Clan Munro (Association) Australia

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Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson : Founder - Australian Red Cross

Lady Helen Munro Ferguson was born Helen Hermione Blackwood at Clandeboye, County Down, on 14 March 1865. She was the eldest daughter and second child of Frederick, Lord Dufferin, later the 1st Marquis of Dufferin and Ava, and Hariot, née Hamilton, from Killyleagh Castle, County Down.

Helen had another seven siblings but two boys died shortly after birth. The family arrived from Scotland in the 18th century and the estate of Clandeboye, near Bangor remains in private family ownership.

As a professional diplomat, Helen's father had a very impressive career. He was  Governor General of Canada; ambassador to Russia and Constantinople; Viceroy of India from 1884 to 1888: he was ambassador to the King of Italy and to the French Republic. He died at Clandeboye in February 1902.

The male side that family was quite unfortunate as Helen, her two sisters and mother all outlived their four brothers. One died of wounds in 1900 during the Boer War, another was killed in WW1, one died of pneumonia & one was killed in an aeroplane accident.

In 1889 Lady Helen, aged 25, married Ronald Munro Ferguson and moved to his estate, Raith, at Kirkaldy. He was a Scottish Liberal parliamentarian. She took a great interest in her husband's work and often travelled with him to London and attended parliament to see what her husband and the other parliamentarians got up to. Apart from that, Lady Helen was very much involved in many charitable organisations and this eventually led to her very special interest of nursing. In this she was supported by her mother and sister Hermione.

She was remembered in nursing circles as the most eloquent woman speaker in the world and was an expert in fundraising for the organisations in which she became involved. These included such things as the local education board, was on the District Juvenile Court Panel in Kirkaldy, committee work with the Victoria League and the South African Colonisation Society and with the Kirkaldy Unionist Association as well as the National Union of Women Workers. All of this gave Lady Helen the skills, experience and leadership qualities she needed when she helped inaugurate the Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross Society in June 1909. Lady Helen was elected to the executive committee in September that ssyear and as foundation president of her home branch in Fife. She became a passionate and active advocate and leader of the Red Cross movement, its ideals and its principles. Lady Helen's leadership style was strong, direct, and hands-on. She was committted to the Red Cross movement and believed that its ideals were perfect for educating women to display active citizenship in first aid and home nursing.

Her husband, Ronald Munro Ferguson, became Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1914, a post he held until 1920. Lady Helen's contribution to Australia's war effort was immense. In August 1914, Lady Helen Munro-Ferguson founded the Australian Red Cross, an organisation which during the war organised thousands of mainly women volunteers dedicated to providing comforts for the AIF overseas and for helping their families find out more about what happened to men reported missing through the Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau. Lady Helen was no mere figurehead or patron. She created the organisation throughout the country and turned Government House, Melbourne, into a major Red Cross depot. MORE >>

"... remembered in nursing circles as the most eloquent woman speaker in the world ..."