Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Adelaide Maud Kellett (1873–1945)

by Ann M. Mitchell

This article was published:

Adelaide Maud Kellett (1873-1945), hospital matron, was born on 1 September 1873 at Raglan near Bathurst, New South Wales, daughter of Charles Henry Kellett, post office clerk, and his wife Sarah, née McClintock. Maud Kellett entered Sydney Hospital as a probationer in January 1898 and was granted her certificate in September 1901. From October 1910 she was deputy to Rose Creal. She joined the Australian Army Nursing Service in 1907 and embarked with 'Nellie' (Ellen Julia) Gould in October 1914, having enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in September. She was theatre sister with the 2nd Australian General Hospital, Cairo, for ten months, served on the hospital ship Gascon during the Gallipoli evacuation, and on return to Egypt became temporary matron of Choubra Military Infectious Hospital. In August 1916 as matron she opened the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital at Southall, England, where work with limbless patients was satisfying and her staff content.

In July 1917 Matron Kellett took charge of the 2400-bed 25th British General Hospital, Hardelot, France, which was mainly under canvas and for skin patients who were otherwise well, and thus hard to manage. Her Australian nurses also resented Royal Army Medical Corps doctors and 'skins' (mostly scabies). Hardelot closed in March 1919 and she helped Colonel A. G. Butler in London to gather personal narratives from Australian nurses awaiting transport home. She returned to Sydney in October having been twice mentioned in dispatches (1916, 1919), awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st class (1917) and appointed C.B.E. (1919).

Maud Kellett became matron of the 4th A.G.H. (Randwick) and principal matron of the 2nd Military District. In December 1921 she returned to Sydney Hospital, succeeding Rose Creal as matron. The organization of the A.A.N.S. was then under review but her appointment as principal matron was confirmed on 1 January 1924. She retired from that post on 31 August 1929. She was first president of the Returned Army Nursing Sisters' Association, New South Wales (1920).

She had joined the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association in 1903 and was a member of its council from 1920. She was the first nurse to be elected president in 1929-30 and was re-elected in 1933-34, part of 1937, and 1941-42. Among numerous A.T.N.A. duties she was a nominee to the National Council of Women (from 1931), the Nurses' Registration Board (1934-43) and the Australian Nursing Federation. She was honorary treasurer of the A.N.F. from 1930 and president in 1937-45. Her last public duty was to chair a crisis session of the A.N.F. held at Sydney Hospital in November 1943. She was long the dominant force in New South Wales nursing, but her pride suffered when her hospital deputy Elsie Pidgeon was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal by the International Red Cross in 1935. Miss Kellett had to wait two years for similar recognition.

Within Sydney Hospital her brilliance as an administrator was acknowledged. Her memory was superb; she knew all the in-patients and whose responsibility they were. There was no set pattern for her ward rounds — a porter would signal when she left the Nightingale Wing and the entire hospital would stiffen to attention. She commanded respect and not affection. Her rage over trivial lapses was the more cutting for the lisped venom of her alliteratives. Her nurses feared her but they were proud of her as well, and often forgave her tantrums years afterwards, when they recognized the professionalism behind their training. From 1923 Matron Kellett sponsored the first regular reunions of Sydney Hospital nurses.

Short and heavily built, she was vain about her appearance and always beautifully turned out. Her white hair and fine skin were her best features, her eyes were blue. In 1939 she broke an arm and in October 1942 a more serious fall resulted in a fractured femur. In June 1944 she retired. She died in the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley, on 12 April 1945. Maud Kellett was cremated after a funeral service 'full to overflowing' at St James Anglican Church, Sydney; her family memorial is at St Stephen's, Penrith. Her estate, valued for probate at £4958, was left to her sister Daisy. The Sydney Hospital preliminary training school bore the name of Kellett until absorbed into the Lucy Osburn School of Nursing from 1968. The directors also placed a memorial tablet in the hospital chapel. The A.T.N.A. established the A. M. Kellett prize, a badge awarded from 1946 to the nurse obtaining the highest marks in the written section of the registration examination.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Nurses' Journal, Mar 1903, p 24, May 1920, p 164, Mar 1930, p 82, Dec 1943, p 142, May 1945, p 57
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 July 1937, 3 June 1944, 14 Apr 1945
  • Sun (Sydney), 29 Dec 1942
  • War narratives by A. M. Kellett et al, A. G. Butler collection, boxes 5 and 6 (AWM)
  • Sydney Hospital, Annual Report, 1945, p 12, and House Committee minutes and Matrons' minute-books 1898-1945
  • H. M. Woolston, Series Guide to the Minute-books of the Council of the Australasian Trained Nurses Assn, 26 May 1899 to 19 Dec 1972 (Sydney, MS 1980, copy State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Kellett, Adelaide Maud (1873–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


1 September, 1873
Raglan, New South Wales, Australia


12 April, 1945 (aged 71)
Waverley, 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.