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George Edward Ardill (1857–1945)

by Heather Radi

This article was published:

George Edward Ardill (1857-1945), evangelist and social worker, was born on 17 December 1857 at Parramatta, New South Wales, second son of Joshua Ardill, plasterer, and his wife Anna Maria, née Johnson. The family were Baptists. After elementary education at Parramatta, he took an office job and then in 1883 briefly set up in Pitt Street, Sydney, as a stationer and printer. While still in his 20s he devoted himself to full-time charity organization. Already attracted to the gospel temperance movement, he started the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army, a temperance organization which long remained under his personal direction. He joined the Local Option League on its formation in 1883, and later the New South Wales Alliance, serving it for some thirty years as councillor, honorary treasurer, and secretary in 1900-03.

In taking the gospel to the godless at late-night street meetings, Ardill discovered destitute and homeless women. With characteristic practicality, he set about providing shelter and in 1890 formed the Sydney Rescue Work Society to help finance his work; it became a major charitable organization, attracting support from (Sir) Samuel McCaughey and Ebenezer Vickery. In 1884 an All Night Refuge and the Home of Hope for Friendless and Fallen Women were opened, the latter a lying-in hospital to which later he attached a commercial laundry where the women were gainfully employed and given 'training'. In another home, the Crusade to Women operated to reclaim the penitent, especially those saved from drink. He ran two other homes for discharged prisoners in 1884-91.

So that the mothers from the Home of Hope could take work where a child was not acceptable, Ardill soon was involved in providing for the unwanted children. In 1886 he founded the Society for Providing Homes for Neglected Children, which opened Our Babies' Home that year, Our Children's Home at Liverpool in 1887 and, in 1890, Our Boys' Farm Home at Camden where older boys were to be trained on near-by farms. In the 1890s Ardill was organizing crèches in the city. By then he was reputedly a director of twelve societies: his work was becoming less directed to rescuing the fallen than to providing for the needy.

On 8 September 1885 at the Baptist Church, Bathurst Street, Ardill had married Louisa (1853-1920), daughter of Thomas Wales. She had had experience as an evangelist in England and, after her arrival in Sydney in 1883, in the Blue Ribbon Gospel Army and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She served on the executive of the latter, superintended its franchise department in 1901-02, and represented it on the New South Wales Alliance for many years. Louisa also shared her husband's work, taking prayer-meetings, acting as supervisor from time to time in one or other of the homes and, notably, as matron-superintendent of the Home of Hope hospital, which provided under her direction and instruction a training centre for midwifery: in 1900 seventy-six trainees passed the external examinations, their fees amounting to about a tenth of the hospital's income. As it came to be used more by private patients in separate rooms, it was renamed South Sydney Women's Hospital. Extensions were made in 1904 and 1911, and surgical and gynaecological departments added. Louisa died in 1920 after a long illness but the hospital continued until World War II without government subsidy.

Ardill was less successful in extending his other institutions, despite persistent effort and ingenuity in fund-raising, such as publicity in his quarterly magazine, Rescue. By adopting the cottage home as his model, he had considerable staff expenses and substantial mortgages to pay off. Repeatedly in financial difficulties and occasionally vilified in the press for failing to publish accounts, he juggled the funds, paying current expenses from building appeals and foregoing some of the modest allowance due to him as director of the Rescue Work Society. Although he had successfully sued the Australian Workman for libel in 1891, he was severely reprimanded by the 1898-99 royal commission on public charities for sometimes failing to pay employees and also for his leniency in not forcing his unfortunate women out to work and allowing some to be admitted for a second illegitimate child. Prepared in principle to agree with the commissioners, he was kinder in practice: government subsidies (received since 1893) ceased. Although he remained executive director of the children's and the babies' homes until 1945 the numbers in his care gradually declined.

Interested as an evangelist in the Aborigines, Ardill joined the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Association, which financially supported Daniel Matthews's mission. Secretary from 1886, he was involved in the removal of the Maloga settlement. Ardill joined the Aborigines Protection Board in 1897, representing the association. A regular visitor to its stations, he became the board's most active member, a vice-president by 1909 and its effective policy-maker. Convinced of the need for positive policies to change the situation of Aborigines, Ardill set about making them 'useful members of the State' by taking the children away from the Aboriginal community, putting them to work in private homes or on station properties, and placing others, too young for work, in his homes. The 1909 Act conferring the requisite authority on the board to place or 'apprentice' neglected children was largely due to his efforts, as was the reorganization of the board's work. In 1915, again on his recommendation, amendments to the Act strengthened the board's hand, but were condemned as 'reintroduction of slavery', and by the secretary of the Australian Aborigines Mission as attacking Aboriginal family life. Whether on account of these objections or on other grounds, Ardill had over-reached himself. He had pestered the government for more money and over the appointment of inspectors, and in 1916 was forced off the board.

Ardill was an expert lobbyist. He was a founding member of the Social Purity Society in 1886 and later secretary of its vigilance committee on public morals, and a founder and in 1890 secretary of the New South Wales Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He successfully campaigned for an affiliation Act establishing a woman's right to support from the putative father of her child before its birth, and for a children's court, but failed to get the age of consent raised from fourteen to seventeen. He was convinced that where women were destitute and without recourse to support, infanticide occurred.

