Lucy Osburn, a Lady Displaced

Florence Nightingale's Envoy to Australia

Judith Godden

Regular price $45.00 Sale

Format: paperback
384 pages
ISBN: 9781920898397

Publication: 06 Sep 2006

Publisher: Sydney University Press

Lucy Osburn (1836-1891) was the founder of modern nursing in Australia who also pioneered the employment of high status professional women in public institutions. Osburn learned her vocation at Florence Nightingale's school of nursing in London, but her relationship with Nightingale was not the smooth discourse of "Victorian ladies". Godden uses extensive and frank correspondence to build an intriguing picture of life for an independent middle-class woman. Osburn's triumphs and trials in New South Wales typify the struggles the colony faced in its relations with the Mother Country, and with new roles in the workplace for women. An enthralling and enlightening read.

Tags: Biography

Judith Godden is an honorary associate of the Department of History at the University of Sydney.


  1. Discovering Lucy Osburn
  2. A Yorkshire childhood
  3. Two women in search of a purpose
  4. Australia and the imperial dream
  5. Lucy Osburn, lady probationer
  6. Preparations for Sydney
  7. A royal welcome
  8. Taking control
  9. Resignation
  10. Letters to Nightingale
  11. Under attack
  12. Desperate love in accident ward
  13. Slander and scandal
  14. Bible burning
  15. Alliances broken and cemented
  16. The Royal Commission, 1873
  17. Defending Miss Osburn
  18. Changing of the guard
  19. Intolerable pressure
  20. Starting again
  21. Conclusion and epilogue


' ... this is a 'riveting read'. I found it impossible to put down as each chapter revealed yet more about this independent, stubborn, courageous and sometimes misguided woman who always seemed to relish a fight.'
Judith A. Cornell AM   Nursing.Aust

'Judith Godden's lively and insightful biography sets Osburn's contribution to the Sydney Infirmary in the wider context of her life and does not shirk from criticism of those aspects of her character which undermined her effectiveness as a flag bearer for Nightingale's vision.'
  Health & History

'This book is a model of careful scholarship. It is more than a biography of a flawed but determined individual; it is an account of changing gender relation ships and the development of institutionalised medical practice. It is also very readable, perhaps due to what the author describes as 'the unholy trinity of sex, politics and religion.'
Peter J. Tyler   Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society

'This is a detailed narrative history which is enjoyable and certainly informative. Godden provides insights into colonial institutions and female power, class and gender roles, also commenting briefly on Osburn's sexuality and to an extent, her emotional experiences. An important contribution to medical/nursing biography, this work could also be read as a contribution to feminist history and the social history of women's work and colonial life.'
Catharine Coleborne   Australian Historical Studies

'In an engaging and highly readable style, University of Sydney historian, Judith Godden has reconstructed the life of New South Wales' first professional nurse, Lucy Osburn.'
Melanie Oppenheimer   Labour History

'Godden's book is a rich‐textured read and a major contribution to the literature in a number of fields: Victorian studies, gender studies, colonial history and the history of medicine and nursing. While it is an important Australian story, Australia only provides the setting. So much of the story is that of a lady, displaced within the empire, restless and capable, but at the mercy of the elements. Godden's sympathetic and rigorous treatment of the subject will stand.'
Sioban Nelson   Nursing Inquiry

'Godden has made extensive use of an exceptional array of primary sources, and the research is meticulous throughout ... Lucy Osburn, a Lady Displaced is a particularly arresting addition to medical and nursing history, biography and colonial women’s history. Better still, it will be read with pleasure, as well as much gain.'
Lisa Featherstone   History Australia

'Godden sets Lucy Osburn’s time in Australia firmly in its social and political context. Many of Osburn’s letters to Florence Nightingale have survived, and Godden was able to examine in some detail the tense relationships between Nightingale in England, Osburn in Sydney and the various members of Sydney’s political and medical elites.'
Sally Wilde   Australian Journal of Politics and History

'Godden's portrait of Lucy Osburn is both informative and entertaining, and it would have a wide appeal to many audiences. This is a well‐written and engaging book. To a researcher interested in the development of women's careers, it offers a poignant lesson in the difficulties faced by women who stepped outside the traditional roles of wife and mother in the Victorian age.'
Diana Jefferies   Journal of Religious Studies

'... it is an important book for Nightingale scholars and for colonial nursing history.'
Merlyn Stuart   Nursing History Review

Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 × 21 mm
384 pages
38 b&w illustrations
Copyright: © 2006
ISBN: 9781920898397
Publication: 06 Sep 2006