The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Superintendent (later Principal Matron RRC) Julia Gould

Julia Ellen (Nellie) Gould - Pioneer Military Nurse and Nurse Educator

Julia Ellen (Nellie) Gould was born in Aberystwyth, Monmouthshire, Wales on 29 March 1860. Her father, an agent, moved the family to Portugal when Nellie was four and he arranged home tutoring until she was ten years old. Nellie Gould attended a Portuguese language school before returning to London where she attended Mildmay Park College and passed the senior Local Cambridge Examination, aged sixteen. She became a member of the teaching staff there where she remained until 1879. At the age of nineteen she moved to Hamburg where she worked as a governess for four years. She was credited with being able to speak Portuguese, German and French. She would later use her skills as a student and an educator to good effect by focusing on nurse training and reform. Nellie and her step-sister, Emily, decided to visit family who were living in Grafton, New South Wales in 1884.

Nellie Gould decided to remain in Australia and commenced a two year nurse training course at Prince Alfred Hospital (now RPA) in January 1885. When Nellie Gould began her training the full complement of staff at the hospital consisted of Miss Murray (matron), five sisters (senior trained nurses), twelve nurses (trained but not senior) and six probationers (trainees including Nellie Gould).

After graduating as a nursing sister she remained at Prince Alfred and in 1888 was awarded the prestigious Women's Industries Gold Prize Medal. It is one of only ten Gold Medals known to have been awarded at the Women's Industrial Exhibition (the Exhibition of Women's Industries and Centenary Fair) in New South Wales in 1888. This was part of NSW's Centennial celebrations. Sponsored by Mrs Hunter-Baillie, Nellie won it in the sick nursing and ambulance work prize category and had it set in a gilt belt buckle.

The Exhibition was organised by philanthropist and suffrage campaigner Lady Mary Elizabeth (Bolton) Windeyer (1836 - 1912) and presided over by Lady Cecilia Carrington, wife of the NSW Governor. Proceeds from a sale of the work exhibited financed the Temporary Aid Society, which provided assistance to women in financial difficulty. The Exhibition comprised seven competitive categories: needlework and lace, knitting, domestic industries (cooking and confectionary), mechanical work (typewriting, box and toy making), educational (especially sick nursing and ambulance work), horticulture and floriculture and fine arts (paintings, drawings, photography and pottery).

She was then appointed matron of St Kilda Private Hospital at Woolloomooloo and in 1891 became the 3rd matron and superintendent of the training school of Sydney Hospital where her skill as an administrator and teacher was recognized. Initially, Miss Gould had the added responsibility of administering the nursing staff and the nurse training program while the new Sydney Hospital was being built. The new hospital was ready to accept patients in 1894 but during the interim the Nightingale Wing (the nurses' home), had been used for patients so in 1895 it had to be restored to its original purpose. This period of disorder and upheaval gave Miss Gould some insight into the chaotic and responsive role of a military nurse leader.

She resigned in October 1898 to join the New South Wales Public Health Department and was matron of the Hospital for the Insane at Rydalmere in 1898-1900. She was thus a pioneer of mental health nursing in NSW.

In February 1899 Colonel, later Surgeon-General, (Sir) William Williams asked her help to form an Army Nursing Service Reserve attached to the New South Wales Army Medical Corps, and in May twenty-six nurses were sworn in. Miss Gould was appointed lady superintendent. The New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve (NSWANSR) was modelled on the British system of Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service Reserve and the Indian Army Nursing Service. Members were required to become 'efficient' by undergoing training each year and qualifying in first aid as well as receive instruction on military organisation. Each civilian trained NSWANSR nurse was provided with a uniform, paid a 2 pounds sterling allowance on joining and 1 pound sterling thereafter each year.

She was a founding member of the Australasian Trained Nurses Association (ATNA) which was founded in December 1899. Matron Gould was an ATNA Council member from the organisation's inception until she retired in 1921. This helped standardise nursing training in NSW. Once a probationer had completed her training and passed her hospital examinations she was encouraged to sit an external ATNA examination. If successful, she was issued with the much coveted ATNA certificate which was occasionally referred to as the Able To Nurse Anything certificate. In keeping with her penchant for the professional development of nursing Nellie initiated the ATNA journal (1903) and was a member of the editorial committee.

