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Ellen Maria Barron


Ellen Maria Barron was born in Oxfordshire, England in 1875. Ellen’s father was a Railway Clerk and in 1884 the family emigrated to Queensland as “bounty migrants” (their passage was assisted by the Government because of a skilled labour shortage). Mr Barron’s work with the railways took the family to many of Queensland’s new rural railway stations, where Ellen saw first hand the lack of primary child health care.

Ellen was one of six surviving sisters. She would have witnessed the deaths of five siblings, some from treatable causes:
Annie Florence died at 4 years of age, due to an abscess of the parotid gland (perhaps as the result of a severe mumps infection)
Herbert and William (male twins), born prematurely and died of jaundice as infants, in England
Louis James died at 2 years of age, after suffering hydrocephalus and convulsions
William died at 4 months of age, due to a twisted bowel.

It is likely that these experiences were formative in Ellen Barron’s decision to become a trained nurse, educate mothers in caring for babies and children, and extend the reach of Infant Welfare services into regional and remote areas.

Ellen (known as Nellie or Nell) trained as a nurse at the Brisbane General Hospital (1896-1898), working as a staff nurse until 1901. She spent three years as head nurse at the Maryborough General Hospital before completing obstetrics training at Rockhampton Women’s Hospital. Ellen returned to Maryborough as Matron of the Lady Musgrave (maternity) Hospital and later at Chillagoe in North Queensland. Ellen then travelled to the UK c1910, and became qualified in massage and massage training before returning to Australia.

World War 1 broke out in August 1914 and Ellen enlisted with the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1915. She served in the 3rd Australian General Hospital on the Greek Island of Lemnos (taking casualties from Gallipoli), and at Abbassia, Egypt and Kitchener Hospital in Brighton, England. She became ill and returned to Australia in 1917. After the First World War Ellen Barron was issued with the following medals:
1914 /15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal.

In 1918 Ellen became one of the first Baby Clinic nurses in Brisbane. In 1922/3 she studied Infant Welfare nursing on a scholarship at the Karitane-Harris Hospital in Dunedin, New Zealand with Dr Truby King. On her return to Australia, Ellen established Queensland’s first Infant Care Nurse training course at the Alfred St Baby Clinic in Fortitude Valley. In the 1930 and 1931 Parliamentary Papers, the Report of the Director of Infant Welfare described Ellen Barron’s training school as “the most vital part of our work”.

In 1924 Ellen Barron became the first full-time Superintendent of Infant Welfare Services in Queensland, and later toured Queensland speaking and educating women about infant care. The reach of these services was immense. In the period from 1922 to 1930, the number of mothers and children attending the 16 Infant Welfare clinics rose from approximately 37,000 to 116,000 (despite falling fertility rates).

At this time, the Infant Welfare Railway Car began operations in Queensland, its success described in the 1931 Parliamentary Papers Report from the Director of Infant Welfare:

“This is now engaged in its second annual tour through all the Queensland railways south of Cairns… Within the year it has visited 152 places… the value of its nursing advice has been appreciated by many country medical practitioners… Lectures are given to mothers in every centre, and health talks to young children… In this respect these isolated places have enjoyed advantages which we have not yet been able to extend to our town and city populations.

Number of infants and mothers attending car for advice, 2,447.
Number of attendances at lectures to mothers, 1,569.
Number of school children present at Health Talks, 4.670.”
(Queensland Parliamentary Papers 1931, Vol 1)

Ellen Barron retired from nursing in 1939, and lived both in Brisbane and with her large extended family, taking a particular interest in her sisters’ children and grandchildren. Ellen passed away on 7 July 1951.

Ellen was survived by all of her five sisters. Her extensive will provided for two of her sisters with disabilities. Keen to encourage women towards higher education, Ellen also set aside money for a young female relative to attend University.

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