Osburn, Lucy (1835-1891)

Also known as
Osburn, Lucy (1836-1891)
Field of activity
Nurse; Superintendent; Hospital Nurse; Nurse manager
Libraries Australia
http://nla.gov.au/anbd.aut-an36585946
NLA Persistent Identifier
http://nla.gov.au/nla.party-738070

Biographies

Lucy Osburn (1836-1891), hospital nurse, was born on 1 April 1836 at Leeds, England, daughter of William Osburn, Egyptologist, and his wife Ann, née Rimington. She was well educated and 'mistress of several...

View the full record at Australian Dictionary of Biography

Lucy Osburn was appointed lady superintendent of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary in 1868. After years of conflict and sectarianism among the staff and board members of the Infirmary, she resigned in 1884 and returned to London.

View the full record at Australian Women's Register

Lucy Osburn was Lady Superintendent of the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary (later Sydney Hospital) 1868-84 and the founder of Nightingale nursing in Australia. She was head of the first (of only two) nursing teams sent overseas by the Nightingale Fund Council to found Nightingale nursing. Through her work at Sydney Hospital she laid the foundations of modern nursing in Australia and pioneered the employment of high status professional women in public institutions.

Lucy Osburn entered the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas's Hospital, London in September 1866 as a Lady Probationer. She was contracted to the Nightingale Fund (raised from subscriptions during the Crimean War) to work for it for three years after her training. Lady Probationers trained to become, not bedside nurses, but nursing managers. Shortly after Osburn began her training, Florence Nightingale received a request from Henry Parkes on behalf of the New South Wales Government. Parkes's request was for a team of nurses to be sent to the colony to introduce Florence Nightingale's style of nursing at the Sydney Infirmary and Dispensary and also to train nurses in Nightingale's methods for hospitals throughout the colony. The request, backed by a detailed memorandum from the influential surgeon Alfred Roberts, impressed Nightingale. Lucy Osburn was one of the few Lady Probationers training and was willing, for health reasons, to migrate to Sydney. Despite missing some three months of her year's training due to illness, she was selected to head the team of nurses to go to Sydney. She finished her training in September 1867, observed midwifery and visited other hospitals before leaving with the five other nurses on 2 December 1867. They were all employed by the New South Wales Government on three year contracts with generous terms of employment.

Lucy Osburn arrived in Sydney on 5 March 1868 and a week later was supervising the nursing of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Victoria's second son, who had been shot in an attempted assassination. She soon set about establishing the fundamentals of Nightingale nursing at the Infirmary. She progressively dismissed the male nurses (wardsmen) and replaced them with female nurses. She introduced training on and off the wards for the nurses. She introduced a hierarchical system of management whereby she was in supreme control of nursing and the nurses. Strict obedience to nursing superiors and medical orders was enforced. Lucy Osburn also introduced the two-tiered system of training she had experienced at St Thomas's: Nurses from the working class entered as ordinary probationers and were expected to remain nurses for the rest of their careers. Sister Probationers were middle class women who trained to become Sisters (ward managers) and could aim to become Lady Superintendents or Matrons.

Lucy Osburn's main problems in her first years were the decrepit building which housed the main wards and that her responsibility and powers were poorly defined. She could do little without the cooperation of the Superintendent who controlled the male staff, or the House Committee who could authorise effective cleaning. She was soon blamed for the dirty, vermin-infested wards under her control but had insufficient power to effectively clean the wards.

Soon after her arrival, Lucy Osburn temporarily rejected the title of Lady Superintendent for one with religious connotations, Lady Superior. It was one of a number of acts which aroused the hostility of the powerful Evangelical faction who became convinced she was trying to set up a quasi-Catholic "nunnery" at the hospital. Accused of ordering the burning of bibles, she was vindicated by a Commission of Inquiry in 1870 but Evangelical hostility remained. With the strong support of Henry Parkes and other influential friends, Lucy Osburn survived numerous other public inquiries, most notably the First Report into the Infirmary by the 1873 Royal Commission into Public Charities. After this Report, her powers were clarified. The role of the hospital as a place of acute care was confirmed with its change of name to Sydney Hospital in 1881.

Lucy Osburn's nursing register, where details of nursing students were recorded, indicates her avoidance of direct praise of her staff. Nevertheless, she was a highly practical manager who insisted on good living conditions for the nurses. Her concern for patients is less obvious in her writings but underlay her actions. Her inexperience, sense of social superiority and insensitivity meant that she failed to exercise effective authority over the Head Nurses (Sisters) who had accompanied her from Britain. They were soon quarrelling and placed Nightingale nursing in disrepute. One became pregnant and had to leave; only one of the other four stayed loyal. At the end of her three year contract, Lucy Osburn agreed to stay on only if the other three Sisters' contracts were not renewed. The hospital and government acceded to her wish, much to the anger of Florence Nightingale and her supporters.

