News & Events

First matron Mrs Amelia Wijnbladh

April 26, 2019

‘Men are less trouble than women’, according to Sarah ‘Amelia’ Wijnbladh, the Association’s first Matron-Nurse.

Her pronouncement to The Herald in 1929 came at a time when the Association was advertising for more men to enter the Old Colonists’ Homes in an attempt to redress the gender balance.

Then, as now, the village was home to more women than men. In 1891, there were 43,832 men and 28,667 women living in Victoria. In the Homes, however, there were 11 men and 14 women. In 1925, there were 56 women and 23 men.

The advertising did not work.

Amelia Wijnbladh was an outspoken, feisty woman. She was born in 1863 en route from Cheshire in the UK to Melbourne. Her parents, George and Sarah Scragg settled in Kyneton, but when his wife died in 1890, George moved to Melbourne bringing young Sarah with him.[1]

Three years later, she met and married Victor Wijnbladh, a young Swedish medical student.  Victor had been training to be a surgeon, but realised he became too upset by dissection.  He had left his former life to come to Australia in ‘steerage’ class in 1887, as a ‘clerk’.  An artist, a passionate gardener and gifted figure skater, one of his first jobs in Melbourne was painting backgrounds for murals in the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings (1888 for the Centennial International Exhibition) [2].

Victor and ‘Amelia’, (as she was now known) were appointed to the staff of Rushall Park in August 1896, as a ‘married couple without encumbrances’   to live-in and work together as ‘Matron-Nurse’ and ‘Gardener-Caretaker’, later ‘Matron’ and ‘Superintendent’.  They stayed for another 39 years.[3]In 1901 they had a baby daughter ‘Brita Albertina von Wijnbladh’, born at the ‘Homes’. Sadly, Brita lived less than a day and there were no more children.[4]

Amelia and Victor were good friends with Dr Taylor Downie, the Honorary Medical Officer, for many years. The doctor was a great help to Amelia, who, despite her title, had no nursing qualifications.  Amelia’s other ‘helpers’ were Miss Nellie Graham, who came in daily from 8am to 5pm, and sometimes brought her sisters Daisy and Rene. [5]

Once a month, Amelia would sing at evening ‘socials’ in the Library, and she was in popular demand for Celebrations, as a singer, or hostess for many years.[6]

Despite the couples’ popularity, the inevitable expansion of Amelia’s duties suggested to the OCAV Board members that it would be a good idea to acquire more help.

Unfortunately, Amelia did not work well with younger women with nursing training and experience, and the arrangement did not last long.[7]

In February 1935, Mr and Mrs Wijnbladh notified the Council of their wish to resign, citing health problems and that ‘every year our duties are becoming harder’. They finished duty in June 1935,[8]retiring to the country – Boronia.

Amelia died in 1946 and Victor 1949, and they are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery.[9]

Matrons through the ages:
Alice Wane, 1955 – 1968

[1]Immigration records.
[2]Letters to Gen.Mgr. OCAV J.M.Stewart, from Mrs Southgate of Frankston 1992. Held on file in OCAV.
[3]Typed sheet (?in reply to Mrs Southgate?’) in the above file(2)
[4]Victorian BDM. (accessed through
[5]As ref.2 above
[6]As ref. 2.
[7]AGM Minutes OCAV 1934
[8]As ref.3 previous page.
[9]Victorian BDM (as ref.4)

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