Woman Conyers, Evelyn Augusta (1870 - 1944)
OBE, CBE, RRC, FNM
Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University
Evelyn Conyers was born in New Zealand in 1870, the daughter of engineer William Conyers and his wife, Fanny. Privately educated she migrated in the 1890s to Victoria where she trained as a nurse at the Children's and later the Melbourne Hospital. Her first appointment as matron was to a private hospital but in 1904 she became the inaugural matron at the new infectious diseases hospital, a position she held for three years before opening her own private hospital in Kew.
Conyers had joined the Australian Army Nursing Service as a sister in 1903 and in 1914 went with the Australian Imperial Forces first to Cairo and later to Greece. In December she was appointed Matron-in-Chief with responsibility for almost all nurses serving overseas. Admired for her administrative and negotiation skills she was responsible for liaising with the British services. This role involved frequent visits to the front but she declared that there was no time to feel fear. 'Helpless and wounded men need all one's care and attention and to save one's own skin never even occurs in thought. I always felt sorry for the patients' (Register, 11 December 1919). At the end of the war she returned to her private hospital in Australia, but remained active in the militia after her official appointment to the AIF ended in 1920.
Active in the Trained Nurses' Association from its foundation, Conyers served on its council, and was made a life member of its successor organisation, the Royal Victorian College of Nurses. She also served for ten years on the board set up under the provisions of the 1923 Nurses' Registration Act and was active in returned nurses associations. A defender of professional standards, Conyers was critical of the Army's decision during World War II to favour younger nurses arguing that the experience of the earlier war had shown that 'older women were better able to stand up to the strain' (Gippsland Times, 20 June 1940).
Conyers' war service was recognised with the award of first the OBE and then the CBE, the Royal Red Cross, a mention in dispatches and the Florence Nightingale medal. She died in 1944.
- McCullagh, Catherine, Willingly into the Fray: one hundred years of Australian Army nursing, Big Sky Publishing, Newport, New South Wales, 2010. Details
- 'Conyers, Evelyn Augusta (1870 - 1944)', The Australian Women's Register, National Foundation for Australian Women, http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0255b.htm. Details
- 'Honour to War Nurses: Return of Miss Conyers O.B.E. R.R.C.', The Register (Adelaide, South Australia), 11 December 1919, p. 8, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63119065. Details
- 'Comments from Melbourne: Nurses Needs', Gippsland Times (Victoria), 20 June 2013, p. 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63273506. Details
- Reid, John, 'Conyers, Evelyn Augusta (1870-1944)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University (ANU), c.2006, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/conyers-evelyn-augusta-5759. Details
- Tierney, James L. and Cregan, Christina, A 'Blueprint' for Union Organising: Multiplying the membership in the Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch) 1989-2012, with eScholarship Research Centre, Australian Women's Archives Project, 2013, http://www.womenaustralia.info/exhib/anfv/leaders.html. Details