On 17 January 1900, in charge of thirteen nursing sisters, she left in the Moravian for the South African War, with the 2nd New South Wales Army Medical Corps Contingent. Nellie was convinced of their capabilities as military nurses because 'not one of whom had had less than seven years experience' nursing in Australia. She served first at a stationary hospital at Sterkstroom near Stormberg. The Australian Boer war Nurses were said to be seen scrubbing and cleaning sick tents and using their own clothing as blankets for the sick, a testament to their great commitment. Nellie describes an incident here:

"Here we met our first Australian soldier who passed on. He was only with us five days and during that time only noticed some roses brought by a kindly clergyman from Queenstown. With one of those in his hand he remarked that similar ones grew at his home in St Marys near Parramatta. Under his pillow we found a little prayer book which later, I had the pleasure of returning to the donor, his special friend at home. Thirty one graves mark our short stay of three months."

The soldier was most likely Edwin Horace Ransley who died of enteric (typhoid) fever on 27 April 1900 at Sterkstroom.

At one point Nellie was in nursing charge of the entire Orange River district from here.

Later came No.3 British General Hospital, Kroonstad, No.6 British General Hospital, Johannesburg, and No.35 Stationary Hospital, Ermelo, returning to Australia in August 1902.

One of the more contentious policy issues during the Boer War campaign was the appropriateness of female nurses, as opposed to male orderlies, but the critics were silenced to some extent, by the resilience and effectiveness of the Boer War nurses which, in effect, paved the way for First World War nurses.

With her friend, Sister Julia Bligh Johnston, she then opened Ermelo Private Hospital at Newtown, Sydney, and for the next ten years her energy and initiative were devoted to the welfare of nurses and the enhancement of the status of the profession. She also organized the Army Nursing Service Reserve in New South Wales and was appointed principal matron of the 2nd Military District. Ermelo was sold in 1912 and Ellen Gould and Julia Johnston joined the Public Health Department.

Eighteen months after federation, the separate nursing reserves in each of the colonies were officially combined to become the AANS on 1 July 1902. This was divided into six military districts represented by each of the six Australian states: 1MD-Queensland & Northern Territory; 2MD-New South Wales; 3MD-Victoria; 4MD-South Australia; 5MD-Western Australia and 6MD-Tasmania. The structure of the AANS from 1903 included one Principal Matron and one Matron for each state plus a total of ninety-six sisters to be divided between the states.

When Principal Matron Gould and Sister Julia Bligh Johnston boarded the Euripides as part of the first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) contingent in 1914 there is no way they could have envisaged the magnitude of the slaughter that was about to happen; this war was not going to be a repeat of the Boer War. Principal Matron Gould was instructed to commission 2 Australian General Hospital (AGH)

Mena House, 'a large tourist hotel adapted for a hospital' was situated at the base of the pyramids and became 2 AGH, a 520-bed facility, during the Gallipoli campaign. Miss Gould took over as matron when her complement of ninety-six Australian nurses arrived in Egypt on 20 January 1915 to staff the Mena hospital.

Miss Gould was given twenty-four hours notice to prepare her hospital and staff for the influx of casualties which followed the first landing, while the matron at the 2 AGH was given twenty-four hours notice to prepare for the Gallipoli evacuees. One of her nurses, from South Australia, recorded the:

"wounded have just arrived today. We have admitted over 100 today ... but it is terrible to think of all who haven't come back--the 9th and 11th have just about been wiped out. All the SA men were in the 3rd Brigade. They say there are only about 200 left that are not wounded or killed."

Not only did Matron Gould have to contend with the administration of Mena House as a hospital, she had to deal with the collective and individual grief of her nurses because it was not unusual for a nurse to hear of the death of a beloved brother or fiancee while tending to the wounded.

Mena hospital was closed as an acute hospital (12 June 1915) because of the high climatic temperatures but later re-opened as a convalescent hospital. In June 2AGH was re-located to the Ghezireh Palace Hotel, which was inconveniently located on a small island on the Nile River and Miss Gould was required to commute between the two facilities. She managed 2AGH in two different and difficult locations in 1915--during which time more than ten thousand patients were admitted.

