Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Gladys Maeva Cumpston (1887–1975)

by Jill Waterhouse

This article was published:

Gladys Maeva Cumpston (1887-1975), community worker, gardener and Braille transcriber, was born on 31 May 1887 at Rosedale, Victoria, second of five children of George Albert Walpole, a medical practitioner from Ireland, and his London-born wife Margaret, née Andrews, a nurse. As a child Gladys lived with relations in London and Ireland while her brother Stanley attended boarding-school in England and their parents remained in Australia. Reunited in 1895, the family lived first in Melbourne and then in turn at Strahan, Queenstown and Gormanston, Tasmania. Gladys was educated mainly by governesses, but also briefly attended Shirley College, Brighton Beach, and Presbyterian Ladies' College, Melbourne.

In 1905 Gladys travelled to Dublin, planning to become a nurse, but she found the training disappointing and returned to Australia. On 2 January 1908 she married a family friend John Howard Lidgett Cumpston at St John's Anglican Church, Fremantle, Western Australia. Having lived in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne, the Cumpstons moved to Canberra in 1928.

They built Greystones, renowned for its excellent garden, in Wilmot Crescent, Forrest. A life member of the Horticultural Society of Canberra, Mrs Cumpston regularly exhibited in its shows, winning the Ormond Cup in 1936 and the Lady Gowrie Challenge Cup in 1949. In the 1960s Gladys was an active member of the Society for Growing Native Plants. She also made artificial flowers of stiffened and shaped silk and velvet, a skill learned in the 1950s at St Martin's School of Art, London.

In 1943 she had helped the Canberra Mothercraft Society to gain Lady Gowrie's patronage for the establishment of the Canberra Nursery Kindergarten Society and was a vice-president on both the provisional committee and the first elected council. During World War II Gladys was prominent in the Voluntary Aid Detachments, the Lady Gowrie Services Club, Manuka, and the Australian Red Cross Society; she single-handedly raised over £700 for charity by the sale of home-grown flowers at the Hotel Canberra. She also made camouflage nets, draping them across the fireplace in her home and inviting visitors to add to them. The Cumpstons joined the Canberra and District Historical Society as foundation members (1953). In addition to accompanying her husband on his trips abroad, she also helped him to trace the journeys of early Australian explorers. Following Howard's death in 1954, she promoted the posthumous publication of his historical research.

In her seventies and eighties Gladys transcribed fiction, non-fiction and school texts into Braille with the aid of a primer from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and a Stainsby machine. After she had completed fifty volumes (including books by her daughter Mrs Margaret Spencer) the Queensland Braille Writing Association recorded her name on its honour board. Gladys's correspondence with her family contains fascinating descriptions of Canberra. Survived by three sons and four daughters, she died on 18 June 1975 at Red Hill and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Crisp and L. Ruddock, The Mothering Years (Canb, 1979)
  • Canberra and District Historical Society, Newsletter, Aug 1975
  • M. Spencer, John Howard Lidgett Cumpston, C.M.G., M.D., D.P.H (Tenterfield, New South Wales, 1987)
  • Canberra Nursery Kindergarten Society (Canberra, 1945)
  • Ina Mary Cumpston papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jill Waterhouse, 'Cumpston, Gladys Maeva (1887–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Walpole, Gladys

31 May, 1887
Rosedale, Victoria, Australia


18 June, 1975 (aged 88)
Red Hill, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.