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Mary Anne (Bessie) Pocock (1863–1946)

by Perditta M. McCarthy

This article was published:

Mary Anne (Bessie) Pocock (1863-1946), nursing sister and army matron, was born on 20 July 1863 at Dalby, Queensland, eldest of eight children of George Pocock, blacksmith, who had migrated from England in 1850, and his Irish wife, Mary Ann, née O'Toole. In 1868 the family moved to Lower Coldstream River, New South Wales, and eventually settled on a small acreage at The Punchbowl, near Grafton, in 1876. George Pocock worked as a blacksmith at Copmanhurst, walking in on Mondays and returning home on Saturdays.

Mary Anne ('Bessie') Pocock was educated at Almura and Copmanhurst Public schools. Her childhood was not easy as she had to help her mother to run the small farm and rear her brothers and sisters. Leaving home at an early age, she entered domestic service at Grafton and there, three weeks before she was due to marry, her fiancé died of tetanus. She then began general nursing training at Sydney Hospital in November 1890 and continued on the staff as a sister.

Pocock had joined the New South Wales Army Nursing Service Reserve in 1899 and enlisted for service in the South African War. Leaving Sydney in January 1900, she disembarked at Cape Town and was posted to the 2nd Stationary Hospital, East London, from February to June. There dysentery and enteric fever were rife and conditions were primitive. In July-August she was transferred to Johannesburg, and then moved to the 17th Stationary Hospital, Middleburg, where she remained until the end of the war in May 1902. After contracting enteric fever she was invalided to England, returning to Sydney next April. For her war service she was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Queen's and the King's South Africa medals. She returned to Sydney Hospital in June 1903, then was matron of hospitals for the insane at Newcastle in 1907-11 and Gladesville in 1911-14.

In September 1914 Sister Pocock enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and took up duty as senior sister of the 2nd Australian General Hospital, Cairo, Egypt, in December. Two months detachment in charge of a temporary hospital for the wounded at Ismailia followed, then from July 1915 to January 1916 she was matron of the Hospital Ship Assaye which carried patients from Gallipoli to England. The wounded arrived on board straight from the trenches, their muddy, filthy clothing frozen on them, suffering from frostbite, gangrene, dysentery and typhoid. Though it was a heartbreaking experience Pocock recorded that it was 'a privilege to have nursed these magnificent men'. From April to July 1916 she served at Marseilles and Wimereux, France, with the 2nd A.G.H., then was matron at the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station, Trois Arbres near Steenwerck, Belgium, until April 1917; she rejoined the 2nd A.G.H. at Boulogne before taking charge of an Australian convalescent hospital, Cobham Hall, Kent, England, in October. Her final appointment was matron of the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Dartford, from January 1918 to February 1919. She was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 2nd class, and was twice mentioned in dispatches. She sent a miniature of the R.R.C. to her mother who died in 1918.

Matron Pocock's A.I.F. appointment ended in Sydney on 30 October 1919 and Grafton welcomed her home with a presentation of 'a handsome tea-set and a time-piece'. In December she resumed her position as matron at Gladesville and in 1924 she established a convalescent hospital which she called Ismailia at Chatswood. On retirement in the late 1930s she returned to The Punchbowl, where her nieces looked after her. She died there on 16 July 1946 and was buried in Grafton cemetery with Anglican rites.

Neat and ladylike, Pocock was an exceptional administrator and organizer. Though compassionate, she was a strict disciplinarian with staff. She was a life member of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association and of the Australian Army Nursing Service Reserve.

Select Bibliography

  • R. A. Kirkcaldie, In Gray and Scarlet (Syd, 1922)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War 1914-18, vols 1-3 (Melb, 1930, Canb, 1940, 1943)
  • London Gazette, 29 July 1902, 2, 5 May 1916
  • Australian Trained Nurses' Association, Journal, July 1903, Aug 1913, Dec 1914, Apr 1916
  • Australian Trained Nurses Register of Members, 1916
  • Daily Examiner (Grafton), 6 Dec 1919
  • private information.

Citation details

Perditta M. McCarthy, 'Pocock, Mary Anne (Bessie) (1863–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 July, 1863
Dalby, Queensland, Australia


16 July, 1946 (aged 82)
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia

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