Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Scantlebury, Lilian Avis (1894–1964)

by Philippa Mein Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Lilian Avis Scantlebury (1894-1964), Red Cross worker, was born on 12 January 1894 at Collingwood, Melbourne, eldest child of Victorian-born parents Arthur Whybrow, boot manufacturer, and his wife Alice Williamina Hook, née Rostron. Lilian attended Ruyton Girls' School, Kew, and entered Trinity College Hostel (later Janet Clarke Hall), University of Melbourne. She won a half-Blue for tennis.

Stirred by the grief and suffering caused by World War I, Miss Whybrow travelled to London and joined Vera Deakin at the Australian Red Cross Society's wounded and missing inquiry bureau in 1916. She 'did her bit' by writing letters and handling anxious inquiries from the relations of servicemen. Her written expression—exercised with restraint and compassion—and her competence led to her appointment as head of the letter section, and, in 1919, of the bureau itself.

At St Peter's parish church, Hampstead, on 29 April 1920 she married George Clifford Scantlebury (1890-1976), a medical practitioner and younger brother of Vera Scantlebury Brown. Cliff had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the war. In 1922 the Scantleburys returned to Melbourne. He was to be elected a fellow (1928) of the College of Surgeons of Australasia (Royal Australasian College of Surgeons) and appointed a consulting surgeon (1946) to the ear and throat department, Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Raised by a mother who believed in the equality of the sexes, Cliff supported Lilian's voluntary work. She helped to oversee the growth and development of the Australian Red Cross Society. Following the devastating bushfires of January 1939, and anticipating another world war, she was 'one of the chief architects' of a scheme to train members of the society to cope with natural disasters or civil-defence emergencies. From 1940 she was deputy-commandant of the Victorian division and a member of its women personnel committee. During World War II the Red Cross established a new inquiry bureau to communicate with the next of kin of servicemen and women listed as wounded, missing or taken prisoner. Scantlebury resumed her letter-writing, and served as co-director (1940) and director (1945) of the Victorian office. Made an honorary life member (1948) of the Victorian division of the A.R.C.S., she was co-opted to the national council in 1950 and elected junior vice-chairman in 1951 (senior vice-chairman 1960). In 1957 she represented Australia at a Red Cross conference in India. She was appointed O.B.E. in 1959.

Scantlebury built strong networks through women's organizations such as the Lyceum Club, and remained interested in higher education. In 1926 she had been elected to the committee of Janet Clarke Hall. She also served (1939-61) on the Trinity College council as a representative of J.C.H. A leader in the movement to establish J.C.H. as an autonomous institution, she joined its inaugural council in 1961. A wing of the hall was named after her.

Imbued with the same humanitarian values as the family into which she married, Scantlebury had a warm nature and sense of humour. She was respected for her judgement, 'clear and unemotional thinking', personal integrity, administrative ability and leadership. Although she was an unassuming and self-effacing woman, she proved an excellent speaker. People turned to her for advice, and found her dignified, charming and gracious. She died of coronary vascular disease on 12 April 1964 in South Melbourne and was cremated. Her husband and their daughter survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Y. Daniell, History of Ruyton 1878-1956 (Melb, 1957?)
  • Australian Red Cross Society (Victoria), Newsnotes, no 101, May 1964
  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Sept 1964
  • M. Blackwood, address at memorial service for Mrs G. C. Scantlebury, 3 May 1964 (typescript, copy held on ADB file)
  • W. Kapper, interview with Mrs Eileen Lester (1976, Vera Scantlebury Brown papers, University of Melbourne Archives).

Citation details

Philippa Mein Smith, 'Scantlebury, Lilian Avis (1894–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/scantlebury-lilian-avis-11622/text20755, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 26 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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