Eleanor Harrald

Born in 1870 and raised in Mt Gambier, Eleanor Harrald was the middle of 6 children. In 1894, against her families wishes, she moved to Adelaide and began training as a probationer nurse at the Adelaide Hospital. 

Initially, probationers were allowed a one month’s trial, to see if they liked it and were suitable, after which they were then signed on for the full three years.

What a long month that seemed. I had never before seen a sick bed, and the suffering and the duties, too, often had me scared… By the end of the month I found there was so much of interest to study and learn in helping to relieve the sick and restore them to health, that I had no hesitation in signing on.

Eleanor Harrald, in Nursing: 150 years of Caring

Later, Eleanor would look back fondly at her probationer experience:

Those probationer days hold very happy memories… days of hard, strenuous work, long hours, and poor food, but the joy we had in rushing out in our two hours off duty, when we only had to slip on coat and bonnet… during the winter months we were not allowed out after 8pm and in the summer months only twice a week, from 8pm to 10pm by special permission, so our evening were spent in either attending lectures, study, or making our own amusements.

Eleanor Harrald, in Nursing: 150 years of Caring
Senior Staff Outside Flinders Ward, December 1897. Eleanor Harrald pictured front row second from left.

After Graduating

After graduating, Eleanor took a well-deserved two-month break with her family. On her return to the Adelaide Hospital in February 1898, she soon was promoted to Charge Nurse of Alexandra Ward. This ward had 18 beds and treated male patients under the watchful eye of Honorary Surgeon Dr Ramsay Smith.

My friend, Sister Marquis being in charge of the ward opposite, and how we used to vie with each other, to see whose ward would be the most attractive. She often had me beaten.

Eleanor Harrald, in Nursing: 150 years of Caring

One year later, Eleanor was transferred to Adelaide Ward, a male surgical ward with 18 beds. Honorary Surgeons Dr. Anstey Giles and Dr. C Todd were in charge.

Aspetic treatment had not then started in hospital. It was all antiseptic… The sister of the ward to which the patient belonged, attended the operation, and taking charge of sponges and dressings, which had previously been prepared for sterilisation.

Eleanor Harrald, in Nursing: 150 years of Caring

World War I

Eleanor was transferred once more in 1906, this time to Theatre Wards. These wards had six beds each for both male and female patients, reserved for those who required special care while recovering from major surgeries. Eleanor remained here until the onset of World War I.

With the advent of the Great War… Miss Graham and the majority of the sisters left for the war, Miss Williams being appointed acting superintendent of nurses. The staff was very depleted… It was pointed out to me by the Chairman of the Board, Mr Combs, the necessity of keeping on the training school in order to send our trained nurses to assist, so I remained on as acting night superintendent… most of the nurses were working at high tension; almost all had a relative or friend at the front, and how I dreaded seeing a clergyman entering the hospital who had not been called for a patient.  He invariably would be a bearer of bad tidings. I remained in charge at night for the four years, excepting for intervals, whilst Miss Williams was ill, when I relieved her by day.

Eleanor Harrald, in Nursing: 150 years of caring

Later on, when asked about her war experience, it was one of her regrets that she was not allowed to enlist:

I would have given all I possessed to work among those wounded heroes behind the lines during the late war. But the authorities decreed that I was needed here with my experience to train nurses for that service.

Eleanor Harrald, The Register, 06 February 1926

Post War

In 1918, after the war, Matron Graham, Edith Williams, and Eleanor Harrald resumed their previous roles. However, the Spanish Flu Influenza pandemic had a significant impact on the hospital. Edith Williams caught the flu and passed away shortly after. Matron Margaret Graham was assigned to oversee the nursing of quarantine cases at The Exhibition Building, and Eleanor took on the role of Acting Matron.

Funeral procession for Miss Edith Williams

Matron Harrald

Margaret Graham retired in 1921 and was succeeded by Eleanor Harrald as Superintendent of Nurses. Matron Harrald wasted no time in making changes to the nursing staff, appointing Lucy Daw as the first Assistant Matron and Gertrude Barnes as the first Tutor Sister in 1922. The Tutor Sister was tasked with managing the Nurses’ Home and overseeing the training of nurses.

One of the obstacles I met as matron, was when I made a change in the uniform. Instead of having stiff collars and cuffs, I changed to an open neck dress with soft collar, short sleeves, with soft cuffs for pros. The pros. objected strongly to short sleeves. I requested them to give them a trial for three months and at the end of that time I would meet them, but at the end of the three months they had found them so comfortable, they did not wish them to be altered.