There was a general consensus that the AANS nurses adapted to the appalling wartime conditions by falling back on their inherent professionalism but 'those of the wounded who knew them previously were shocked at the change which the strain had produced in them'. The nurses got on with their nursing but military regulations continued to irk them. Sister Haynes preferred to work at 2AGH than at any other hospital but she found the rules and regulation of the army 'quite mad', especially during the Egyptian summer when the 'matron has a fit when she sees us without our capes', although it was not long before the Australian nurses 'wore their scarlet capes with the same pride as the Australian soldiers wore their slouch hats'.

It was not unusual for an AGH to relocate because the term 'AGH' referred to a specific unit of personnel not a particular building. When the Gallipoli campaign culminated in the withdrawal of all troops, without any loss of life in December 1915, Australian soldiers were transferred to the Western Front and 2AGH became operational at Marseilles (April 1916). This was by no means the final move for Miss Gould and her staff and it was at Wimereux, France, on the eve of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, when the civilian trained Australian nurses of 2AGH were ultimately tested as military nurses.

As is often the case with leaders, Miss Gould was not universally liked within the AANS. Nellie Gould was passed over for the position of Matron-in-Chief 1916 which went to Evelyn Conyers which undoubtedly rankled. Given Nellie's experience in the NSWANSR and the AANS she may have had a reasonable expectation that she would be the best choice for the appointment. Evelyn Conyers was a respected civilian nurse but comparatively junior within the AANS.

In 1916 Nellie Gould was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (1st class) for her war work.

By 1917 the strain of the war was beginning to take its toll on her health. She, aged fifty-seven years, was appointed matron of 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital (AAH), a convalescent hospital of 500 beds at Harefield, England. It was here that Australian casualties of the Somme were given a chance to convalesce before being transferred home on the next available hospital ship. Finally, Miss Gould served at Cobham Hall which was an Officers' Hospital in 1918 before returning to Australia on the troopship Marathon on 20 October. Her health was broken and she was unfit to take up nursing duties again.

Principal Matron Gould, founder of the NSWANSR and the AANS, a veteran of two wars returned to Australia in January 1919 and was discharged from the A.I.F. on 3 March. In 1920, aged sixty years, she was given a war service pension which enabled her to retire to her home in Miranda, NSW which was aptly named 'Ghezireh'.

She was a life member of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association and in 1935 was honoured with the Kings Jubilee medal. As well as her RRC she held the Queens and Kings South African Medals, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

At 'Ghezireh' she lived out the next twenty years in the company of Julia Bligh Johnston whom she outlived by a year--dying in hospital at Neutral Bay on 19 April 1941, aged 81 years. Principal Matron Ellen Julia Gould was not given a full military funeral but was privately cremated during a time when the world was once again at war. Sadly her contribution was not commemorated in the manner that it should have been. Her ashes are interred along with those of Julia Bligh Johnson and Penelope Frater at Woronora Cemetery in Sydney's southern suburbs near to her home at Miranda.

Miss Nellie Gould had already made a substantial contribution to the nursing profession within her civilian roles when she responded to the request for help to form the NSWANSR in 1899. Her civilian experiences enabled her to bring together a small contingent of volunteer nurses who would later underscore the professionalism of the AANS during the First World War. After the Boer War she used the interregnum (1902-1914) to promote civilian nurse training courses which proved to be compatible with the needs of the civilian population in peacetime and the soldiers during wartime. She promoted the merit of joining the AANS in peacetime, to civilian trained nurses.

One of her more significant accomplishments was her ability to facilitate the transfer of the experiences and competencies of the civilian trained nurse into the military nursing domain. This was confirmed by the emergence of a number of excellent nurse leaders who had developed administrative, management and leadership skills within the context of either the Boer War or the First World War. Moreover, it was the evolution of the ordinary Australian nurse into a competent army nurse for the duration of a war which must be considered her greatest achievement. Ellen Julia Gould helped transform civilian nurses, from varying training hospitals throughout Australia, into a unified, professional and respected military nursing service during the bloodiest war of the twentieth century.

David Deasey 2011


Ruth Rae, Ellen Julia Gould: a civilian nurse and founder of the military nursing tradition in Australia, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Dec, 2006

Perditta McCarthy, 'Ellen Julia Gould' in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.9, Melbourne, 1983

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