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McLeod, Hannah (1857–1912)

by Betty Capper

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Hannah McLeod (1857-1912), hospital matron, was born on 25 August 1857 at Redfern, Sydney, fourth child and second daughter of English-born parents William Browne McLeod, master mariner, and his wife Eleanor Fowler, née Phillips. Hannah was educated in Sydney. She began as a probationer at Newcastle General Hospital on 1 July 1891, and in 1893 was appointed by (Sir) James Graham and Dr Andrew Watson Munro to take charge of a two-bed hospital in Hay Street, which they had started for 'genteel poor' women of Sydney. This became the Women's Hospital (commonly known as 'Crown Street' after it moved there in 1897); she was to be foundation matron for nineteen years.

While working as matron, McLeod trained as a midwife, taking lectures and coaching from Graham and Munro. Having obtained her midwifery certificate in 1897, she assumed responsibility for training midwives. She worked tirelessly to make 'Crown Street' a respected and significant women's hospital and midwifery training school. Short in stature, of frail physique, weak in health and frequently suffering pain, she nevertheless demonstrated indomitable energy and spirit and strict discipline; she was highly regarded by the medical and nursing professions and in the community.

Inaugurating a systematic approach to an outdoor system of midwifery nursing, McLeod began a district nursing service. She later reported that the out-patient maternity duties of the nurses were decidedly hard, involving calls at all hours of the day and night. After midnight, they travelled on foot or in rough carts or conveyances. The greatest respect was shown to Matron McLeod and her nurses, even in the poorest parts of the city. The police kindly took care of them in the doubtful neighbourhoods. Thus they were able to move about 'the lanes of Sydney and its environs, to save lives and conserve the health of mothers and infants'.

Both an able administrator and a practical woman, in the first years of the hospital's existence Matron McLeod had to attend to the cooking and washing and walk to nearby markets to purchase supplies, accompanied by an employee with a wheelbarrow. She was an early member of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association, founded in 1899. In 1901 she patented a baby cot. She did not marry. Hannah McLeod died of pneumonia on 24 October 1912 at Crown Street hospital and was buried in St Thomas's Church of England cemetery, North Sydney. In a published 'appreciation', her colleagues recalled that 'this smart, thin woman-in-white' had a living interest in the entire field of nursing, was expert alike in surgical and obstetric nursing, and devoted, truthful and ingenuous almost to a fault, but that her qualities at the bedside were the finest lessons she imparted to her pupils.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Adcock, With Courage & Devotion (Syd, 1984)
  • B. Schultz, A Tapestry of Service, vol 1 (Melb, 1991)
  • The Women’s Hospital (Crown Street) 1893-1983 (Syd, 1994)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Oct 1912, p 8
  • Town and Country Journal, 6 Nov 1912, p 34
  • Australasian Nurses’ Journal, 16 Dec 1912, p 400
  • History of Three Crown Street Matrons Interwoven with North Sydney (manuscript, 1974, North Sydney Historical Society).

Citation details

Betty Capper, 'McLeod, Hannah (1857–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 14 July 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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