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Haldane Colquhoun Turriff (1834–1922)

by Ann M. Mitchell

This article was published:

Haldane Colquhoun Turriff (1834-1922), hospital nurse, was born on 12 January 1834 at Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, eldest child of Alexander Turriff, ironfounder and engineer, and his wife Janet, née Hardie. In August 1866 she entered the Nightingale Training School attached to St Thomas's Hospital, London, and was selected as one of the five nurses to accompany Lucy Osburn to the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary in December 1867. Her arrival in Sydney on 5 March 1868 in the Dunbar Castle was enlivened the next week by the attempted assassination of the Duke of Edinburgh and she was one of the two nurses who cared for him.

The Nightingale nurses were engaged on a three-year contract. When their performances were reviewed in 1870 Lucy Osburn would not recommend the reappointment of Sister Haldane, who then resigned. She had made no secret of her dissatisfaction with her working conditions and with most of her colleagues, and especially resented attacks made on the status of the sisters. Observant, shrewd and caustic of tongue, she had considerable powers of expression. She alienated both Lucy Osburn and Miss Nightingale, who tried in vain to convince her of the necessity for tolerance. To Miss Nightingale she replied, 'I am sure that it is not your wish that anyone should call evil good or good evil. But it may be expedient to refrain from saying that evil is evil and it is without doubt prudent to withhold censure where censure is considered a worse offence than the evil committed'. She was blind to reason when she considered herself to be a victim of injustice. Her superiors finally concluded that she was a bad nurse and unsuited to hospital work, but in December 1870 she was appointed as first matron of the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. The rumour that she owed this to Prince Alfred's favour was denied.

The Alfred Hospital's progressive administrators had ensured the autonomy of their nursing establishment by writing it into the hospital constitution. But they could not anticipate the unyielding nature of their prized Nightingale matron, nor the prejudices of doctors who adhered to the concept of nurses as degenerate housemaids. Assisted by brilliant journalism in the Argus by 'The Vagabond', complaints about Miss Turriff's ill temper, her alleged usurpation of authority and her command of female staff exploded in 1876. Control of the hospital was the issue at stake but this was obscured by personal differences. However, the matron had a champion in the hospital president James Service whose influence outweighed all protest. Most of the plaintiffs resigned or were dismissed. The matron suffered a slight diminution of her authority.

The rest of Miss Turriff's tenure was uneventful. That she failed her duty as a Nightingale graduate and did not establish a training school was probably due to her lack of talent as a formal teacher. In spite of this, even her critics agreed that her nurses were the best in Melbourne. Two women who had started nursing under her were given charge of the training school when it was established late in 1880. She gave notice in January 1880 and on 6 March married a widower William Gilmour Murray, who was a respected senior member of the shipping firm of Gibbs, Bright & Co., and opened its Sydney office in 1875. He had arrived in Melbourne in 1853 and was the first honorary auditor of the Alfred Hospital.

After Murray's death on 6 May 1888 his widow remained in Sydney until about 1894 when, financially secure but not rich, she appears to have returned to Scotland, where she died at Catrine, Ayrshire, on 5 February 1922. She was handsome with a beautiful speaking voice, and dressed well; a Prebyterian, she turned to Anglicanism in her colonial years. Outside the hospital milieu she rarely alluded to the fact that she had been one of Miss Nightingale's pioneers.

Select Bibliography

  • M. P. Susman, ‘Lucy Osburn and her five Nightingale nurses’, Medical Journal of Australia, 1 May 1965
  • A. M. Mitchell, The Hospital South of the Yarra (Ph.D. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1972)
  • Florence Nightingale papers (British Library).

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Turriff, Haldane Colquhoun (1834–1922)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Murray, Haldane Colquhoun

12 January, 1834
Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland


5 February, 1922 (aged 88)
Catrine, Ayrshire, Scotland

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