The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Sister Frances Hines

Sister Frances Emma 'Fanny' Hines: first Australian woman to die on operational service.

Frances Emma Hines better known as 'Fanny' was born in 1864 in the Inglewood district of Victoria. She was the fourth daughter of Patrick and Eleanor Hines. She was educated at 'Fairleight' School in Melbourne and was apparently a contemporary there of Jane Lempriere one of the Victorian volunteer nurses. Fanny left Australia from Melbourne on the SS Euralyus on 10th March 1900. She was part of an official group of ten Victorian nurses travelling with the third Victorian Contingent under the command of Sister Marianne Rawson.

On arrival in South Africa they were apparently offered the option of service in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State or remaining with the contingent and travelling to Rhodesia. They elected to remain with the third Victorian Imperial Bushmen and join Sir Frederick Carrington's force in Rhodesia. By the end of April they had arrived in Salisbury after an eventful trip by train and truck.

Nursing conditions were at best grim. On 15th June Sister Bernhard Smith of the group was writing home as follows:

"We have been at our wits end to keep clean towels, or whatever we could get hold of, to change the beds of the patients ill with dysentery. The cases that have been sent out by the Warrnambool, Bendigo and Brighton people have been our salvation. We do want foment flannel and bandaging material badly.

The men are lying on stretchers, their own mackintosh, sheet and blankets, and overcoats if further warmth is needed. Fortunately the doctors bought a supply of pillows, and where we are short we use the men's coats folded into pillow cases, the kindly gift of the Umtali ladies."

A month later Sister Ellen Walter was writing:

"We started the hospital here for the troops, and it has been a great business getting things fixed. It is just a large room in the athletic sports ground, formerly used for a gymnasium and which we use as a ward. The grandstand is boarded up for the doctors and for our rooms-all wood and iron-hot in the day and cold at night. Sister Julia Anderson and I are doing all the nursing work at present, as it takes Sister Marianne Rawson all her time looking after the housekeeping.

Each intake of men who arrived in camp had such a lot ill with fever, dysentery and pneumonia. So far no typhoid among our men. We now have 30 in the ward, and 11 in tents with measles, and such a lot of New Zealanders arrive with it. Four nurses are still at Umtali and will come on here later, as the base hospital is to be here. Sister Frances Hines is at Enkeldoorn, but we expect her here soon. She has been a long time alone there."

Captain WW Dobbin, a Victorian Bushmen described the Sisters working conditions:

"Our nursing sisters were the only sisters who ventured into these districts, and they have indeed done more than their share of work. At times one, sometimes two, would be trekked off on a week's coaching journey to some fever bed where the troops are falling ill, with possibly no accommodation but a deserted public house. I have seen two sisters on their knees scrubbing and cleaning such a place to receive their patients, and in the middle of their work 10 or 12 sick and dying men dumped down from an ox wagon, and no orderlies detailed and no native servants.

The nurses would be obliged to take off some of their own clothing to make pillows for sick men, and then go outside to cook food under a blazing sun. They were never with us after Beira, but some of our troops, and men from other contingents write and speak in most grateful terms of their willing services."

In the end disaster struck when Fanny became ill. The diagnosis was Pneumonia although some sources have suggested that she also suffered from Enteritis. What ever the cause, her death on 7th August 1900 in Memorial Hospital Bulawayo was as much a battle death as any other in the campaign. Run down, debilitated due to her arduous service, she was more likely to contract disease and less likely to be able to fight it off. In writing about the death her colleague Julia Anderson explained that she:

"died of an attack of pneumonia contracted in devotion to duty. She was quite alone with as many as twenty six patients at one time, no possibility of assistance or relief, and without sufficient nourishment."

William Dobbin would write:

"simply gave her life to the work of saving others"

The words can hardly do justice to the nurses' situation. She was buried in Bulawayo cemetery by her nursing colleagues and members of the Victorian Bushmen with full military honours. She was the first Australian service woman to die on active service.


The Australians at the Boer War, Robert L Wallace, Canberra, 1976.
That Ragged Mob, R Droogleaver, Melbourne 2009

David Deasey

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