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Nurse Rout: Pioneer Midwife

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Nurse Rout, c1910.

Nurse Rout arrived at Port Phillip aboard the ship Westminster on July 30, 1841 as Catherine Ford eighteen years old from Armagh Co Antrim Ireland. She was one of two hundred and forty six immigrants who arrived in good health although five deaths occurred during the voyage. The ship’s records show she was a Protestant and able to read and write.

The Westminster dropped anchor in Hobsons Bay attracting enterprising individuals who rowed out in small vessels and carried, for a negotiated fee, passengers onto the beach of Sandridge now Port Melbourne. From there the immigrants either were met by relatives, or future employers, or as many did, walked the three miles to the tents that had been erected as temporary accommodation at Emerald Hill now called South Melbourne. It was from the tents that Catherine was employed as a house servant possibly in the Geelong area. [1]

She met Charles Rout a former convict from Tasmania and a child Charlotte Rout was born June 1, 1843 at Geelong. [2] Charles and Catherine were married on August 5, 1844 at the first little bush church of Geelong at the top of Yarra Street later to be called St Andrews Presbyterian Church. The Reverend Andrew Love conducted the marriage and William and Mary Rowe were their witnesses. Apart from the Reverend Love all signed their names by marking the appropriate place with an X. [3]

Charles Rout, a Londoner, was transported to Tasmania in 1833 as a twenty year old. His crime was ‘larceny from a person’. The story told at the Old Bailey was that he scooped up a handkerchief from the footpath and a fellow accomplice, William Saunders, put it in his hat. But Police Constable Andrews swore he had seen Rout take the handkerchief from Mr Henry Howlett's pocket before he put it in Saunders hat. While Charles was transported for seven years Saunders pleading that he was as innocent as a newborn infant was jailed for six months. [4]

After his marriage and for the next few years Charles worked as a bush carpenter and Catherine gave birth to four sons, none of whom survived. While living at Saltwater, now Flemington, Charles Henry was born and another two children, Alfred Francis and Sarah Jane, were born while the family was living at Westernport. [5] By 1853 Catherine and Charles and their growing family had settled at Spring Grove, now Beaumaris, where Charles purchased land in what was later known as Church Road. [6] It was there that another seven children were born; William James, Catherine, John, Mathew Francis, Phyllis, Phyllis Louise and Francis. On Mathew's Birth certificate it states that there were eight children living and six deceased. Two more children were to die at Spring Grove, Phillis (Phyllis) at fourteen days and Sarah aged fifteen. After her death as a result of convulsions Phillis was buried at the Beaumaris Cemetery while Sarah was buried at the Cheltenham Cemetery in 1865. Records show that Catherine bore seventeen children, eight never reached maturity and there was twenty years between her first and last-born child. [7]

So many births and so many children lost it is not surprising that Catherine was called on many times to assist other women with the birthing of their children. Known for her midwifery skills, she soon became known as Nurse Rout. Tom Sheedy writes in A Hospital for the People, “Near Church Street lived a professional nurse. Mrs. Rout who helped many sons and daughters of early settlers into the Moorabbin world. She trampled the bush tracks night and day in any weather.” [8] The Moorabbin a Centenary History 1862-1962, also refers to Nurse Rout, as a fully trained professional “who moved into a small home near Spring Grove (south of Cheltenham ) in the early 1850's”. Where and how she obtained her training is not known. [9]

In February 1858 Charles Rout purchased land from Stephen Charman for £18 15/-. The land was located on what is today the west corner of Weatherall Road and Church Road. There he built a paling house and planted an orchard and vineyard. [10] Six years later, on April 18, 1864 Charles sold the northern most half of this land to Thomas Wright for £18. [11]

It was about this time the family oral history tells the story of a small party of black men entered their little house. Charles was away and Catherine was cooking in the presence of three of her children. The leader of the party pointed to a closed door and Catherine folded her arms and rocked them indicating a sleeping baby. The black man opened the door, saw the sleeping child and said " Whi phella piccaninny" he then pointed to two loaves of freshly baked bread and then himself. Catherine nodded and he quickly gathered them up plus a tobacco jar from the mantelpiece before the party left just as silently as the had arrived. [12]

