Ellen Dougherty, Nurse


Ellen Dougherty was born at Cutters Bay, Marlborough, New Zealand, on 20 September 1844. Her father had been a whaler for some years before establishing a whaling station at Port Underwood in the Marlborough Sounds.

Ellen Dougherty

Ellen Dougherty, about 1895. Adele Pentony Graham collection and Carterton Historical Society

After her father's death in 1857, Ellen and her brothers and sisters were raised by their mother, who then ran a boarding house in Ghuznee Street, Wellington. Before training as a nurse it is thought that she worked with Charles Barraud in his Wellington pharmacy. From 1885 she was in the employ of the Wellington District Hospital; she completed a certificate in nursing in 1887 and studied elementary anatomy and physiology. She became head of the hospital's accident ward and also ran the surgery ward.

In 1893 Ellen Dougherty was acting matron at Wellington District Hospital; when passed over for the permanent position, she accepted a post as matron of Palmerston North Hos-pital. On arrival she discovered very little had been done in the way of providing basic materials for the hospital, and money was scarce. Her first concern was to ensure a sufficient supply of linen. In the days before antibiotics, hospitals required large supplies of linen to help prevent infection. Her first major act on assuming her post was to organise sewing bees with her relatives to sew sheets, pillow-cases and bandages.

Ellen Dougherty1

Ellen Dougherty' nurse doll

As matron, Ellen Dougherty had the assistance of two nursing staff, whom she brought with her from Wellington, and two part-time medical officers. The nurses worked 12-hour shifts, and extra hours at need. The job was demanding. Palmerston North was then a centre for the construction of the North Island's main trunk railway line, and for bush-clearing and saw-milling. Accidents were common and doctors not always available. Ellen Dougherty had to set broken limbs, dress wounds, and on occasions amputate an arm or a leg. She also ran the hospital's dispensary, often staying at work until after midnight. In 1899 she was formally registered as a pharmacist.

In September 1901 New Zealand became the first country to have separate legislation for the registration and regulation of nurses. When the Nurses Registration Act became law in January 1902, nurses who had already trained could apply to have their names entered on the register and first on the list was Ellen Dougherty.

Ellen died in 1919.

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