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Ferguson, Jean Elsie (1909–1979)

by Wendy Birman and Victoria Hobbs

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jean Elsie Ferguson (1909-1979), hospital matron, was born on 15 July 1909 at Guildford, Perth, sixth child of John Frederick Geary Robinson, pastoralist and racehorse owner, and his wife Elsie Sarah, née Coppin, both Western Australian born. Jean spent her early years at Tampina, the family's Belmont home, and at Coongan station near Port Hedland. Educated at Guildford and at Perth College, in 1930-33 she trained at (Royal) Perth Hospital ('never worked so hard in my life') and was then employed in hospitals in Perth and at Brookton. She joined the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve in January 1939 while proceeding to a midwifery certificate from the King Edward Memorial Hospital, Subiaco.

Appointed a staff nurse in the Australian Imperial Force on 22 April 1940, Sister Robinson reached England in July. Next month she was posted to the 2nd/3rd Australian General Hospital at Godalming, Surrey. She arrived in the Middle East in March 1941 and served in hospitals in Palestine and Egypt before returning to Australia in early 1942. From May she was in Queensland, nursing at military hospitals at Warwick and Toowoomba.

On 25 February 1943 at the Presbyterian Church, Tenterfield, New South Wales, she married John Boyd Ferguson, a captain in the A.I.F.; he was to die on 7 September in the Liberator disaster in Port Moresby. Promoted captain in August, Sister Ferguson was allotted for duty with the 2nd/11th A.G.H. and sailed to Port Moresby in October. She worked under canvas at Buna, Papua, and at Madang and Aitape, New Guinea, where malaria was rife, and was proud to wear regulation grey slacks, safari jacket, boots, gaiters and a slouch hat.

Back in Perth in February 1945, Ferguson was posted to the 110th Military (Hollywood) Hospital, Nedlands. On 12 March 1947 she relinquished her A.I.F. appointment and became matron when the hospital was transferred to the Repatriation Department that year. She had a tidy eye and once ordered that drip-bottles be shrouded lest the sight of blood should distress visiting dignitaries. In 1954 Queen Elizabeth II commented that Hollywood was more homely than other repatriation hospitals. As lieutenant colonel and principal matron (later assistant-director, army nursing service), Citizen Military Forces, in 1947-64 Ferguson organized the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps in Western Command. She was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross in 1953, appointed M.B.E. in 1963 and received a Florence Nightingale medal in 1969.

Dedicated to progress in the nursing profession and to postgraduate training, Ferguson spelt out her vision in 1958 in delivering the sixth annual oration to the New South Wales College of Nursing. She was a member (1965) of the Commonwealth Repatriation Department's committee of inquiry into nursing services, twice president of the Western Australian branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation, a foundation fellow of the State branch of the College of Nursing, Australia, and a member of the War Widows' Guild. Short and plumpish, with blue eyes and brown hair, Ferguson was vivacious and enjoyed company, but never remarried. She was a regular race-goer, played bridge, and swam and gardened at her Dalkeith home. Afflicted with blindness and suffering from multiple sclerosis for some years, she died on 30 January 1979 in Hollywood Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Milady, Jan 1949
  • Listening Post, Mar 1979
  • West Australian, 7 Nov 1943, 12 Sept 1958, 17 July 1953, 17 July 1961, 15 July 1965, 20 July 1968, 4 May 1969, 5 Feb 1979
  • Daily News (Perth), 5 Aug 1953
  • Sunday Times (Perth), 8 June 1958
  • Mrs W. Birman, taped interview with Miss V. Hobbs (held by ADB).

Citation details

Wendy Birman and Victoria Hobbs, 'Ferguson, Jean Elsie (1909–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ferguson-jean-elsie-10166/text17959, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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