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Barbara Barnett

Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women logo
Barbara Barnett

Awarded for service to the Community, service to Health

Born: 1879

Died: 1946

Entered on roll: 2007

The death of Barbara Barnett has left with us the memory of a Friend who, in her own quiet and steadfast manner, was one of the company of those noble women who in all ages have dedicated themselves to a life of service.

This is a quote from the Testimony to the Life of Barbara Barnett, written on her death in 1946 by the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers.

Barbara Barnett was born in Hobart in 1879, the second of six children. Her parents, Alfred and Elizabeth Barnett, held strong Christian values and her mother and grandparents were Quakers. Barbara joined the Quakers in 1919 and upheld their values of equality for all, and the need to care and be concerned for others, throughout her life.

She was educated at the Friends’ School and then trained as a nurse at the Homeopathic Hospital (which later became St John’s Hospital). Although unable to complete her nursing training, she became particularly interested in the care of elderly patients during this period. She recognised the care of the elderly involved not only seeing to their physical condition, but also to their need for companionship and relief from loneliness, and conceived the idea of starting a ‘rest home’, one of the first in Australia.

In 1922, with £10 and the help of one assistant, she opened the first ‘rest home’ in Bellerive. The first night the home opened the residents were put to bed with adequate blankets, but Barbara had so depleted her resources that she and her helper had to sleep under hearth rugs. The next morning a Quaker friend, Esther Robey, delivered a number of items she felt might be needed, including extra blankets.

The Bellerive home soon became inadequate and had the added problem of a lack of water supply. In summer, water had to be purchased from Hobart and carted by ferry to Bellerive, where it was delivered to the home by bucket. Barbara moved the residents several times and by 1933 had established St Ann’s Rest Home in Melville Street.

Barbara’s financial burden was eased by a substantial contribution from her uncle, Archdeacon Barnett, who, on a trip home on furlough from Hong Kong, recognised the value of Barbara’s work with the elderly. Residents paid for their accommodation and performed light duties in return for food and care. Although pressed for funds, Barbara insisted on having at least one resident who was unable to pay anything for their place in the home. This was a far different model from the institutionalisation of the elderly in asylums that had been prevalent up to and including the early 20th Century.

In 1939, the residents were moved to 10 Tower Road, New Town, where eventually Barbara’s own health deteriorated. When Barbara died at the age of 67, Miss Ida Mather, a Quaker, carried St Ann’s financially until it was taken over by the Baptist Church.

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