Lucy Osburn's achievement was to reform nursing practice and to train colonial nurses to spread the ideal of trained, disciplined nursing throughout the Australian colonies. These achievements were marred by continual criticism of her autocratic style of management. Finally in 1884, during one of her many bouts of illness and facing a public call for her resignation, she resigned. She travelled extensively then finally settled back in London. In 1886-87 she retrained with the Metropolitan and National Nursing Association, which nursed the poor in their own homes. She was then appointed Superintendent of the Newington and Walworth District among the slums of London's East End. She was partly reconciled with Florence Nightingale but joined the (later Royal) British Nursing Association which became embroiled in the bitter 'battle of the nurses', advocating state registration of nurses against Florence Nightingale's wishes.

Early in 1891 Lucy Osburn resigned, too ill to work. She went to stay with her sister Annie Osburn who headed a successful girls school in Harrogate, Yorkshire. There, just before Christmas 1891, Lucy Osburn died. Her death certificate listed the cause as diabetes. Her death received scant acknowledgment by Sydney Hospital but she has been consistently acknowledged by her admirers and nurses as the founder of Nightingale nursing in Australia. Among the many monuments to her achievements is the Lucy Osburn-Nightingale Museum at Sydney Hospital in her old rooms in the Nightingale Wing of Sydney Hospital.

Lucy Osburn was energetic, clever, and multilingual. She loved entomology, dogs, reading, and was a loyal friend and relative. She battled chronic ill-health with an indomitable spirit. She was sent to Australia ill-equipped and largely achieved a near-impossible task. Her success was in the transformation of nursing practice and consequent improvement in patient care, as well as pioneering high status women's professional careers in public institutions. Her problems owed much to her ill-defined powers and her implementation of a strictly hierarchical, inward-looking system which emphasised obedience at the expense of staff development and mobility.

  • Born in Leeds, Yorkshire [N.B. this date has been incorrectly reported as 10 May 1835]
  • Employed as companion in Jerusalem
  • Entered the Nightingale School of Nursing at St Thomas's Hospital London to train as a Lady Probationer.
  • Left England as head of a team of six nurses to found Nightingale nursing at the Sydney Infirmary in the colony of New South Wales
  • Arrived in Sydney as Lady Superintendent of the Sydney Infirmary
  • Prince Alfred's attempted assassination - Lucy Osburn supervised his nursing at Government House
  • Vindicated by the Inquiry into allegations by the that she was anti-Protestant and favoured Catholics.
  • Royal Commission into Public Charities, First Report 1873 which largely vindicated Lucy Osburn's management
  • Lucy Osburn's resigned due to illness after renewed allegations of mismanagement
  • Re-trained as Superintendent of District Nursing with the Metropolitan and National Nursing Association in London
  • Superintendent of Nursing, Newington and Walworth district, London
  • Died

View the full record at Encyclopedia of Australian Science

Related people and organisations

Encyclopedia of Australian Science

  • (Person) Roberts, Alfred (1823 - 1898)

    <p>Alfred Roberts was an honorary surgeon at Sydney Hospital when he campaigned for the introduction of Nightingale nursing in New South Wales. He later opposed Lucy Osburn and was a founder of (later Royal) Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney.</p>

  • (Person) Holden, Frances Gillam (1843 - 1924)

    <p>Frances Holden, Sister Probationer, was dismissed by Lucy Osburn before completing her training at Sydney Hospital. Five years later Holden became Lady Superintendent of the Childrens Hospital in Sydney.</p>

  • (Person) Nightingale, Florence (1820 - 1910)

    <p>Lucy Osburn pioneered Florence Nightingale's system of nursing in Australia.</p>

Resources for Lucy Osburn

Selected resources (24)

Australian Women's Register

  1. Osburn, Lucy
    Published: National Foundation for Australian Women
    Series: IspartOf The Australian Women's Register
  2. 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology
    Radi, Heather
    [Sydney]
    Published: Women's Redress Press
  3. Osburn, Lucy (1835-1891)
    Griffith, John
    [2006]
    Published: Australian National University
    Series: IspartOf Australian Dictionary of Biography Online

