Florence Nightingale
sent Lucy Osburn
to the colonies
of Australia

Off to Australia!

Lucy Osburn was Lady Superintendent of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (later Sydney Hospital) 1868-84. She was head of the first of only two nursing teams sent overseas by Florence Nightingale. She provided the foundations of modern nursing in Australia and championed the employment of high status professional women in public positions.

Ms Osburn commenced at the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas's Hospital, London in September 1866 as a Lady Probationer. Lady Probationers trained to become nursing managers not bedside nurses.

Shortly after Lucy Osburn began her training, Florence Nightingale received a request from Henry Parkes on behalf of the New South Wales Government in Austalia. Parkes's request was for a team of nurses to be sent to the colony (Australia) to introduce Florence Nightingale's style of nursing at the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary and also to train nurses in Nightingale's methods for hospitals throughout the colony.

Lucy Osburn had just finished her training in September 1867, observed midwifery and visited other hospitals before leaving with the five other nurses on 2 December 1867 headed for Australia.

She established the fundamentals of Nightingale nursing at the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary and introduced training on and off the wards for the nurses. She introduced a hierarchical system of management whereby she was in charge of nursing and the nurses as opposed to the medical staff being in charge of the nurses. Lucy Osburn maintained a nursing register where details of nursing students were recorded and she insisted on good living conditions for the nurses.

Trouble in the colonies!

Lucy Osburn encountered many problems throughout her years in Australia, and also suffered ill health. She was used as a scapegoat by other bureaucrats who refused to do their own work.

An example of this was when there was public outcry at the state of the hospitals where she had been put in charge of the nurses, it was her who was held accountable. The main issue was that the buildings were dilapidated and needed rebuilding, which of course Ms Osburn had no influence over.

The other issue was that the main wards were filthy, rat infested and never cleaned properly. To get any cleaning done she required the cooperation of the Superintendent who controlled the male staff, and the House Committee who could authorize effective cleaning, neither of whom cared to cooperate. Ms Osburn was soon blamed for the filthy, rat infested wards under her control but had insufficient power to effectively order anyone to clean the wards.

Lucy Osburn was the target for many campaigns of discredit by religious and other factions but with the strong support of Henry Parkes and other influential friends, she survived numerous public inquiries, most notably the First Report into the Infirmary by the 1873 Royal Commission into Public Charities.

After this Report, her powers were more clearly defined and the role of the hospital as an acute care facility was confirmed with its change of name to Sydney Hospital in 1881. After this inquiry she dismissed all of the other Nightingale nurses who had accompanied her to Australia, as they had joined in the ranks against her! This, though, put her in poor standing with Florence Nightingale herself, who then distanced herself from Lucy Osburn.

A Right Royal Visit!

One of the memorable occasions of the time in Australia was a royal tour of the colonies in 1867. During the visit Queen Victoria's second eldest son Prince Alfred, was shot in the back in an assassination attempt however the attempt failed when the bullet ricocheted off his ribs and the Prince was not seriously wounded. Ms Osburn and her Nightingale nurses from Sydney Hospital nursed Prince Alfred back to health and the Queen ordered a hospital be built as a memorial to his recovery.

Lucy Osburns achievements pave the way for modern nursing!

Lucy Osburn's achievements were to reform nursing practice and to train disciplined nurses throughout the Australian colonies, paving the way for modern nursing.

She was sent to Australia ill-equipped and largely achieved a near-impossible task. Early in 1884 Lucy Osburn resigned, too ill to work, she returned to England and she died in December 1891.

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