Rawson, Marianne (1855 - 1934)


Avenel, Victoria, Australia
August 1934
Caulfield, Victoria, Australia
Alternative Names
  • O'Ferrall, Mrs John

© Biography by Madonna Grehan PhD 2010.

Marianne Rawson worked as a Head Nurse and Sister at The Women's Hospital in the 1890s. A skilled nurse and administrator, she was highly respected by the Hospital's Ladies Committee of Management and the Medical Staff. Marianne Rawson was one of three Australian nurses awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) for service in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). At the onset of the First World War in 1914, Miss Rawson was consulted by the wife of Australia's Governor General on how Australian women could contribute practically to the comfort of troops.

Marianne Rawson was a member of the Leicester [Royal] Infirmary Nurses' League and a Life Member of the Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA). Her career path, recorded in the RBNA registers is as follows:

'Cert Leicester Infirmary 1887-1890; Cert Rotunda Hosp, Dublin Nov 1890-May 1891; Priv Nursing May 1891-Dec 1892; Women's Hospital, Carlton Melbourne Dec 1892-Jun 1895; Private Hosp Kalgoorlie to 1896; Govt Hosp Kalgoorlie (Matron) 1896-1898; White Feather Hosp Kanowna (Matron) 1898-1900. Supt. of Victoria's Nursing Staff, South Africa 1900-1902.'


Marianne Rawson was born in the Victorian town of Avenel, the first of seven girls, to Solomon Rawson and Hanorah Meskell. Her only brother Thomas died at the age of 18. According to Rawson family descendants, Marianne worked for a local landowner in an administrative capacity and later accompanied this family on a visit to England where she trained as a nurse.

Training as a nurse

Marianne Rawson's first training stint was one year in infectious diseases nursing at the Coventry Fever Hospital, later called the City Isolation Hospital. Located at Stoney Stanton Road it catered for around sixty-five patients. In August 1887, Marianne entered Leicester's Infirmary for training. The Infirmary operated the Nightingale model,(1) which catered for two categories of pupil nurse: Regular Probationers who did not pay for training, and Lady Probationers who paid for training but trained for a much shorter time.(2) Lady Probationers were expected to be educated and of impeccable character. In the Hospital, they were to act as role models for the regular probationers. Marianne was accepted as a Lady Probationer (First Class) and was considered to be a 'very reliable' nurse.

During 1888, Marianne took lectures in practical dispensing and pharmacy. She passed her examination, achieving 2nd Prize in the pharmacy class and was awarded her Certificate in Dispensing from Leicester Infirmary on 16 January 1889. After training, Marianne was employed at the Infirmary as a Staff Nurse until September 1890. Marianne also took charge of the hospital at some point, assuming the position of housekeeper. As well as running the day to day functions of the institution, the housekeeper was required to assist in the Hospital's Dispensary. There, Marianne's education in pharmacy was put into practice.(3)

From the Leicester Infirmary, Miss Rawson moved to Ireland where she trained in midwifery and the care of women from November 1890 until May 1891 at the renowned Rotunda Lying-in Hospital in Dublin. Her Rotunda certificate awarded after an examination, entitled the holder 'to practise as a Ladies Nursetender (or Midwife)'.

The Women's Hospital Melbourne

Miss Rawson followed midwifery training with two years in private nursing. In late December 1892, having applied for the position of Infirmary Department Sister at The Women's Hospital, Carlton in Melbourne, she was judged the superior of three candidates.(4) At that time, the Women's Hospital's Ladies Committee of Management (Ladies Committee) vetted every applicant for suitability. The Ladies Committee was concerned to engage nurses with good character references.(5) In Marianne Rawson's case, her credentials and qualifications were impeccable and throughout her time at The Women's was a highly-regarded member of staff.

For instance, in May 1894 Matron Charlotte Findlay could not 'obtain an experienced nurse in answer to the advertisement for Infirmary night duty'. Findlay directed Miss Rawson to take the position of Infirmary Night Nurse,(6) a decision with which the Ladies Committee wholeheartedly agreed. The Ladies Committee noted that 'implicit confidence can be placed' in Nurse Rawson to fulfil the role. Just one month later in June 1894, Miss Rawson was granted 'leave of absence from her duties in the Infirmary Department' to take on the position of Head Midwifery Nurse at a salary of £55 per annum.(7) Twelve months on, Miss Rawson resigned from that position, news which was received 'with regret' by the Ladies Committee.(8)

Western Australian Goldfields, Kalgoorlie

Going by RBNA membership records, Marianne Rawson next nursed in Western Australia for five years until 1900. In the second half of 1895, she was one of many women from the eastern colonies who answered a call for nurses to tend typhoid cases on the goldfields.(9) Miss Rawson sailed to Albany, Western Australia, aboard the Innamincka, intending to work in Kalgoorlie at a private hospital owned and operated by her friend, Mrs Mecham [also written as Meecham and Meacham] a fellow trained nurse.(10)

Mrs Mecham's hospital was expected to accommodate the season's typhoid patients, work for which Nurse Rawson was said to have been particularly well prepared owing to her experience in fever nursing.(11) Miss Rawson arrived in Kalgoorlie in September 1895, but Mrs Meecham's hospital had not been erected. Marianne Rawson was gainfully employed when she took charge of Kalgoorlie's Government Hospital following the sudden resignation of its untrained matron.