Encyclopedia of Australian Science

  1. Osburn, Lucy
    Published: The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre
    Series: Encyclopedia of Australian Science
  2. Women's Mission and Professional Knowledge: Nightingale nursing in colonial Australia and Canada
    Godden, Judith and Helmstadter, Carol
    Published: 2004
    Series: Social History of Medicine, 17, 2, 157-74
  3. Say Little, Do Much: Nurses, Nuns and Hospitals in the Nineteenth Century
    Nelson, Sioban
    Published: University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2001
  4. Lucy Osburn c. 1836-1891; founder of the Nightingale system of nursing at Sydney Hospital
    Bowd, D. G.
    Published: Hawkesbury Press, Windsor, New South Wales, 1968
  5. Catalogue for the Exhibition and Launch of the Lucy Osburn-Nightingale Foundation, 11-12 May 2001
    Wrobel, Elinor
    Published: Sydney Hospital, 2001
  6. Miss Nightingale's young ladies; the story of Lucy Osburn and Sydney Hospital
    MacDonnell, Freda
    Published: Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1970
  7. Purity and pollution: gender, embodiment and Victorian medicine
    Bashford, Alison
    Published: Macmillan, London, 1998
  8. Sydney's nurse crusaders
    Brodsky, Isadore
    Published: Old Sydney Free Press, Sydney, 1968
  9. A 'lamentable failure'? The founding of Nightingale nursing in Australia, 1868-84
    Godden, Judith
    Published: 2001
    Series: Australian Historical Studies, 32, 117, 276-91
  10. Where are the Women in Australian Science?
    McCarthy, Gavan; Morgan, Helen; Smith, Ailie; van den Bosch, Alan
    Published: Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, 2003
  11. Defining relationships and limiting power: Two leaders of Australian nursing, 1868-1904
    Godden, Judith and Forsyth, Sue
    Published: 2000
    Series: Nursing Inquiry, 7, 1, 10-19
  12. Matching the Ideal? The First Generation of Nightingale Nursing Probationers, Sydney Hospital, 1868-84
    Godden, Judith
    Published: 2003
    Series: Health and History, 5, 1, 22-41
  13. 'Be good sweet maid': Sister Probationer Nora Barton at the Sydney Infirmary, 1869-72
    Godden, Judith
    Published: 2001
    Series: Labour History, 80, 141-56
  14. Osburn, Lucy (1835-1891)
    Griffith, John
    Published: Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1974
    Series: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 5, 377-378
  15. Report of Sub-Committee into allegations of the Protestant Standard
    Published: New South Wales, 1870-71
    Series: New South Wales Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings, 4
  16. Royal Commission into Public Charities, First Report
    Published: New South Wales, 1873-74
    Series: New South Wales Legislative Assembly Votes and Proceedings, 6
  17. Lucy Osburn and her five Nightingale nurses
    Susman, M. P.
    Published: 1965
    Series: Medical Journal of Australia, 1, 633
  18. The History of the Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911
    Watson, J. Frederick
    Published: Government Printer, Sydney, 1911
  19. Lucy Osburn, a lady displaced. Florence Nightingale's envoy to Australia
    Godden, Judith
    Published: Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2006
  20. The Nightingale Nurses in Colonial New South Wales
    Pitt, Rosemary
    Published: 1992
    Series: Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 78, 3-4, 19-38
  21. 'Like a possession of the devil': the diffusion of Nightingale nursing and Anglo-Australian relations
    Godden, Judith
    Published: 2001
    Series: International History of Nursing Journal, 7, 52-58

Resources by Lucy Osburn (2)

  1. [Letters written while at Sydney Hospital to Florence Nightingale, 1867-1873] / L. Osburn
    Osburn, Lucy, 1835-1891
    [ Thesis : 1867-1873 ]
    At LaTrobe Uni Melb
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 21.543)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 21.543)

  2. Letters to Florence Nightingale from Lucy Osborn ; Letters to Florence Nightingale from Lucy Osborn's nurses
    Osburn, Lucy, 1835-1891
    [ Book : 1977 ]
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 8.185)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 8.185)

Resources about Lucy Osburn (12)

  1. [Letters written while at Sydney Hospital to Florence Nightingale, 1867-1873] / L. Osburn
    Osburn, Lucy, 1835-1891
    [ Thesis : 1867-1873 ]
    At LaTrobe Uni Melb
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 21.454)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 21.454)

  2. Miss Nightingale's young ladies : the story of Lucy Osburn and Sydney Hospital / With a foreword by W. C. Wentworth / Freda MacDonnell
    MacDonnell, Freda
    [ Book : 1970 ]
    At 48 libraries
    Miss Nightingale's young ladies : the story of Lucy Osburn and Sydney Hospital / With a foreword by W. C. Wentworth / Freda MacDonnell
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 20.169)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 20.169)

