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, p 42

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, p 43
Senior Staff Outside Flinders Ward, December 1897. Eleanor Harrald pictured front row second from left.

After graduating, Eleanor had two months leave with her family, returning to the Adelaide Hospital in February 1898. She was soon promoted to Charge Nurse of Alexandra Ward, which was an 18 bed, male medical ward with Dr Ramsay Smith as Honorary Surgeon.

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, p 44

A year later, Eleanor was transferred to Adelaide Ward, an 18 bed male surgical ward, with Dr Anstey Giles and Dr C Todd as Honorary Surgeons.

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, p 45

In 1906, Eleanor was again transferred, this time to Theatre Wards. The male and female wards had six beds each and were kept only for those patients who needed special attention while recovering from major operations. Here, Eleanor stayed until the outbreak 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 in The Register, 06/02/1926, p 14

After the war (1918) Matron Graham, Edith Williams and Eleanor Harrald returned to their original positions. However, the outbreak of the Spanish Flu Influenza pandemic caused dramatic changes to the hospital. Edith Williams contracted ‘the Flu’ and shortly afterwards died. Matron Margaret Graham was transferred to supervise the nursing of the quarantine cases stationed at The Exhibition Building and Eleanor became Acting Matron.

Funeral procession for Miss Edith Williams

In 1921, Margaret Graham retired and Eleanor Harrald was appointed Superintendent of Nurses. Matron Harrald immediately began implementing changes to the nursing staff. By 1922 the first Assistant Matron (Lucy Daw) and the first Tutor Sister (Gertrude Barnes) had been appointed. The Tutor Sister was responsible for the operation of the Nurses’ Home as well as organising 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, p 48

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, p 113

Gladys Welsh remembered that as a first-year probationer, she was asked by Matron Harrald one day to demonstrate the steps of one of the ‘modern’ dances of the 1920s. Every year the hospital held the annual Nurses Ball in the dining room of the Nurses Home, with supper held in the basement. Matron Harrald wanted to lead on the dance floor and was unfamiliar with the new dances.

Another story that perhaps gives a small glimpse at her sense of humour was recorded in the Hospital Board Minutes. With a patient having complained of finding a small mouse in the mince meat on her dinner plate. Matron Harrald told the Medical Superintendent “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 set up the year before in Britain as a professional organisation for nurses offering education and support.

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

Even though Eleanor had retired from the hospital, she was still interested in nursing and the welfare of nurses at Royal Adelaide Hospital. In 1938 she assisted with the formation of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Nurses’ Association and was the first president. Initially, the association was just a benevolent fund for sick nurses, but later evolved into having a broader scope.

During the early 1950’s, a group of senior members of the Royal Adelaide Hospital Nurses’ Association wanted the Nurses Homes to have more distinguished names. They wrote to the Board of Management, asking that the buildings be named in honour of 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 at the age of eighty-three as 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.