a separate to nursing.

The subordination of midwifery was achieved as the Australian midwife did not have a strong foundation and had very little professional credibility, unlike British and European midwives. The majority of midwives in Australia at the end of the nineteenth century were still working-class and all were women. This class and gender divide between medicine on the one hand, and nursing and midwifery on the other, is of particular importance to the ease in which the subordination of midwifery was achieved. Medicine’s acceptance of hospital based midwives provides shows that the early struggle between medicine and midwifery was not about the midwives’ competence, but due to their status as independent practitioners. Medicine was opposed to any move to make midwifery an independent profession as they wanted to prevent the independent midwives from improving their status and standing in the community.

The only way that medicine could control midwifery was through nursing. The move to incorporate midwifery into another female dominated occupation – nursing – ensured that the working-class female midwives would continue to be excluded from medicine, as midwifery was now being defined as part of medicine under the new speciality of ‘obstetrics’. If midwifery became a branch of, or was included in nursing, then it too would fall under the control of medicine. To be able to control midwives, medicine also had to control who could train and practice as a midwife. Consequently, medicine encouraged the training of midwives, albeit with a minimal amount of training and skills. This training was enough to enable them to provide care within the medically controlled and supervised institution, but not enough to enable them to provide the full scope of midwifery practice, thereby discouraging them from entering into autonomous independent practice.

The working-class community midwives were seen as a hindrance to the new nurses and were excluded from many training schools due to their social class and age: they did not fit the new image of the new trained nurse-midwife. The introduction of medically-run, midwifery training schools created a new type of midwife who specialised in hospital-based midwifery, and was familiar with the medical model of care. This contributed to the divide between hospital-trained midwives and the independent community midwife.



Granny Jane Morphett {St Mary’s Sydney NSW, 1880s}

Jane Morphett lived during the late 1880s on the flat off Luddenham Rd about six miles from St Mary’s in NSW. It was after she had eight children that she frequently went to the assistance of women in labour. She was not a trained nurse or midwife.

In about 1900 a man came on horse back one night all the way from Silverdale (about 20km) to ask for assistance for his wife who was in labour. She ran and walked beside the horse, hanging onto the stirrup, through the bush, cutting across paddocks, crossing the Nepean River at a ford near Wallacia, then climbed the mountain near Warragamba to reach Silverdale. The distance would have been 15 miles. ‘Granny’ Morphett attended to the birth, bathed the baby, and attended to the mother. She then walked home. She did not receive payment of any kind for her effort.

Granny Morphett was a midwife in the same area as Granny Mary Ann Dollin.

In 1900 there were only four midwifery hospitals serving the poor and the single mothers in the city of Sydney. By 1950 there were 13 midwifery training hospitals throughout the state serving all sections of society.

Nurse Kitty Bain {Bexley Sydney NSW, 1865-1926}

Nurse Catherine ‘Kitty’ Bain won the lasting gratitude of the community in which she lived. She was the widow of George Bain, a Scottish stonemason who had settled in Bexley in 1884 and died in 1903. Apart from being a midwife, she also practiced herbal medicine from her home ‘Montrose’, a Victorian sandstone cottage in Broadford Street, built by George.

During her fifty years in Bexley, Nurse Bain delivered more than 300 children. She also did great work during the 1919 pneumonic influenza outbreak, saving many lives by her skill as a nurse and dispenser of herbal remedies.

Kitty died on January 3, 1926, at her residence, 80 Broadford Street, Bexley, described in the Sydney Morning Herald simply as:
Catherine (Nurse) Bain, relict of the late George Bain, aged seventy years.

Matron Hannah McLeod {Sydney NSW 1857-1912}

Hannah McLeod was born in Redfern in 1857. She began her nursing career doing general training at Newcastle General Hospital in 1891, and was appointed by Sir James Graham and Dr Andrew Watson Munro to take charge of a two-bed hospital in Hay St, Sydney in 1893. Three years later it moved to Crown Street, and became the Women’s Hospital, where Hannah was Matron from 1893 to 1912.  In 1897 she obtained her midwifery certificate. She assumed responsibility for midwifery training at Crown Street, with an emphasis on kindness, cleanliness, neatness, and strict discipline. McLeod stressed to trainee midwives that they came to be a nurse and not a doctor. She began a district nursing and midwifery service, noting that

the out-patient maternity duties of the nurses were decidedly hard, involving calls at all hours of the day and night.