Throughout 1896, Marianne worked at Mrs Mecham's private hospital. For some months in 1897, she again took charge of Kalgoorlie's Government Hospital.(12) In August 1897, the Kalgoorlie Western Argus newspaper announced her imminent departure for Victoria, reporting that grateful ex-patients and their families presented her with a purse of sovereigns as a mark of their deep appreciation.(13) Marianne's sojourn in her home colony was brief.

In 1898, she returned to West Australia as Matron of the hospital at White Feather (Kanowna), a gold mining settlement about 20 kilometres from Kalgoorlie. Just like Kalgoorlie, Kanowna was affected by typhoid and the hospital had its share of mining accident cases.(14) By the end of 1899, when Marianne relinquished that position, the newly-constructed White Feather General Hospital could accommodate 50 patients.(15)

Marianne's next career move was to the Colony of Victoria in February 1900 as Matron of Melbourne's Queen Victoria Hospital for Women and Children,(16) but she resigned almost immediately to superintend a contingent of nurses accompanying the Third [Bushmen's] Contingent to the war in South Africa. The nurses were engaged by the Imperial Government under the terms of a cablegram from the High Commissioner of the Cape, dated 3 February 1900.(17) With pay at £40 per annum plus board and lodging, their conditions matched those of the British Army Nursing Service Reserve's nurses.(18)

The nurses were farewelled from Melbourne on Sunday 10 March 1900 by Janet Lady Clarke, Lady Sargood and other members of Melbourne social circles. Miss Rawson and her nine nurses, dressed in their grey and red uniforms, were each presented with a purse containing 17 sovereigns.

The Women's Hospital's Ladies Committee marked the departure of the nurses for South Africa too, noting that 'several members of the contingent have held positions in the service of this hospital'.(19) As well as Sister Rawson, Sister Ellen Walter (Infirmary operating theatre nurse), and Nurse Ethel Mary Bernhard Smith had been employed at The Women's. And so the Ladies Committee sent the nurses a basket of flowers as a gesture of their good wishes. The basket was decorated with a large royal blue ribbon which read: 'To the Victorian Nurses from the Womans [sic] Hospital Committee, March 10th 1900'.

Service in South Africa

The contingent sailed to Rhodesia with the Third Bushmen's Contingent, aboard Euryalus, disembarking at the port of Beira on 3 April 1900. Over the next eighteen months, the nurses served at varying locations: Bulawayo (where photographs of Marianne and her colleague Ellen Walter were taken), Hillside, Kimberley, Mafeking, and Charter.(20)

In a letter to home in July 1900, Sister Ellen Walter explained the working conditions in Bulawayo where a temporary hospital was established at a recreation ground. Sister Walter wrote: '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'.(21) Conditions were difficult and the work was hard. In August 1900, one of Miss Rawson's fellow Victorian nurses, Frances (Fanny) Hines died at Bulawayo Hospital from pneumonia.(22)

After sixteen months of service in South Africa, Marianne Rawson returned to Australia from Cape Town with Sister Julia Anderson on board the Blue Anchor liner "Warrigal", arriving on 2 August 1901.(23) Marianne was one of three Australian nurses to be awarded the Royal Red Cross (RRC) for 'good work in the late war' on the recommendation of Lord Kitchener, Commanding Officer of the Imperial Forces.(24) She was presented with her award in September 1903 by His Excellency Frederick Bedford, Governor of Western Australia. A Mayoral 'at home' was held in the Miners Institute of Kalgoorlie in honour of the occasion, for which Marianne was attired in her grey and scarlet uniform.(25)

In 1903 Marianne married John O'Ferrall (also written as O'Farrell, O'Ferrale) of Melbourne.(26) She subsequently retired from nursing following her marriage but stayed engaged with nursing especially in Britain via membership of two organisations: the Leicester [Royal] Infirmary Nurses' League and the Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA). Marianne had joined the RBNA, an embryonic professional association for nurses in July 1893 while at The Women's and held Life Membership of the organisation.(27)

Marianne was active in the Kalgoorlie community via the Church of England parish (28) and the Kalgoorlie Art Society.(29) Newspapers recorded her attendance at numerous social events, including official functions, parties, race meetings and balls. In early 1908, Mrs O'Ferrall decided to leave Kalgoorlie 'for good' and return to Victoria.(30)

In 1914, Sister Rawson was living in Melbourne. When war broke out in Europe in August of that year, she was invited to confer with the Governor General's wife, Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, on 'the patriotic movement' which Lady Helen was establishing, an organisation which metamorphosed into the Australian Red Cross. Miss Rawson, who one newspaper described as being a 'DISTINGUISHED NURSE', was offered her first hand experience on what Australian women could do to support the departing troops.(31)

Her advice was practical. On the subject of knitted socks, for example, Sister Rawson explained that

'They are not universally worn and men, especially Australian men, would prefer cashmere socks. A Scotchman who is used to wearing knitted socks from babyhood might look upon them as a useful gift, but not one man out of ten would wear them for choice. I should think cashmere socks would be a better investment. Women who have offered to knit articles might make dozens of washers, done in loose stitch. These are always useful.'

