Women of the North

Celebrating the fascinating lives of women in the history of North Queensland

Matron Margaret Monaghan

Margaret Monaghan set up and ran Bay View Private Hospital, one of the most successful and longest-running private hospitals in Townsville in the first half of the twentieth century. Margaret was a popular and well-respected woman, who deservedly enjoyed a revered position within the Townsville community.

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The staff of Bay View Private Hospital, c.1930. Matron Monaghan is seated in the centre. Photo courtesy of Townsville Museum and Historical Society.

Margaret Jane Lewis Monaghan was born in Durham, England, in 1883 and later migrated to Australia with her family – arriving in early 1890. In May 1912, Margaret qualified for a certificate in midwifery from the Lady Bowen Hospital, in Brisbane. In December that year, she paid the required fee of 10 shillings to register with the State as a midwife. For some years after this, Margaret appears to have been a private midwife, possibly operating from her home in Wills Street, as well as attending women in their own homes.

By the early 1920s, she had set up “Tauntonia” Private Hospital, in Walker Street, near the Technical College. This hospital catered for both general and maternity patients, who were attended by local doctors, including Dr Mason and Dr O’Neill. Tauntonia’s professional staff consisted of two day-nurses plus a Sister, and Matron Monaghan herself. She may have also employed domestic staff, such as a cook and a kitchen maid.

In late 1925, Matron Monaghan re-located Tauntonia to Hale Street, on Stanton Hill. This site, opposite the Christian Brothers’ School, had commanding views over Cleveland Bay. In March 1927, after completing “extensive and up-to-date alterations”, she renamed her private hospital “Bay View”, in keeping with its location. At this time, Margaret would have been in direct competition with several local doctors who also ran their own private hospitals, but in spite of the competition, together Tauntonia and Bay View ran for almost two decades. The longevity of Matron Monaghan’s establishments is testament to her skill as a businesswoman, as well as a nurse and midwife.

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Bay View Private Hospital, Stanton Hill, Townsville. Photo: City Libraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In 1941, with a view to retiring, Matron placed Bay View up for sale. An advertisement for the sale of the property notes that the private hospital was registered with the Health Department and contained two operating theatres. Included in the sale of equipment and fittings were 17 surgical beds and 4 eye beds. The property had accommodation for 8 nursing staff and 4 domestic staff as well as adjoining quarters for the matron. It is clear from this advertisement that Bay View Private Hospital was a sizeable, professionally-run hospital that provided employment for at least 12 people.

Sometime in the early 1940s, Margaret retired to her Magnetic Island home – “Rookery Nook” – situated on the eastern heights of Alma Bay. She was frequently visited by mainland friends, where she was well-known for her superb hospitality. An article in the Townsville Daily Bulletin in late 1945 described a party at Rookery Nook to celebrate the end of the war, and to honour an old friend’s birthday:

“Culinary delights which the matron just knows how to conjure loaded the table, and bowls of pink and white frangipani clusters added fragrance and rich artistry to the large, two-tiered square birthday cake.”

Taking into consideration her years as a private midwife, as well as her time as matron of Tauntonia and Bay View, Margaret Monaghan served the Townsville community for at least thirty years. Around 1953 she moved to Eventide, at Charters Towers, where she lived out the remaining six years of her life.

Categories: Midwives

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5 replies

  1. I found this article really interesting as I have two great-aunts who also ran a private hospital (1920s, I think), although in Cairns. Their names were Elizabeth and Barbara Henry and both initially nursed on hospital ships during The Great War. Very little is known about this period in their lives other than what I’ve just related, so this article gives some insight into what it may have been like for them. I don’t think they ran their hospital for nearly as long as Matron Monaghan, however. I think it is a marvellous idea to celebrate the contribution and history of women from North Queensland!