Described as ‘short in stature, of frail physique, weak in health and frequently suffering pain’  she personally attended to all details of running the hospital in the early years.  She walked to the nearby markets to purchase supplies for the hospital, accompanied by an employee with a wheelbarrow, and even the cooking and washing fell to her at times.  Her salary was four pounds a month. She was an early member of the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (established in 1899) and in 1901 she patented a cot, for which Letters Patent still exist.

Her leadership and strength of character were well known, and great respect was shown to Matron McLeod and her staff as they served their community. She died of pneumonia in her own hospital 24 October 1912, and was remembered in the Hannah McLeod Memorial Ward. After her death, it was noted by her colleagues that:

this smart, thin ‘woman-in-white’ had a living interest in the entire field of nursing, was expert alike in surgical and obstetric nursing, and devoted, truthful and ingenuous almost to a fault, but that her qualities at the bedside were the finest lessons she imparted to her pupils.

Read more in Australian Dictionary of Biography

Nurse Sarah Schwarzel {Panania Sydney NSW, 1858-1937}

Born Sarah Draper in 1858, she married John Schwarzel, a railway construction worker, in 1895. Soon after they settled at East Hills where she worked as a midwife for many years.  She became a well-known figure driving horse and sulky over rough bush roads, day and night, attending to people in all walks of life, including a great many who were unable to pay for her services. The closest doctor was in Bankstown (around 7km), and the closest hospital was the Cottage Hospital at Auburn (around 13km), so Nurse Schwarzel is a midwife who became a local legend in Panania.

Sarah was called to homes in a variety of ways – the ringing of cowbell, or an older child or father to be sent to fetch her. In the early days she was often seen making her way through the bush at night by hurricane lamp. Her pony and trap tied up outside a house sent the bush telegraph into full swing, announcing the arrival of a new baby.

A grateful community ensured that her services would always be remembered, and a publicly funded monument dedicated to her can be found outside the Panania library today.

The Sydney Morning Herald. 22 Nov 1937, p4

Memorial at Bankstown. The Mayor of Bankstown (Alderman J. Gosling) on Saturday unveiled a marble memorial to the late Nurse Schwartzel. Nurse Schwartzel was well known in the Bankstown district, and residents erected the tablet in Tower Street, East Hills, to commemorate her work. The late Nurse Schwartzel did valuable work in the district when there was no medical man within many miles of the settlers. She is said to have attended more than 1000 cases of childbirth without the death of a patient. Nurse Schwartzel travelled by sulky over partly-made roads or through the bush by day or night, and attended many patients who were unable to pay a fee.

FACEBOOK City of Canterbury Bankstown 19 August 2016

Have you ever noticed the memorial to Nurse Sarah Ann Schwarzel outside Panania Library and Knowledge Centre? “Granny Schwarzel”, as she was affectionately known, took up residence in East Hills during the mid 1890s and after recognising a gap in health and medical care, soon became the district midwife. Sarah was usually called to her patients’ homes by the ringing of a cowbell and could often be seen making her way through the bush at night by hurricane lamp.

Mary Kirkpatrick c.1910

Mary Kirkpatrick c.1910 © AMN744 Macleay River Historical Society, Angus McNeil Collection, Aust Picture Library

Nurse Mary Kirkpatrick {Kempsey NSW 1863-1943}

Mary Kirkpatrick was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1863. She married butcher Hugh Kirkpatrick in 1881, and tighter with baby David they immigrated to Sydney in 1884. Shortly after the birth  of second son George they separated, and Mary moved with her boys to Kempsey.

Mary worked as a grannie midwife from the late 1890’s before undertaking formal midwifery training. She completed a six month course of study and practical work at the Home Training and Lying-in Hospital, Newtown, in 1902. She established the first maternity hospital at Kempsey in 1905 and was the first trained midwife in the district. ‘Nurse Kirk’ managed institution The Poplars in 1910, built a private maternity home Hollywood in 1913, and another hospital Down in 1915.

One resident of the Macleay Valley wrote:

‘I have very vivid memories of her. I can see her now, a tall lady with her long white uniform, black boots or shoes, a navy blue cloak, done up at the throat, a navy pill box hat perched on her lovely wavy, fair hair with a blue scarf reaching down from her hat to the length of her gown. She walked very erect with great purpose, her cloak and scarf flying in the breeze, with the black bag so necessary to one who delivered the district’s babies.