Eleanor Harrald in Nursing: 150 years of Caring

The new matron was known as ‘Pops’, as she would often ‘pop up’ when not expected. Nurses’ from Matron Harrald’s era, often spoke of their discomfort at her unexpected appearance. According to J Escourt Hughes, a medical student in 1924, remembered her as:

[A] tall dignified woman with a very pleasant manner. She is said to have cultivated this manner and to have been something of a poseur, but, whether this is true or not, she held herself aloof and admitted few people to intimate friendship. She was a good disciplinarian, and some have thought that her staff were more inclined to fear her than to regard her with affection.

J Escourt Hughes in The History of Royal Adelaide Hospital,

Gladys Welsh, as a first-year probationer, was once asked by Matron Harrald to demonstrate one of the new dances of the 1920s. This was before the annual Nurses Ball, which was held in the Nurses Home dining room every year, with supper in the basement. Matron Harrald needed help with the modern dances and wanted to lead on the dance floor.

Another story that provides a glimpse into Matron Harrald’s sense of humour, is recorded in the Hospital Board Minutes. A patient had complained about finding a small mouse in their minced meat dinner plate. When the Medical Superintendent was informed by Matron Harrald, she simply remarked that it was only a tiny mouse.

In 1927 Eleanor Harrald was the first trained nurse from South Australia to receive a Fellowship from the British College of Nurses. The College was established in Britain the previous year as a professional organization providing education and support to nurses.

Nursing staff with Matron Eleanor Harrald, 1928. Pictured front row, centre.


On December 31 1930, Matron Eleanor Harrald retired having attained the compulsory retiring age of 60. Reflecting upon her time as Matron, Harrald recalled:

There was very little trouble experienced with the nursing staff during my term of office. The majority of nurses I found good workers and very interested – particularly the sisters, who one always relies on. I found them ever ready to assist and meet emergencies, which always crop up. Without such assistance it would, at times, have been almost impossible to manage. Being of the age limit I retired at the close of 1930, leaving with best wishes for success to Miss Daw, who had received the appointment, not without regrets at giving up my life’s work.

Eleanor Harrald

Eleanor, despite having retired from the hospital, remained passionate about nursing and the well-being of nurses at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1938, she played a key role in establishing the Royal Adelaide Hospital Nurses’ Association and became its inaugural president. At first, the association served solely as a charitable fund for unwell nurses, but over time, its mission expanded to encompass a wider range of objectives.

In the early 1950s, some senior members of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Nurses’ Association believed that the hospital’s Nurses Homes should have more distinguished names. They wrote to the Board of Management, requesting that the buildings be named after Matrons Margaret Graham and Eleanor Harrald. When the Board of Management refused the Association’s request, its president sought an interview with the Minister of Health, Sir Lyell McEwin, and won his approval for the proposal.

Opening of Eleanor Harrald Nurses Home, 1954

Eleanor Harrald died in 1955 at the age of 83, while an in-patient in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.


  • 1870    Born in Mt Gambier (29/11/1870)
  • 1894    Probationer Nurse at Adelaide Hospital (04/10/1894 – 30/11/1897)
  • 1897    Graduated as a Trained Nurse from Adelaide Hospital
  • 1898    Promoted to Charge Nurse (01/02/1898) in charge of Alexandra Ward
  • 1899    Sister in charge of Adelaide Ward
  • 1906    Transferred to Theatre Ward (01/10/1906). 
  • 1914    Acting Superintendent of Night Nurses (01/10/1914) covering staff enlisted in WW1
  • 1918    Returned to Charge Nurse of Theatre war, as war was over and Matron Graham and Edith Williams had resumed their original roles.
  • 1919    Acting Matron during the influenza pandemic.
  • 1920    Returned to Charge Nurse of Theatre ward
  • 1921    On the retirement of Matron Graham, Harrald was appointed Superintendent of Nurses’.
  • 1925    Significant leave of absence from hospital to travel: Melbourne, Sydney, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, Europe and London. During her holiday she visited many hospitals and medical facilities. (1925 and 1926)
  • 1927    Elected Fellow of the British College of Nurses’ in London
  • 1927    Winner of the ‘Queen of Nurses’ competition, raising funds for the Carnival Charity. Candidates from various Adelaide hospitals were nominated and each vote cost one penny.  Matron Harrald received 194,678 votes.
  • 1930    Matron Harrald retires.
  • 1938    Assisted with the formation of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Nurses’ Association and was the first president.
  • 1954    The new nurses’ home on Frome Road is named The Eleanor Harrald Nurses’ Home, opened by Sir Lyell McEwin, in front of a crowd of 300 people.
  • 1955    Eleanor Harrald died, buried at North Road Cemetery.

Composed from information compiled by Margot Way, May 2020.