Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nellie Constance Martyn (1887–1926)

by Œnone Serle

This article was published:

Nellie Constance Martyn (1887-1926), businesswoman, was born on 12 June 1887 at Charlton, Victoria, daughter of James Martyn (1855-1924) and his wife Lucy, née Partridge, both Ballarat born. James had been a schoolteacher and a draper before he purchased in 1900 a steelworks at Brunswick, Melbourne, which he renamed the Steel Co. of Australia. He became twice president of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and in 1923 represented Australian employers at the International Labor Conference, Geneva.

Nellie became a hospital masseuse. After many unsuccessful attempts to persuade her father to allow her to join the firm, he eventually submitted, some time before World War I, after she had become proficient in shorthand and typing and engineering drawing. She soon displayed an acute financial brain and when her father went overseas in 1923 he left her, not his son, with his power of attorney. On his death next year she took sole charge as managing director of what was claimed to be the 'largest steel founders in the Commonwealth', specializing in manganese and chrome steel, with well over 100 employees. She mastered all aspects of the business and began converting the buildings into a new model factory.

A Methodist, Nell Martyn had for long been active in the Young Women's Christian Association, especially in its industrial clubs. After a term as State treasurer, she became president in 1924 and was closely involved with the move of the association's national headquarters to Melbourne. She was first president of the Business and Professional Women's Club (1925) and a committee-member of the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital. In 1925 the Australian Women's National League supported her preselection as Nationalist candidate for the State seat of Brunswick, but the male party majority forbade it.

Highly capable in business matters, a good public speaker and a constructive committee member, Miss Martyn was led by her Christian perspective to interest in social service and workers' rights. She did not seek publicity for herself. Her view of woman's position was quite simple: the basis of women's equality was that the sexes were of equal mentality—she asked no more than to compete on the same terms as men and to represent the interests of the whole community and not just women.

Knowing she was mortally ill, Nell Martyn spoke at Y.W.C.A. gatherings and others almost to the end. She died from cancer on 28 November 1926 at her family's Camberwell home and was buried in Box Hill cemetery. She was unmarried. More than 1000 mourners, including the leaders of the iron and steel industry, were at the graveside where hundreds of wreaths from business firms were laid. Her obituaries reflected widespread anguish at the loss of one so young, so admired and who promised so much. The Steel Co. of Australia Pty Ltd was carried on by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • Woman's World, Jan 1924, July 1925, Jan 1927
  • Adam and Eve, 1 June 1926
  • Young Women's Christian Association, Association News, 11 Dec 1926
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Apr 1924
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Nov 1926
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 4 Dec 1926.

Citation details

Œnone Serle, 'Martyn, Nellie Constance (1887–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 June, 1887
Charlton, Victoria, Australia


28 November, 1926 (aged 39)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.