Mary Kirkpatrick allowed her private hospital licence to lapse in 1926: crippled with arthritis, walking with the aid of a stick, and living alone after George had been killed in WWI and David was away farming. She died in 1943, and is buried at West Kempsey.  Her life is captured by her great granddaughter Noeline Kyle in the book Memories and Dreams. Noeline’s mother Kathleen, her aunts Lorna and Jean, and uncle David Gordon Kirkpatrick (better known as Slim Dusty) are grandchildren of Mary Kirkpatrick.

Read more in Australian Dictionary of Biography


© Lawrence Floyd

Nurse Madline Floyd {Condobolin NSW, 1874-1967}

Madline is the daughter of Granny Floyd (read her profile here).

Madline trained at South Sydney Hospital, and joined her mother Granny Floyd attending births at her hospital in Denison St. Between them, mother and daughter attended the birth of over 3000 babies, including 27 sets of twins. The heaviest baby they cared for was 16lbs and the lightest 2lbs.

Madline later had her own hospital in Williams St called The Laurels,. When she retired in 1948, it was the first time in 78 years that there was no midwife named Floyd in Condobolin. In August 1972, a portion of a street in Condobolin was renamed Madline St in her honour.

Madeline died in September 1967, and is buried with her parents in Condobolin Cemetery.

Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder

Wed 5 Jan 1927, p.5

Drs. M. F. and J. P Fitzsimmons, being quite convinced of the stability of Condobolin town and district and its progressive march as the years move on, are giving practical proof of their faith. Some time ago they purchased the surgery and residence from Dr. Quirk, and just recently they purchased the cottage close by, also owned by Dr. Quirk, and occupied by Mr. Coleman. Nurse Floyd (A.T.N.A) being in search of more commodious premises than those in Denison street and occupied by her for many years, arranged with the doctors to lease from them this new hospital when completed.
Extensive additions have been made, now making it comprise eight large, airy rooms, apart from bathroom, etc. Great verandah spaces are a notable feature – always a most important thing in a western climate. One length of verandah is over 70ft., others about 30ft each. The new portion is of very high walls, with every provision for fresh air and coolness. Another praiseworthy feature is the furnishing— all new and of latest design for hospital use. The original portion of the building (which is practically new) has been repainted, revarnished and linoed right through.
When we say the total cost to the doctors is just on £2000 it will be sufficient to convey a fair idea of the character of the building. The contractors, Messrs. Oppy and Merriti, carried out the work in a highly satisfactory manner.
Elsewhere an advertisement appears intimating, that Nurse Floyd will be immediately .entering the new premises.

Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder

Wed 30 May 1928, p.1


(To the Editor)

Sir, — In -reply to Mrs. Gavel’s address to the C.W.A. last week, I wish to point out that her statement concerning the absence of any maternity hospital in Condobolin is most inaccurate. My hospital has been establsihed for 17 years. I have attended about 1500 cases, and the mortality rate of these cases is the lowest in the State. There is also another maternity hospital in the town, under the management of Nurse Tolhurst. —
Yours, etc. – –
M. FLOYD (Nurse).

Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder

Thu 6 Jun 1940, p.1



If all legends about falling stars are founded on fact, then a great number of stars must have fallen to account for the number of babies horn here in “The Laurels” Private Hospital which is presided over by that kindly and genuine person, Nurse M. Floyd, M.A.T.N.A.”
The late J. M. Barrie wrote a story once about a private hospital. It was a story filled with the tender romance that one usually overlooks, but always finds in a private hospital. It was the story of a nurse, mothers, babies, and mentioned that there, in rather severe surroundings was more genuine love than any in all the countryside around.
Nurse Floyd has in her long association with her hospitals witnessed a great deal of the unsurpassable love of the mother for her child and has seen many children come into the world at her institution.
The success of a Private Hospital depends entirely upon the persons in charge. They must be tolerant but firm, sympathetic but wise, and such qualities only come after long experience. Nurse Floyd has all these qualifications, and expectant mothers are made to feel comfortably at home.
This hospital is equipped with all the most modern equipments. Besides obstetric cases there is accommodation for other patients, who will receive that painstaking care and attention which the best private hospitals are noted for. The private hospital is one of our most important institutions in that it renders a humane service to the people. Its existence means just what the word “private” implies — that there is no intrusion. You receive attention at the hands of qualified people in the pleasant and comfortable surroundings that are comparable to your own home.’

