This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981
Evelyn Augusta Conyers (1870-1944), matron-in-chief, was born on 1 March 1870 at Invercargill, New Zealand, daughter of William Conyers, engineer, formerly of Leeds, England, and his wife Fanny, née Mainprize. She was educated privately and at Invercargill and Dunedin girls' high schools.
In the early 1890s Evelyn Conyers migrated to Victoria. She trained as a nurse, first at the Children's Hospital, obtaining a certificate in 1894, and then at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, finishing in 1896. In 1901 she was appointed matron of a private hospital in Melbourne and in 1904 foundation matron of the Queen's Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital at Fairfield. Some three years later she opened a private hospital, Lancewood, in Glenferrie Road, Kew, in partnership with Sister Jessie MacBeth.
Miss Conyers had joined the Australian Army Nursing Service as a sister in 1903. She joined the Australian Imperial Force on 11 October 1914, as senior sister, 1st Australian General Hospital, sailing in the transport Shropshire on 20 October. On arrival in Egypt she was sent to Cairo for urgent duty in the Egyptian Army Hospital, Abbassia, nursing New Zealand troops. On 10 July 1915 she rejoined 1st A.G.H. at Heliopolis as night superintendent, before being appointed acting matron of 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, also at Heliopolis, on 1 August.
Meanwhile Matron Jane Bell was striving to clarify the status of Australian army nurses. In the subsequent reorganization Miss Conyers was appointed matron-in-chief of the Australian Army Nursing Service on 12 December. She was now responsible for all Australian Army nurses except those in India and Salonica, Greece.
She was transferred in May 1916 to A.I.F. headquarters in Horseferry Road, London. Her skill in negotiation reconciled differences between the nurses and medical officers while her appointment helped to diminish rivalry between the Australian and British nursing services. She was in constant consultation with Miss Maud McCarthy, matron-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, travelling with her to casualty clearing stations and auxiliary hospitals on the Western Front.
Matron Conyers took furlough in Australia from November 1917 to January 1918, finally returning to Victoria on 12 December, and to her private hospital. Her A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 6 March 1920, but she rejoined the militia. On 3 June 1916 she had been awarded the Order of the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) and on 21 June was mentioned in General Sir John Maxwell's dispatches. She was appointed O.B.E. in January 1919, C.B.E. in March and in December received a Bar to her Royal Red Cross. On 23 February 1921 she was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal and diploma by the International Red Cross Committee at Geneva.
Active in the organization of the profession, she had been a founder of the (Royal) Victorian Trained Nurses' Association in 1901. In June 1914 she represented it at a conference with the Sydney-based Australasian Trained Nurses' Association which agreed to establish a federated body. She was appointed to the board set up under the provisions of the Nurses' Registration Act (1923), remaining a member for ten years. A life member of R.V.T.N.A.'s successor, the Royal Victorian College of Nurses, she was a founder and director of the Victorian Trained Nurses' Club Ltd, a member of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing Federation and of the board of management of Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, and a trustee of the Edith Cavell Trust Fund. She also belonged to the Returned Nurses' Club and took a keen interest in its activities.
Evelyn Conyers died in Epworth Private Hospital, Richmond, on 6 September 1944 and was buried with full military honours in Kew cemetery. She left her estate, valued for probate at £6007, to her brother and sister and upon their deaths to Church of England funds.
John Reid, 'Conyers, Evelyn Augusta (1870–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/conyers-evelyn-augusta-5759/text9757, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 August 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981