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Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877–1942)

by Perditta M. McCarthy

This article was published:

Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877-1942), by unknown photographer, 1914-20

Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877-1942), by unknown photographer, 1914-20

Australian War Memorial, H06179

Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877-1942), nursing sister and army matron-in-chief, was born on 8 August 1877 in South Melbourne, eldest of five surviving children of English-born Henry Francis Foster Richardson, accountant and later civil servant, and his Tasmanian wife Louisa, formerly Brewen, née Joseph. The Richardsons claimed descent from an old Huguenot family attached to the court of Louis XIV, also from the family of De Tracy, courtiers to Elizabeth I.

After training at the Austin and (Royal) Women's hospitals, Melbourne, Miss Richardson was matron for nine years at Sunbury Hospital for the Insane. On 3 November 1914 she was appointed to the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, and embarked for Egypt as a sister with the 1st Australian General Hospital in December. After serving with 1st A.G.H. at Heliopolis, she returned to Australia in July 1915 as matron-in-charge of the Kyarra, the first hospital ship returning home with wounded soldiers; she re-embarked from Melbourne in August.

Transferred to England, Sister Richardson served at No.1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital (Harefield) before being recalled to Australia in April 1916; her A.I.F. appointment was terminated on 7 May. Next day she was appointed matron-in-chief on the staff of the director general of medical services at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, on home service. She was the first person to occupy this demanding position, which required great organizational and administrative abilities. Matron Richardson supervised the mobilization and administration of the A.A.N.S. within Australia, and in hospital ships and sea transport, and later organized the demobilization of the A.A.N.S. In 1917 she was awarded the Royal Red Cross, 1st class, in recognition of her wartime service; her appointment ended on 10 March 1920.

Ethel Richardson married Walter Edward Attiwill, a station manager from Hexham, Victoria, at St Mary's Anglican Church, Caulfield, Melbourne, on 14 December 1921. They lived at Hexham until 1927, when, after the death of her husband, she settled at Caulfield. Her interests were painting in oils and membership of the Returned Nurses' Club.

In 1937, after a severe stroke, Ethel Attiwill entered Waiora Private Hospital, East Malvern. Survived by a brother and two sisters, she died there on 8 November 1942 and was buried in Springvale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Who's Who in the World of Women, 2 (Melb, 1934)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services 1914-18, 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • Australian Military Orders, no 216 of 1916, no 324 of 1917, no 70 of 1920
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 July 1919
  • Argus (Melbourne), 9 Nov 1942
  • nominal roll, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • biography card index, World War I (Australian War Memorial).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Perditta M. McCarthy, 'Richardson, Ethel Tracy (1877–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 27 September 2023.

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, 2006-2023

Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877-1942), by unknown photographer, 1914-20

Ethel Tracy Richardson (1877-1942), by unknown photographer, 1914-20

Australian War Memorial, H06179

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Attiwill, Ethel Tracy

8 August, 1877
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


8 November, 1942 (aged 65)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.

Military Service