Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mary Kirkpatrick (1863–1943)

by Noeline Williamson

This article was published:

Mary Kirkpatrick (1863?-1943), midwife, was born at Belfast, Ireland, daughter of George Magee, poulterer, and his wife. She married Hugh Kirkpatrick, butcher, on 19 October 1881 at Ballymacarrett, Belfast. They arrived in Sydney as migrants in the Cambodia on 4 April 1884 with an infant son David. A second son George was born at Armidale in June 1889. Mary and Hugh soon separated, and she moved with her children to Kempsey on the Macleay River. In 1902-03 she trained in midwifery in Sydney at the Home Training School and Lying-in Hospital, Newtown.

Mary Kirkpatrick established the first maternity hospital at Kempsey in 1905 and sometime before 1910 managed another institution called The Poplars. She opened a private maternity hospital, Hollywood, at West Kempsey in 1913 and two years later established her last hospital, Down, named after her birthplace, County Down. She worked closely with local doctors and in early years travelled with them to attend deliveries in outlying villages.

Known simply as Nurse Kirk by family, friends and patients, she performed a fine service in her hospital which was unblemished by high mortality rates for mothers or infants. She was 'a fanatic when it came to cleanliness', and there was always washing drying on the hospital verandah, fresh from the boiling copper. While on duty Mary Kirkpatrick dressed formally in a long white uniform, black boots or shoes, a navy blue cloak, a navy pillbox hat on her wavy fair hair and a blue scarf reaching from her hat to the edge of her gown.

Although Nurse Kirk acquired a modest competence from her midwifery work, she readily gave it away. A member of the Church of England, she had strong personal views about moral and social behaviour, but at the same time cared deeply about the unhappiness of others to whom her door and her purse were always open. Nurse Kirk was in her sixties when she discontinued her licence to own a registered private hospital in 1926. She was crippled with arthritis and could only walk with the aid of a stick. Her son George had been killed in action in France in 1917. Her elder son was farming at Nulla Creek. Alone in her last years, she died at West Kempsey on 16 February 1943 and was buried there with Anglican rites.

Remembered as a woman of strong character, single-minded purpose and stern, uncompromising ways, Mary Kirkpatrick became a legend. In the Macleay valley she began a tradition of skilled and careful midwifery practice and impeccable hospital care that continued throughout her career, and that others followed.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Trained Nurses Association, Register of Members (Syd, 1907)
  • Armidale Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, Mar 1981, p 83
  • Macleay Argus, 14 Sept 1907, 8 Aug 1913
  • register of licensed private hospitals, 1913-26 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Noeline Williamson, 'Kirkpatrick, Mary (1863–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 April 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]


Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


16 February, 1943 (aged ~ 80)
West Kempsey, New South Wales, Australia

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