Aside from washers, Sister Rawson recommended: hot water bags, towels, poultice jackets, squares of linen for handkerchiefs, pyjamas and cushions for travelling soldiers. Also useful were 'bales of flannel, flannelette and butter cloth [for poultices], and heaps of safety pins. As she put it 'In an emergency a nurse can do good deal with a roll of flannel and a few safety pins'.(32)

Marianne Rawson worked as a nurse for around 20 years and her name is connected with high praise. In Kalgoorlie in 1897, she was described as showing 'a sympathetic disposition in all cases of distress'(33) and having given 'kind and indefatigable nursing' to all of her patients.(34) Indicative of the esteem held for Marianne Rawson was that newspaper articles referred to her as a nurse, irrespective of the occasion. She was referred to as 'one of Mrs Mecham's nursing staff'.(35) Even after her marriage to John O'Ferrall, newspapers tended to refer to her as 'Sister Rawson'.(36)

Marianne O'Ferrall died in August 1934, aged 79, in Melbourne at 12 Burrindi St Caulfield. "The Argus" newspaper noted that Sister Rawson's passing recalled 'an early and heroic chapter in the annals of the Australian nursing service'.(37)


This biography has been produced with the assistance of Ellen Hayes, great niece of Marianne Rawson.


1. Information supplied by Brenda Williams, Honorary Archivist for Leicester Royal Infirmary Nurses' League, UK. 1 June 2008.
2. Madonna Grehan. "Professional Aspirations and Consumer Expectations: Nurses, Midwives, and Women's Health", Unpublished PhD Thesis, The University of Melbourne, 2009.
3. Williams, 2010.
4. Women's Hospital Ladies Committee of Management (WH Ladies Committee) Minutes. 16 December 1892, RWHA A1991_06_014.
5. Madonna Grehan, 2009.
6. WH Ladies Committee Minutes. 4 May 1894, RWHA A1991_06_015.
7. WH Ladies Committee Minutes. 29 June 1894, RWHA A1991_06_015.
8. WH Ladies Committee Minutes. 26 July 1894, RWHA A1991_06_016.
9. "Western Mail". 16 May 1895, p.3.
10. Mrs Mecham was the wife of Captain AR Mecham, late aide-de-camp to Sir William Robinson, former Governor of South Australia and Western Australia.
11. Vera Whittington. "Gold and Typhoid: a social history of Western Australia 1891-1900", Perth: University of Western Australia Press, p198.
12. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 5 August 1897, p.14.
13. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 12 August September 1897, p.15.
14. Kanowna Old Cemetery records. Accessed 19 October 2010. Available at:
15. Whittington, p.237
16. She succeeded Miss Hester Maclean who had been appointed Lady Superintendent at The Women's Hospital.
17. P L Murray. "Official records of Australian contingents to the war in South Africa 1899-1902". Government Printer: Melbourne, 1911.
18. Jan Bassett. "Guns and Brooches: Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War", Oxford University Press: South Melbourne, 1992, p.10.
19. WH Ladies Committee Minutes. 9 March 1900, RWHA1991/6/20.
20. Bassett, p.12.
21. Robert Wallace. "The Australians at the Boer War", Australian War Memorial Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra, 1976, p.249.
22. Bassett, p.12.
23. "Argus". 2 Aug 1901, p.4.
24. It is likely that Miss Rawson was awarded the King's South Africa campaign medal too. The "Argus" (6 June 1905 p.6) reported that His Majesty the King confirmed that a medal was to be struck to commemorate the military operations in South Africa, according to an order given by the late Queen Victoria. 'The medal, in silver, to be granted to all officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the British, Indian, and colonial forces, and to all nurses and nursing sisters who actually served in South Africa between October 11, 1899, and a date to be thereafter fixed', see:
accessed 1 August 2010.
25. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 3 September 1903, p.27.
26. "Nursing Record and Hospital World". 22 Aug 1903, Vol 31, p152.
27 Register of Trained Nurses for 1894. Royal British Nurses Association: London, 1894.
28. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 20 May 1904, p 27.
29. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 6 September 1904, p.18.
30. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus". 11 Feb 1908, p11.
31. The Herald (Melbourne), 12 August 1914, p.1.
32. The Herald (Melbourne), 12 August 1914, p.1.
33. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus".. 5 Aug 1897, p.14.
34. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus".. 2 Aug 1897, p.15.
35 "Kalgoorlie Western Argus".. 8 Sep 1903, p29.
36. "Kalgoorlie Western Argus".. 19 Aug 1902, p14; 30 November 1909, p.54; "The Herald" (Melbourne), 12 August, 1914, p.1.
37. "Argus". 31 August 1934, p.11.

© Madonna Grehan 2010.