In the mid nineteenth century, hospital nursing in both Australia and abroad began to change.
This was largely due to the influence of Florence Nightingale, who had pioneered a new style of nursing on the battlefields of the Crimean War. She later developed a nurse training school at St Thomas Hospital in London.
In 1868, six Nightingale-trained nurses were sent to work in the Sydney Infirmary. Among their number was Lucy Osborn, who became the Lady Superintendent of Sydney Infirmary. The ideal under the Nightingale system was that nurses would be young, unmarried, middle-class and Church of England. This new style of nurse was very different to what came before.
Sydney Infirmary (later renamed Sydney Hospital) was completed in 1816. Located on Macquarie Street, it was initially for the treatment of convicts. But when the transportation system ended in the 1840s, so did the focus of the hospital. From this time, it sought to provide for the care and cure of the ‘sick poor’ in the Colony.
From 1852 to 1866, the hospital Matron at the Sydney Infirmary was the delightfully named Bethsheba Ghost.
Unlike her successor Lucy Osborn, Ghost was a working class woman, and an ex-convict. She was posthumously accused of drunkeness and poor management, but recent scholarship suggests that her duties were that of an ‘industrial housekeeper’, and that the hospital administrators were more than happy with her work.