Matron Annabelle Gawn

Annabelle Gawn was a widely respected nurse in Nerang and the surrounding district during the first half of the twentieth century.

Matron Annabelle Gawn (nee Emmins) was a widely respected nurse in the South Coast district during the first half of the twentieth century.

She was born in Prahran, Victoria in approximately 1870 and trained as a nurse at the Melbourne Hospital. In 1896 she went to Western Australia to join Rev. G. W. Rower’s ‘Sisters of the People’. She travelled across the country on a lemonade cart to Coolgardie where she worked in hessian tents caring for men in the gold fields who had contracted typoid.

Annabelle also served as a West Australian Nursing Sister during Boer War in South Africa. Departing Albany on board the Salamis on 21 March 1900, she arrived in Cape Town before being moved to Estcourt in the Natal area to work as part of the colonial contingent of nurses associated with the British Army. After the war ended, she remained in South Africa as a nurse at the Somerset Children’s Hospital in Cape Town. In 1909 she returned to Brisbane where she married Thomas Gawn.

Thomas and Annabelle moved to Nerang where they lived and worked at their general store on the corner of Price and Lavelle Streets. During the 1930s they sold the business and established a new one further along Price Street.

During her time in Nerang, Annabelle continued nursing in a private hospital which consisted of four rooms attached to the back of her home in Price Street and was often the first to provide medical assistance at the scene of local accidents including the explosion at the Nerang Quarry in 1926. Nurse Gawn was an honorary ambulance bearer and her private hospital an honorary ambulance centre. The nearest doctor, Dr Berry, was based in Southport and was called for emergencies.

Annabella Gawn was noted for her charitable work including warden of St Margaret’s Church of England and a teacher at Sunday school. She was also a vice president of the Southport Country Womens Association

After her death, in 1940 at the age of 70, the people of Nerang erected a plaque for her grave at Nerang Cemetery inscribed with ‘She did what she could’.

Portrait of Matron Annabella Gawn. Photographer unknown.

Portrait of Matron Annabella Gawn. Photographer unknown.

Sources of information and further reading

  1. OBITUARY. South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld), 12 Apr 1940, p. 12. Web, Retrieved May 24, 2016,
  2. “DEPARTURES” Albany Advertiser (WA : 1897 – 1950) 22 March 1900: 3. Web. 25 Oct 2016
  3. “NEAR AND FAR” Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954) 15 April 1940: 9. Web. 25 Oct 2016
  4. “SOUTHPORT AMBULANCE.” The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) 7 February 1924: 3 (SECOND EDITION). Web. 25 Oct 2016
  5. ‘She did what she could.’ Pat Fischer, Talk about Town, (Gold Coast, Qld.), Apr 1993, p. 22.