| Media Release
Nursing great Jane Bell's memorabilia donated to Royal Melbourne Hospital
10 October 2011
The Royal Melbourne Hospital is delighted that memorabilia which belonged to former Lady Superintendent Jane Bell was donated to the hospital today.
Jane's great nephew Doug Steindl, of Queensland, contacted the hospital to offer Jane's OBE, military medals and a silver tea service which she received as a farewell present from the then Melbourne Hospital's Board of Management.
Scottish-born Miss Bell led the hospital's nurses from 1910-34, and was also a World War 1 nursing leader. She remains highly regarded for her contribution to the development of the nursing profession. She was President of the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses' Association (later the Royal Victorian College of Nursing) and a member of the Nurses' Board. She received her OBE for services to nursing, and military medals for her wartime leadership role between 1914-15.
Her portrait hangs prominently in the hospital's Historical Room, and the RMH Graduate Nurses' Association has a scholarship named after her. One of our buildings is named Jane Bell House - where RMH GNA President Arlene Bennett did her nurse training in the 1970s. When the QV Centre was built in Lonsdale St - the former site of the Melbourne Hospital - one of the pedestrian laneways was named Jane Bell Lane. Only one other person received this honour.
Doug Steindl, who is very proud of his great aunt, is currently in the process of moving and wanted to find a home for the Jane Bell memorabilia, rather than having it dispersed and perhaps lost or Jane's significance forgotten.
"My family feels that this award (OBE), along with her military service medals should be presented to the RMH for the safekeeping that it deserves. I also would like to return to their care the sterling silver tea set which was presented by the Board of the Melbourne Hospital in 1934," he said.
The hospital's archives has in its possession a clock presented by her nurses on her retirement in 1934, as well as several other items - Jane's World War 1 hatbox, her ink stand, a purse, chaise lounge and other items - which will be on display in the Historical Room on 10 October, along with many photos from the collection.
More about Jane Bell's life
Jane Bell was born in Scotland in 1873. Following the death of both her parents and four of her siblings from tuberculosis in 1886, she and her three remaining siblings migrated to Australia with the help of their local Presbyterian Congregation. She commenced nurse training at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney in 1898, rising to the position of Night Superintendent. Following this, she was Matron of the Bundaberg Hospital in Queensland in 1903, and from 1904, Matron of the Brisbane General Hospital. In 1906, she went to London to undertake obstetrical training at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital, followed by a period as Assistant Lady Superintendent at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In November 1910, she was appointed Lady Superintendent of the Melbourne Hospital, a position she held until her retirement in June 1934 .During her tenure, she created the position of Theatre Sister in 1912, appointed the first ‘Sister Tutor’ in an Australian hospital in 1921, established the Nurses’ Preliminary Training School in 1927, and created the first Special Diet Kitchen in an Australian hospital in 1929. In addition, she was involved in the formation of the RMH Past Trainees’ Association in 1917 (now the RMH Graduate Nurses’ Association) and was instrumental in the introduction of State registration for nurses in 1924.
She was very active in professional nursing affairs. She was a foundation member of the Nurses’ Board of Victoria from 1924-1950; a member of the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses’ Association from 1911, including its President in 1931-34 and 1938-46; helped to form the Australasian Nursing Federation in 1899 and the Royal Australian Nursing Federation in 1924.
For a period in 1914-15, she was Principal Matron of the First Australian General Hospital during World War One, based in Egypt and treating Gallipoli casualties. At the time the position, status, authority and working conditions of army nurses were undefined. Miss Bell waged an incessant battle with the Army Medical Service, seeking to clarify the position and responsibilities of the nursing service and to place its control and discipline in the hands of its own members. A later inquiry vindicated her views and implemented her recommendations.
In 1937, she represented Australia at the meeting of the International Council of Nurses in London. Miss Bell’s interests were in nursing education and the promotion of post-graduate nursing qualifications, salaries and working conditions and the raising of nursing standards. She was appointed an Order of the British Empire in 1944 and died in 1959 as a patient at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Sources: UNA, Nursing Journal, October 1959; The Australian Dictionary of Biography; Jennifer A. Williams and Rupert D. Goodman: Jane Bell, OBE (1873-1959), RMH Graduate Nurses’ Association, 1988; Alan Gregory: The Ever Open Door: A History of The Royal Melbourne Hospital, Hyland House, 1998.
Media contact: Petrina Dakin 0433 691 190