Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Beryl Emma Burbridge (1902–1988)

by Marie Cooke

This article was published:

Beryl Emma Burbridge (1902-1988), hospital matron, was born on 4 March 1902 at Gympie, Queensland, youngest of nine children of Victorian-born parents William Edward Burbidge, assayer, and his wife Maria Esther, née Wardle. Beryl’s parents had moved to Gympie in 1893 during the gold rush. They became active members of the community and her father was mayor of the town in 1910. Educated at local state primary and high schools, Beryl left home at 19 to live with her sister at Charleville, where she worked as an assistant-nurse in a private hospital. In 1923 she began her training at (Royal) Brisbane Hospital; she obtained her general nursing certificate on 22 January 1927. Becoming a staff nurse, she was appointed sister in November. In 1929 she travelled to Hobart and in March next year gained her midwifery qualification at Queen Alexandra Hospital. She returned to Brisbane Hospital and in the 1930s took charge of medical, surgical and gynaecological wards. A senior sister from 1938, she worked in the operating theatre for four years.

On 12 January 1942 Miss Burbidge commenced full-time service in the Australian Army Nursing Service as a sister with the 6th Casualty Clearing Station, Ipswich. Appointed to the Australian Imperial Force on 2 November, she was promoted to senior sister next month (captain in March 1943). She served in general hospitals in Papua from September 1943 until January 1944, when she was recalled to take charge of the nursing staff at the Land Headquarters Medical Research Unit, Cairns, Queensland. There she supervised the care of volunteers exposed to malarial mosquitoes and oversaw the keeping of records of the secret experiments. She transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 14 November 1946.

In 1948 Miss Burbidge returned to Brisbane Hospital as a senior sister in the matron’s office. In 1952 she was made deputy general matron and in this role she spent part of each day visiting wards to provide feedback to the matron. She transferred in August 1956 to the new South Brisbane (from 1959 Princess Alexandra) Hospital as acting-matron, but returned to Brisbane Hospital in March 1958 as general matron. Described as a `large impressive woman’, she lived in the nurses’ quarters and was viewed by her staff as firm but approachable. She regularly toured the hospital to check everything from the organisation of ward staff to the cleanliness of the bathrooms. Helen Gregory observed that `her military experience tended to reinforce both hierarchical structures and reliance on discipline’.

Miss Burbidge was president (1959-60) of the Queensland branch of the Royal Australian Nursing Federation, and a member of the State committee of the College of Nursing, Australia, and of the Centaur Memorial Fund for Nurses. Retiring on 28 February 1968, she was appointed OBE that year. She died on 27 November 1988 in her home at Stafford, Brisbane, and was cremated with Anglican rites. Her portrait (1945) by Nora Heysen is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Goodman, Our War Nurses (1988)
  • H. Gregory, A Tradition of Care (1988)
  • H. Gregory and C. Brazil, Bearers of the Tradition (1993)
  • North Brisbane Hospitals Board, Annual Report, 1967-68, p 15
  • Gympie Times, 28 Mar 1987, p 3
  • private information.

Citation details

Marie Cooke, 'Burbridge, Beryl Emma (1902–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 March, 1902
Gympie, Queensland, Australia


27 November, 1988 (aged 86)
Stafford, Brisbane, Queensland, 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.