It seems Madline’s retirement was a low key affair:

Lachlander and Condobolin and Western Districts Recorder

Mon 16 Feb 1948, p.2


A private party and presentation was given to Nurse Floyd by her friends, in the Masonic Hall last Saturday night.

May Yarrowick {Bundarra NSW, 1876-1949}

May Yarrowick trained as a midwife at Crown St Women’s Hospital in 1906-07.

“Her significance is that she appears to be – by many decades – the first identified Aboriginal woman to gain a formal qualification in midwifery.”

It is believed that May’s grandmother was of the Yarrowick (or Yarrowyck) tribe, and was in Bundarra, in the New England areas of NSW, when she went into labor. Her labor became obstructed, and she was left behind by the tribe on a property owned by the Broun & Kelly families. Apparently someone was able to free the baby’s arm, and her daughter Margaret (Peg) was born.

May’s mother Peg stayed with the Kelly family “torn between two cultures”. At the age of 16, Peg died while giving birth to May. May was brought up and educated by the Kelly family, who gave her the surname Yarrowick, after her tribe. May’s descendants confirm that she is said to be the illegitimate child of one of the Kelly sons.

In 1906, aged 30, May applied to train as a midwife at Crown Street hospital, Sydney. Matron Hannah McLeod (Crown Street’s first Matron) took her application to the Board, as it presented her “a dilemma” – no doubt because of the attitude to Aboriginal people at that time. The Board members decided that “the fact of her being a half caste was not a valid ground for refusing to train her as a nurse”, however, no other trainee be asked to share a room with her. Fortunately for May, a shortage of trainees ensured a single room was available. Her expenses while training in Sydney were paid for by one of the Kelly sons, who was living in Sydney at the time.

In April 1907, May was one of the 6 trainees who passed their training. There was 1 who failed. May had witnessed 50 births, achieved 65% in her oral exam, a satisfactory+ in obstetrical knowledge, and a ‘good’ in practical work and general character. She barely passed her written exam: a reflection of girls’ formal education – particularly in science – being generally poor at the time. She was one of 3 trainees noted to be ‘untidy in their personal neatness’.

May would have faced the intense racism of the time, and so she would also had to have been resilient and courageous, with great personal integrity. The blatant racism in society generally was reflected in much of Crown Street’s history, particularly in its early history. The hospital didn’t show any particular pride in May’s achievements, the very fact of which essentially became lost. The only record of May training at Crown Street is in the Board minutes, which the author Judith Godden discovered by chance when researching her book Crown St Women’s Hospital: A history 1893 – 1983, from which this profile was written.

After successfully completing her training, May registered with the Australian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) and worked as a private midwife, returning to live on the Broun property near Bundarra from 1919-1940.

What was also unique about May was that she provided care to all members of the local community, not only Aboriginal women, and in her later life saved the life of one of the women of the Broun family who haemorrhaged in childbirth. Oral history indicates that she was

“a courageous pioneer and was very conscious of maintaining her dignity”.

May passed away aged 73 and is buried in Bundarra cemetery next to Martin Kelly (1801-1878) and Catherine Laughlin (1820-1910), her presumed grandparents. Her headstone is inscribed “Nurse May Yarrowick A.T.N.A.’ indicating her justifiable pride in her achievement.

May’s descendants confirm that sadly there is no known photograph of her. There is one commonly found online that is wrongly said to be her – it is actually Edith May (Ella) Elliott who worked at Innishowen Private Hospital in Inverell. Although May is not known to have ever worked at Innishowen, Ella knew May very well, and her daughter remembers May visiting often.

Grace Jane Clarke {Warren NSW, 1895-1960}

Grace Jane Clarke was known as the ‘Warren Nightingale’.

She watched her mother who was a nurse and at the unusually young age of 18 began a career as a midwife. Grace Clarke had no formal training at all but as a result of her own learning and experience, was issued with a Midwife’s certificate. She delivered some 1600 babies and had a remarkably successful record.

She died in 1960 aged 83, after a lifetime of dedicated service to the Warren district community.


Shah, N. (2019). How forceps permanently changed the way humans are born. The Conversation, October 24.

Dr Neel Shah, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, Harvard Medical School, discusses the impact of  the introduction of technology to the birth room, and how it quickly came to dominate the value of lived experience and the importance of social support.