The Ardills were ecumenical ahead of their times: both were prepared to conduct services or speak in other churches. A member of the Evangelical Council of New South Wales, Ardill helped to organize some of the special missions which in the early years of the century drew attendances of 50,000 to 100,000, and was joint secretary for the J. Wilbur Chapman and Charles Alexander mission of 1908. He later served as local secretary for the Australasian Chapman-Alexander Bible Institute. In his latter years the United Preachers' Association of New South Wales was especially dear to him.

Awarded an M.B.E. in 1934 for community service, Ardill died on 11 May 1945 at Stanmore and was buried in Waverley cemetery with Anglican rites. His estate was valued for probate at £13,356. Survived by a son and daughter, he was predeceased by his second wife Kelsie Hannah, née Starr, whom he had married on 5 October 1921; before and after marriage she helped to run the mission's office. Probably the friend giving the funeral oration came closest to the essential Ardill: 'He loved to plan and scheme and contrive in the interests of causes dear to his heart'.

His daughter Katie Louisa (1886-1955) was born on 3 August 1886 at Knox Street. Familiar with her mother's hospital from early childhood, she was educated at Wellesley College and the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1913), then did a year's residency at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital before being appointed honorary anaesthetist and out-patients' medical officer at South Sydney Women's Hospital. On the outbreak of World War I she sought in vain to enlist, proceeded to England and, under direction of the British Red Cross Society, went to a Belgian hospital, and afterwards with the British Army to Napbury, the Dover military hospital, and the Citadel hospital, Cairo. In 1920 Katie resumed her hospital appointment, which continued until 1950, and set up a practice in gynaecology in Macquarie Street, providing a regular free clinic for servicemen's wives and children. On 1 June 1921 in St Andrew's Cathedral she married Charles Christie Brice, a law student and later an accountant.

Katie Brice had lectured for the St John Ambulance Association in 1913. She joined the St John Ambulance Brigade in 1920, was later on the association's executive committee from 1938, was deputy chairman in 1947-48 and was the first woman in New South Wales to serve as its chairman, in 1950-55. She had been awarded an O.B.E. in 1941. Admitted to the Order of St John of Jerusalem as a serving sister in 1938, she was created dame of grace of the order in 1952. Both the Red Cross and the St John Ambulance felt her presence: with a stentorian, brash and husky voice, 'smoking perennially', she handled meetings with authority and was willing to debate any question with fire and gesticulation. In Britain in 1952 she studied methods of treatment for atomic blast. Survived by her husband, she died in St Luke's Hospital on 3 January 1955 and was cremated after a service at St Andrew's Church of England, Roseville. Her estate was valued for probate at £25,506.

Ardill's son George Edward (1889-1964) was born on 18 October 1889 at Darlinghurst and was educated at Stanmore Public School and Newington College. After farming near Coraki, in 1916 he bought a dairying property near Gunning, where he established himself in 1921 as an auctioneer and agent, and later as a garage proprietor. Active in producer organizations and community affairs, he was branch secretary of the Primary Producers' Union and the Graziers' Association of New South Wales, and secretary of the Gunning Pastoral, Agricultural and Industrial Society. He helped to found a dramatic and literary society and was a noted performer; he was also a Methodist lay preacher and a Freemason. He served on Gunning Shire Council in 1920-34 and 1938-41 and was president in 1923 and 1927-28.

Ardill won the Yass seat in the Legislative Assembly for the Nationalists in 1930, holding it until 1941. As a parliamentarian his performance was sound, and in 1937 he was rewarded by appointment as government whip. He spoke sparingly but effectively, addressing himself to local issues and the great concerns of the time—the terrible unemployment, the distressing position of the indebted farmers, and the fear of extremism. He was prominent in the Sound Finance League of Australia. Yet the cause which he rose to defend with greatest vigour was that of the Aborigines Protection Board, which he joined in 1936, giving strong support to the amending Act that year which again extended its control over the Aborigines. Although sincerely concerned for their improvement, he was heavily paternalist and believed they were 'especially feckless'. He regarded the board's eminent vice-president A. P. Elkin as a 'foolish critic'. Appointed to the reconstituted Aborigines Welfare Board in 1940, he continued to serve on it to 1945, without noticeable influence on policy.

In later life Ardill was able to indulge his hobbies—poultry and pigeons; he founded and was president of the All Leghorn Club, and was also president of the Pigeon Fanciers' Society of New South Wales. In 1945 he became executive director of the Society for Providing Homes for Neglected Children, taking charge of the remaining two homes until he died of emphysema and coronary occlusion on 13 July 1964 at Concord; he was cremated with Baptist rites. He was survived by his wife Emma Booth, née Olive, whom he had married on 7 June 1911 at Bungawalbyn, and by a son and four daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £16,584.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of N.S.W (Syd, 1907)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1899, 2nd S, 1, 191-274
  • Rescue (Sydney), 1894-1914
  • Poultry (Sydney), 14 Aug 1964
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 Feb, 1 May, 4 Sept 1884, 11 June, 4 Nov 1885, 8 Oct 1886, 14 Apr 1890, 2 July 1892, 17 July 1920, 30 Sept 1932, 12 May 1945, 5 May 1955
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 4 Feb 1950
  • Goulburn Evening Post, 30 July 1964
  • D. P. Dwyer, The New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board 1909-1923 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Sydney, 1973)
  • D. Matthews papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Aborigines Protection Board, Minute-books, and Attorney-General, special bundles 7779 (State Records New South Wales)
  • newsclippings (privately held).

Citation details

Heather Radi, 'Ardill, George Edward (1857–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 December, 1857
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


11 May, 1945 (aged 87)
Stanmore, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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