Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wheeler, Annie Margaret (1867–1950)

by M. D. O'Hagan

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

Annie Margaret Wheeler (1867-1950), soldiers' welfare worker, was born on 10 December 1867 at Saunders Station, Dingo, Queensland, eldest surviving child of Alexander Stuart Somerville Laurie, grazier, and his wife Margaret, née Stevenson, both Scottish born. Educated at the Rockhampton convent school, she received some training at Sydney Hospital and engaged in private nursing on her return. At the Cathedral Church of St Paul, Rockhampton, on 24 February 1896 she married Henry Gaudiano Wheeler of Cooroorah Station, near Blackwater. After his death in 1903, Annie again made Rockhampton her home. In March 1913 she took her only daughter Portia to England to visit relations and to complete her education.

On the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Mrs Wheeler felt compelled to contribute to the war effort. She worked as a probationer nurse in a hospital near Eastbourne, Sussex, and joined the Australian Natives' Association and the Australian War Contingent Association. Frustrated by the organizational problems of the latter body, she resigned in order to serve Australian troops who came from central Queensland, together with their relations: distance, the uncertainty of mail, censorship of the press and a shortage of reliable information had caused them anguish.

Moving to London where she took up residence near the Australian Army Headquarters and the Anzac Buffet, Mrs Wheeler endeavoured to contact all soldiers from central Queensland, whether they were wounded, imprisoned, or in the trenches. She kept a detailed card index on them, corresponded with servicemen on the battlefield, forwarded packages and mail, provided for their needs and supervised the care and comfort of those in hospital. For soldiers on furlough, she supplemented restricted allowances and advanced funds when they experienced bureaucratic delays. To them, she became known as the 'Mother of the Queenslanders'. Families in Queensland sent letters and parcels through her: this was the only mail many diggers received. By 1918 over 2300 men were on her books.

Each fortnight Mrs Wheeler sent home detailed letters which were published in the Capricornian and the Morning Bulletin. A special fund to support her work was set up at Rockhampton; early in 1918, when she experienced poor health, Nurse May MacDonald was sent to assist her. The Commonwealth government provided a free passage for Annie Wheeler's return in November 1919.

Rockhampton accorded her a hero's welcome: over 5000 people met her train; cheering soldiers towed her car through the streets to a public reception; further functions followed in other towns. The Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia made her an associate member and she was appointed O.B.E. in 1920. Presented with a house at Emu Park, near Rockhampton, she lived there from 1921 to 1947, then moved to Surfers Paradise. Survived by her daughter, Annie Wheeler died there on 23 October 1950 and was cremated. A plaque at Mt Thompson Memorial Gardens, Brisbane, bears the words 'She lived not unto herself'.

Select Bibliography

  • Just the Link Between (Rockhampton, 1917)
  • Australian Pastoralist, Grazing, Farmers' and Selectors' Gazette, Dec 1917
  • Capricornian, 29 Nov 1919
  • Wheeler papers (State Library of Queensland)
  • private information.

Citation details

M. D. O'Hagan, 'Wheeler, Annie Margaret (1867–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wheeler-annie-margaret-9060/text15967, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 17 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Laurie, Annie Margaret
Birth

10 December 1867
Dingo, Queensland, Australia

Death

23 October 1950
Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation