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Sorensen, Christense (1885–1958)

by Janice McCarthy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Christense Sorensen (1885-1958), hospital matron and army nurse, was born on 5 September 1885 at Sandgate, Queensland, second daughter of Danish-born Conrad Emanuel Sorensen, drayman, and his Norwegian wife Hannah Maria Antonetta, née Jacobsen. Conrad, who spoke seven languages, had been a veterinary surgeon in Denmark. Educated at Sandgate State School, Christense took over the household when Hannah became blind after the birth of her eleventh child. In September 1910 Sorensen commenced training at Brisbane Hospital and registered as a nurse on 8 January 1914. She remained on the staff and that year was successively promoted to charge nurse and sister.

Appointed to the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, on 10 November as a staff nurse, Sorensen was posted to No.1 Australian General Hospital, Cairo, Egypt. She was seconded to the Middle East Staff in July 1915 and served on the British hospital ship, Guildford Castle, which transported wounded soldiers from Gallipoli. Promotion to sister followed in December. Sent to the British Stationary Hospital, Poona, India, in October 1916, she nursed soldiers suffering from cholera, dysentery and plague until January 1917 when she returned to Egypt to work at No.14 A.G.H., Abbassia.

Long and arduous service under trying conditions had taken its toll and she returned to Australia in February 1917. Regaining her strength, she was posted to No.60 British General Hospital, Salonika, in August. The hospital was entirely under canvas, with 2000 patients suffering from malaria, blackwater fever and dysentery. Sorensen was made head nurse and then temporary matron on 22 August 1918. Sent in February 1919 to No.3 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, England, she took a six-month course in massage at Guy's Hospital, London, before coming back to Australia in January 1920. Her A.I.F. appointment ended in March. Sorensen's distinguished war service was recognized by a mention in dispatches in 1918 and by the award of the Royal Red Cross (1st class) and the French Médaille des Epidémies in 1919. Her brother Thoralf had also served with the A.I.F.

Resuming civilian nursing in Queensland in April 1921, Christense Sorensen was matron of Rosemount Repatriation Hospital until March 1922 when she became matron of the Brisbane Children's Hospital. In 1925 she undertook her midwifery certificate at Queen Alexandra Hospital for Women, Hobart, as a prerequisite for her appointment as deputy general matron on the integration of the Children's Hospital with Brisbane Hospital. She remained matron of the Children's Hospital until February 1928 when she was appointed matron, General Hospital, a post she held until her retirement on 31 December 1951.

Matron Sorensen was loved and respected for her dedication and compassion, yet feared by student nurses for her strictness. A 'striking figure in her hospital regalia and a smart frocker in mufti', she was active in many nursing organizations, among them the Nurses' Advisory Sub-Committee of Queensland, the Nurses' and Masseurs' Registration Board of Queensland and the Australian Trained Nurses' Association. She was a foundation member of the College of Nursing, Australia, and became a fellow in 1949. For her services to nursing she was appointed M.B.E. in 1952. In retirement she lived with two of her sisters at Taringa. She read widely, admired paintings and china, and was an avid golfer; she regularly attended Sandgate Baptist Church. After suffering a stroke in 1956, she died on 2 January 1958 in the Repatriation Hospital, Greenslopes, Brisbane, and was cremated. Former colleagues instituted the Christense Sorensen Memorial Fund to assist student nurses and in 1976 a ward for sick nurses at Royal Brisbane Hospital was named in her honour.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • D. R. Teague (ed), Christense Sorensen (Brisb, 1971)
  • R. Goodman (ed), Queensland Nurses (Brisb, 1985)
  • R. Goodman (ed), Our War Nurses (Brisb, 1988)
  • H. Gregory (ed), A Tradition of Care (Brisb, 1988)
  • London Gazette, 11 June 1918, 30 June, 21 July 1919
  • nominal rolls, No.1 A.G.H., and Trained nurses, Royal Brisbane Hospital, and official records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Janice McCarthy, 'Sorensen, Christense (1885–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sorensen-christense-8583/text14985, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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