  3. Great Australian women / Susanna de Vries
    De Vries, Susanna, 1935-
    [ Book, Audio book : 1900-2005 ]
    Possibly online
    At 151 libraries
    Great Australian women / Susanna de Vries
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 20.041)

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  4. Lucy Osburn, a lady displaced : Florence Nightingale's envoy to Australia / by Judith Godden
    Godden, Judith
    [ Book : 2006 ]
    At 52 libraries
    Lucy Osburn, a lady displaced : Florence Nightingale's envoy to Australia / by Judith Godden
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 16.946)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 16.946)

  5. Lucy Osburn c. 1836-1891 : founder of the Nightingale system of nursing at Sydney Hospital / D. G. Bowd
    Bowd, D. G. (Douglas Gordon)
    [ Book : 1968 ]
    At 25 libraries
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 14.663)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 14.663)

  6. Apprentice in black stockings : an Australian nursing memoir / Norma Sim
    Sim, Norma
    [ Book : 2010 ]
    At 46 libraries
    Apprentice in black stockings : an Australian nursing memoir / Norma Sim
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 13.108)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 13.108)

  7. Great Australians / Simone Bradfield
    Bradfield, Simone
    [ Book : 2000 ]
    At 55 libraries
    Great Australians / Simone Bradfield
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 9.764)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 9.764)

  8. Lucy Osburn / photographed by Freeman Bros. & Prout
    Freeman Bros. & Prout
    [ Photograph : 1873 ]
    View online
    At State Library of NSW
    Lucy Osburn / photographed by Freeman Bros. & Prout
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 8.302)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 8.302)

  9. Catalogue for the exhibition and launch of the Lucy Osburn - Nightingale Foundation on International Nurses' Day 11th and 12th May 2001
    Wrobel, Elinor
    [ Book : 2001 ]
    At RACP Library
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 7.646)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 7.646)

  10. Six disciples of Florence Nightingale / by Zachary Cope
    Cope, Zachary, Sir, 1881-
    [ Book : 1961 ]
    At 14 libraries
    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 7.491)

    This resource is very relevant to your query (score: 7.491)

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  1. Website: Encyclopedia of Australian Science
    www.eoas.info
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    View 454 matching archived pages
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  2. Website: Australian Women's Archives Project
    nfaw.org
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  3. Website: 200 Australian Women
    www.200australianwomen.com
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    • Lucy Osburn - 5/11/2007
    • ... Osburn]Lucy Osburn 1835 - 1891 nurse Lucy Osburn (1835-1891), nurse, was born on 10 May 1835 at Leeds, England...
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  1. Death, of Miss Osburn.
    The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912) Saturday 20 February 1892 p 409 Article
    ... announce the death of Miss Lucy Osburn, which occurred at Harrogate, at the residence of her sister, on ... Death of Miss Osburn. It is with great regret (says The Hospital of January 9) that we have to ... 236 words
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  2. THE INFIRMARY COMMITTEE'S REPORT ON MISS OSBURN.
    Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932) Saturday 24 September 1870 p 7 Article
    ... THE INFIRMARY COMMITTEE'S REPORT ON MISS OSBURN.     The committee have issued their ... 995 words
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  3. MISS OSBURN AND THE COMMITTEE OF THE SYDNEY INFIRMARY.
    Freeman's Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932) Saturday 24 September 1870 p 8 Article
    ... MISS OSBURN AND THE COMMIT-TEE OF THE SYDNEY INFIR-MARY.     On the 23rd July last we ... Infirmary, in calling upon Miss Osburn to answer certain slanders published of her and the management of the ... 857 words
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  1. Thomas L. Kane and Elizabeth W. Kane Collection
    Kane, Thomas Leiper, 1822-1883; Kane, Elizabeth Wood, 1836-1909
    [ Map, Unpublished : 1762 ]
    View online
    Thomas L. Kane and Elizabeth W. Kane Collection
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  1. Nursing Australia
    Nursing Australia
    Created by Camermic, 8 items.

