Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rose Ann Creal (1865–1921)

by Freda MacDonnell

This article was published:

Rose Ann Creal (1865-1921), nurse, was born on 3 November 1865 at Young, New South Wales, daughter of John Creal, miner, and his wife Ann, née Brady, both of whom were Irish-born. Her childhood was spent in the gold-mining districts of Young and Parkes. She was educated at home by her father and when 16 began work in a small hospital at Parkes. Recognizing the quality of her young assistant, the matron there arranged for her to be taken on as a probationer at Sydney Hospital and by about 1891 Rose Creal was head nurse of a ward.

When the hospital's matron, E. J. Gould, resigned in 1898 Senior Sister Creal was made acting matron. Her appointment was confirmed in February 1899 and later that year she became a founding member and councillor of the Trained Nurses' Association of New South Wales. According to some of her nurses, she was a strict disciplinarian but did her utmost to promote the welfare of those under her care, thereby winning both respect and admiration. She was a large, handsome woman of extraordinary strength and could not understand why some of her staff found their twelve-hour shifts exhausting.

Before World War I Matron Creal was a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve, and in October 1914 she was appointed principal matron of the 2nd Military District (New South Wales), while remaining matron of Sydney Hospital. Her main military duty was the selection of nurses for active service, a role she fulfilled until 14 August 1916 when she too enlisted in the A.A.N.S., Australian Imperial Force. Embarking on the hospital ship, Karoola, on 19 August, she assumed duty on 23 September as matron of the 14th Australian General Hospital at Abbassia, Egypt. The casualties of the Australian Light Horse were treated almost exclusively there, and in November 1916 numbered about 570. Following heavy fighting at Magdhaba and Rafa the numbers rose to over 900 and by May 1917, after the battle of Gaza, to 1140. These increases placed great strains on the nursing staff and in her report for September 1917 Matron Creal paid tribute to their 'unselfish devotion to duty' after the first battle of Gaza when some nurses were on duty for eighteen hours at a time.

Conditions at Abbassia were primitive: for instance primus stoves were the only means of obtaining boiling water for sterilization. In February 1918 the hospital moved to Port Said; in both locations the staff did their best to provide first-rate nursing care in an atmosphere as relaxed as military discipline would permit. H. S. Gullett, the official historian, praised 'the service of the splendid band of Australian nursing sisters who, under the inspiration of … Miss Rose Creal … greeted the battered men from the front as they reached hospital and nursed them back to strength, or softened the close of their soldier-life'. 'No womanhood', he wrote, 'has ever presented a richer association of feminine tenderness and sheer capacity'.

For her services in Egypt Matron Creal was awarded the Royal Red Cross (1st Class) in the New Year honours of 1919. She returned to Australia in January 1920 and was demobilized in May; in April she had resumed her position as matron of Sydney Hospital. Next year, following an attack of appendicitis, she died on 7 August. One obituary described her as 'sympathetic, yet firm, and thoroughly capable and conscientious'. She was accorded a military funeral, her nurse's cap lying on the flag-draped gun-carriage. Hundreds of people had to be turned away from the memorial service in St James Anglican Church, and the funeral procession to Waverley cemetery was one of the most impressive seen in Sydney. The Rose Creal Medal, established in her honour, is the highest award made by Sydney Hospital to students of the Lucy Osburn School of Nursing.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1923)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • I. Brodsky, Sydney's Nurse Crusaders (Syd, 1968)
  • London Gazette, 1 Jan 1919
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 Jan 1919
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8, 10, 12 Aug 1921
  • Sydney Mail, 17 Aug 1921
  • Australian National Review, 22 Aug 1921
  • Western Champion (Parkes), Aug 1921
  • war diary of the 14th Australian General Hospital, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Freda MacDonnell, 'Creal, Rose Ann (1865–1921)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 21 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 November, 1865
Young, New South Wales, Australia


7 August, 1921 (aged 55)
New South Wales, Australia

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