Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lucy de Neeve (1906–1976)

by Lyndsay Gardiner

This article was published:

Lucy de Neeve (1906-1976), nurse and administrator, was born on 25 October 1906 at Darwen, Lancashire, England, daughter of Nathaniel Walmsley, auctioneer, and his wife Ada, née Duckworth. Lucy trained at Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital in 1926-29, then worked with children for four years before undertaking general training at University College Hospital, London. Focussing her interest on paediatrics, she became a home sister and a theatre sister at the Princess Elizabeth of York Hospital for Children, also in London. On 1 July 1937 she married Gerald Alexander Auguste Sechiari at the register office, Westminster; they were to be divorced in 1949.

During World War II Mrs Sechiari organized plastic-surgery theatres at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital, Roehampton, and at Stoke Mandeville, Buckinghamshire. Having joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, she was matron of several hospitals in India from 1943 to 1946 and completed her war service in February 1947. She was briefly employed at Lord Mayor Treloar's Orthopaedic Hospital for Children at Alton, Hampshire, and returned to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Sick Children (previously the Princess Elizabeth). In August 1947 she was appointed lady superintendent of the (Royal) Children's Hospital, Melbourne. She arrived in November. At Scots Church, Russell Street, on 23 January 1953 she married a divorcee Josef Anton de Neeve, an airlines liaison officer.

At the Children's Hospital Lucy had found obsolete methods, inadequate training and morale at a low ebb. After her initial inspection she remarked that she felt as if she had been 'transported to the middle ages'. Insufficient staffing (248 in 1947) was blamed on shortage of accommodation. Lucy demanded, and got, additional staff to cope with non-nursing duties, and, eventually, a new home was built to accommodate 315 nurses. She treated her staff well: their uniform was redesigned, their meals improved and their hours on duty were adjusted. Preliminary training was extended from two to four weeks, and in 1950 to eight. An advanced course in paediatric nursing was also established. The old 'starch curtain' was torn aside when a sisters' council and a student nurses' executive were formed. To all, she was unfailingly courteous and tolerant, and she upheld the rights and position of her staff against the often dictatorial demands of the medical staff who were prone to regard themselves as demi-gods. At ward level, Lucy's overriding concern was for the patient. Numerous traditional and disruptive practices—such as baths and bed-making at 9 p.m.—were abolished; a mandatory 'quiet hour' was introduced; children who were well enough were allowed greater freedom of movement and more interesting activities; and restrictions on visiting hours were gradually abolished.

In each of her reforms directed to child care, nursing conditions and standards, and the better integration of nursing with general hospital administration, Lucy worked closely with the medical director Dr V. L. Collins. Beyond the hospital, she was an influential member of the Nurses' Board of Victoria (1950-59) and the council of the Royal Victorian College of Nursing (vice-president 1950-59; president 1959-61). Paediatric nursing in Australia benefited immeasurably from her experience, intelligence and confident leadership. She retired in 1962 and went with Anton to Bali, Indonesia, where she died on 19 July 1976. Her husband survived her. She had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Gardiner, Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne 1870-1970 (Melb, 1970)
  • H. Williams, From Charity to Teaching Hospital (Melb, 1989)
  • UNA, July-Aug 1976, p 3
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Aug 1947, 20 Nov 1948, 23 Jan 1953, 5 June 1962
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 7 Aug 1947, 14 Sept 1962
  • Age (Melbourne), 26 July 1952, 4 Aug 1976
  • Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Lyndsay Gardiner, 'de Neeve, Lucy (1906–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 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
  • Sechiari, Lucy
  • Walmsley, Lucy

25 October, 1906
Darwen, Lancashire, England


19 July, 1976 (aged 69)
Bali, Indonesia

Cultural Heritage

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