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  1. Lucy Osburn and her five Nightingale nurses / M. P. Susman
    Susman, M. P.
    [ Book : 1965 ]
    At State Library of NSW
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  2. Lucy Osburn
    Seppings, Joan
    [ Book : 2003 ]
    At PMI Library
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  3. Lucy Osburn c.1836-1891 : founder of the Nightingale System of Nursing at Sydney Hospital
    Bowd, D. G
    [ Book : 1968 ]
    At ANU Library
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  4. Miss Nightingale's young ladies : the story of Lucy Osburn and Sydney Hospital. With a foreword by W.C. Wentworth
    MacDonnell, Freda
    [ Book : 1970 ]
    At SA Health Lib Servic
    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.19)

    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.19)

  1. Roberts, Alfred (1823-1898)
    Surgeon
    ... Osburn, Lucy (1836 - 1891) ...
    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.004)

    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.004)

  2. Nightingale, Florence (1820-1910)
    Nurse; Hospital administrator
    ... Osburn, Lucy (1836 - 1891) ...
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    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.001)

  3. Holden, Frances Gillam (1843-1924)
    Nurse; Hospital administrator
    ... Osburn, Lucy (1836 - 1891) ...
    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.001)

    This resource may be of limited relevance to your query (score: 0.001)

  1. Osburn, Lucy
    Judith Godden
    [ Article ]
    View online
    At Dictionary of Sydney
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    This resource is likely to be relevant to your query (score: 0.489)

  2. Horse-breaking preferred!: Lucy Osburn of Sydney Hospital
    James, Lilian
    Lives Obscurely Great: Historical Essays on Women of New South Wales
    [ Article : 1980 ]
    This resource may have relevance to your query (score: 0.211)

    This resource may have relevance to your query (score: 0.211)

  3. The training of nurses at the Lucy Osburn School of Nursing, Sydney Hospital, 1868-1920
    Russell, R. L
    Educational Enquiry
    [ Article : 1979 ]
    This resource may have relevance to your query (score: 0.204)

    This resource may have relevance to your query (score: 0.204)

  4. Lucy Osburn: a lady displaced
    Steep I; Godden J
    nursing.aust
    [ Article : 2008 ]
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    This resource may have relevance to your query (score: 0.18)

  1. Lucy Osburn, a lady displaced
    Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Radio National
    [ Sound : 2007 ]
    View online
    At ABC Radio National
    Lucy Osburn, a lady displaced
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  2. Lives obscurely great : historical essays on women of New South Wales / editors: Patricia Thompson, Susan Yorke
    Thompson, Patricia
    [ Book, Audio book : 1980-1983 ]
    At 38 libraries
    Lives obscurely great : historical essays on women of New South Wales / editors: Patricia Thompson, Susan Yorke
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  3. Training Nurses
    Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Radio National
    [ Sound : 2007 ]
    View online
    At ABC Radio National
    Training Nurses
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  4. Dennis Adams interviewed by Edie Swift
    Adams, Dennis, 1914-2001
    [ Sound : 2000 ]
    View online
    At National Library
    Dennis Adams interviewed by Edie Swift
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  1. [Biographical cuttings on Lucy Osburn, First Matron of Sydney Hospital, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals]
    [ Published : 1900-1990 ]
    At National Library
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  2. Correspondence
    Nightingale, Florence, 1820-1910
    [ Unpublished : 1867-1908 ]
    At State Library of NSW
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  3. Papers
    Hobbs, Victoria, 1907-1995
    [ Unpublished : 1830-1994 ]
    Possibly online
    At WA State Library
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  1. Lucy Osburn, deceased.
    New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 - 1900) Tuesday 23 August 1892 [Issue No.600] p 6862

    Government Gazette Private Notices

    ... Lucy Osburn, deceased. PUESUANT to the " Trust Property Act of 1862": Noti e is hereby given that ... all creditors and other persons having any claims or demands againBt or upon the estate of Lucy Osburn ... 164 words
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  2. IN the Supreme Court of New South Wales.—Probate Jurisdiction.—In the will of LUCY OSBURN BOWES, late of
    Government Gazette of the State of New South Wales (Sydney, NSW : 1901 - 2001) Friday 23 February 1962 [Issue No.18] p 567

    Government Gazette Private Notices

    ... IN the Supreme Court of New South Wales.—Probate Jurisdiction.—In the will of LUCY OSBURN BOWES ... of the said Lucy Osburn Bowes, deceased, who died on the 1st day of June, 1960, hereby give notice ... 190 words
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  3. Index page
    New South Wales Government Gazette (Sydney, NSW : 1832 - 1900) Wednesday 31 August 1892 [INDEX Jul 1892-Aug 1892] p xix

    Government Gazette Index And Contents

    ... . 6941 Neely B>: A 6025 Osburn Lucy 6862 Pool Jane 5475 Pabst Ellen 6508 Robertson T 5803 Trevana Eliza ... 652 words
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