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    • Hi Louise, thanks for leaving a comment! I have an Elizabeth Henry in my list of Cairns women to do more research on. Elizabeth seems to have run the St. Luke’s Private Hospital, in Sheridan Street, Cairns, for a few years in the early 1920s. (You may already know all this, of course). It appears that the hospital originally only catered for surgical and general medical patients, but then later took on obstetric cases as well. A woman named Matron Barry took over the hospital in about 1925, but I can’t seem to find what Elizabeth did after that? Her war service is certainly very interesting, serving in Rabaul, and later India. I didn’t have her sister Barbara on my list, so thanks for the info. I’ll have to look into her some more. Do you have information to suggest that Barbara worked with Elizabeth in the private hospital in Cairns?

      On another note, I have a Mrs A. Henry on my list of Townsville midwives, who opened a “Convalescent Home and Private Hospital” in the late 1890s, on The Strand, Townsville. I have not been able to find out very much about her (not even her first name). Any chance she is some relation of yours? I have an advertisement noting she’s opening her place in 1897, and also a notice in the paper for 1907 saying she was leaving for Southport, to be the matron at the high school there. Otherwise, she’s very elusive.

      Regards,
      Trisha

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      • HI Trisha,

        Unfortunately I haven’t seen or heard mention of an A. Henry amongst the family records I have seen. She probably would have arrived however around the same time that Elizabeth Henry’s father, Isaac Henry arrived from Kiama (I believe) with his wife Barbara and young family, along with James Tyson to take up sections acquired in the Tully/Euramo/Murray Upper region. Isaac Henry was one of many children, however I haven’t come across anything to suggest anyone else apart from his brother James Henry came north around the time he did.

        Elizabeth was the youngest daughter of five and grew up on Bellenden Plains. Apparently she trained at Brisbane General Hospital from 1905-1909 (another source said she was an early graduate of the Royal Brisbane Hospital) and went on to practice at Chillagoe Hospital. She joined the Australian Army Service and was commissioned in Australian Naval and Military Forces 3rd Battalion in 1914. She served at Rabaul at the Coolabah War Hospital (3 years), then in Bombay, at the Colaba War Hospital, and was later appointed Acting Matron the Hospital Ship, Ellora in the Mediterranean. It would be fascinating to know more of what happened in these years. Some of this information I got from local history books.

        Her sister Barbara I have less information on. I assume she may have trained in Brisbane as well, but was on her way to do further training in Germany on a German ship with plans to study under a Dr Kuhne apparently, when war broke out. By the time the ship had reached Egypt war had been declared and the ship seized by the British, who put off the passengers there. Being on a German ship raised doubts about their allegiance and so they were eventually interned in England, where through the intervention of a relative living in England, she was released. She joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and served in Britain til the end of the war.

        From there, I guess they set up the hospital, St Luke’s in Cairns. About that I know very little. Barbara Henry married later in life to William Sparvell.

        Around 1941 Elizabeth took over the running of Bellenden Plains on the death of her brothers, running cattle there with the help of a series of managers, some good, some bad, and several local Aboriginal workers and their families who lived on the property. She died in 1961 as the result of a blood clot after being gored in the cattle yards – pretty nasty way to go. She was, by all accounts, a very singular woman. She wore men’s clothes (very practical considering she was working on a station and often on the backs of horses), but also had her ‘good’ clothes for town, jodphurs, men’s shirt, shiny riding boots and good hat. She is a fascinating character, and my father remembers her well, as he often used to go over and stay at Bellenden and help out.

        If you happen to find out anything else my family and I would love to hear it!

        Thanks Trish,

        Kind Regards,

        Louise

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  2. Wow! Thanks Louise. Such great information! They both sound like fascinating women. The story about Barbara on the German ship is really interesting. I’d be keen to follow this up for an article for the blog. I will of course acknowledge you as a source of information where appropriate, in anything I write.

    Cheers,
    Trish

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    • I should probably mention I got a lot of that information from ‘The Calophyllum Shore’ by Sandy Hubinger. This is a local history produced by a local Cardwell man who has since passed away. A great source of all sorts of information, as is Dorothy Jones’ ‘Cardwell Shire Story’. Good luck with your research!
      Regards,
      Louise

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