Almost two years after selling a section of his land to Thomas Wright, Charles became ill with hepatitis. There had been a number of market gardeners in the area dying of this disease. The use of sewerage to fertilize the crops was blamed. Charles Rout died at Church Road, Spring Grove aged fifty two of chronic hepatitis in March 1866 leaving Catherine with seven children still at home living on the three acres property in a four-roomed paling house. [13] & [14] He was buried at the Cheltenham Cemetery with his daughter Sarah. [15]

Catherine provided for her family by continuing to work as the local midwife. Their oldest child Charlotte had been married for five years to neighbour Charles Ring and was the mother of two children. The older boys Charles and Alfred were already away working. Three of Charles and Catherine's children Catherine 10, Mathew 8, and Phyllis 6 were in 1868 attending the little Beaumaris Common School at that time located in La Trobe Street, a short distance away from their home. [16]

Seven years after Charles death, in 1873 at the age of forty seven, Catherine Rout married James Meredith at St Andrew’s Church of England, Brighton. James, from London, was a painter living in a shed at Highett. [17] In 1872 he was at the Brighton Court and fined for having no control of a horse, driving on the wrong side of the road and not having his name displayed on the dray [18] Perhaps the marriage was not a successful union as ten years later 1884-85 James was living at Church Street South Brighton, near Dendy Street, and Catherine was still at the Beaumaris home. No record of James's death has been found, although a James Meredith died at East Melbourne in 1899 at 70 years of age. [19]

At the end of the nineteenth century Catherine Rout was recorded as residing at Balcombe Road Mentone [20] but at the time of her death in 1912 she was living with her daughter, Phyllis Jenkin, at the Yarra Hotel, Johnston Street Abbotsford. Catherine died of “exhaustion of senility” on Friday March 22, 1912 forty six years after the death of her first husband. [21] A notice published in the Age the following day invited friends and family to follow her remains to the place of internment at the Cheltenham Cemetery where she was buried with Charles Rout. [22]

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Family of Nurse Rout – Five Generations – from left Alice Burgess nee Lees, Catherine Lees nee Ring, Charlotte Ring nee Rout, Catherine Rout/Meredith nee Ford holding Dorothy Burgess daughter of Alice.

Family oral history states in her last years Catherine used to sit in a large high backed chair at her daughter's hotel and tell stories of her life. For example, she had had servants and nursed many babies including Aboriginals. She was related to Henry Ford of the American Ford Car Company. She had been shipwrecked. She was the daughter of the Bishop of Armagh. She hid Kate Kelly sister of bushranger Ned Kelly for six months. Her husband Charles Rout was related to the colourful and influential Henry Hopkins of Wormbete near at Winchelsea. A nephew became the Mayor of Geelong.

While extensive research has failed to confirm or reject these stories the researcher is not willing to dismiss them as fiction just yet. While fact and fiction may have become entwined through the generations there is however, no doubt that Catherine was an amazing individual who played an important role in the early development of the Kingston community.


Jan Rigby


  1. Assisted Immigration VPRS Book 1 Page 62.
  2. Victorian Pioneers Index Reg. No. 10188 & 32175.
  3. Victorian Pioneers Index Reg. No. 1832.
  4. Proceedings of the Old Bailey Trial Sessions, Oyer & Terminer 4th July 1833 page 598 No. 1092.
  5. Victorian Pioneers Index Reg. No. 15598 & 16453 & 17074 William James Rout born at Cheltenham.1853. & Victorian.
  6. Victorian Electoral Roll 1856.
  7. Victorian Pioneers Index Note: many of the newborn children were given the same names as the deceased children therefore an exact Registration number not cannot always be quoted.
  8. Sheehy, T., A Hospital for the People and Moorabbin: A Centenary History 1862- 1962.
  9. While the shipping records indicate Catherine was literate other documentation suggests otherwise. On both her marriage certificate she marked the appropriate place with an X. Given this situation it is unlikely that she was a “fully trained professional” nurse.
  10. Moorabbin Rate Records, 1862.
  11. Titles Office, Memorials No 227, Book 158.
  12. Port Phillip Pioneers Group Pioneer profiles Vol 2, by Olive Howard ( Great Granddaughter) and also told by Mary Wyatt (Great Granddaughter).
  13. Victorian Pioneers Index, No 822.
  14. Bailliere's Victorian Directory 1868-1870 : Mrs Rout Nurse Spring Grove Cheltenham.
  15. Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery, Grave 200, Compartment E, Church of England.
  16. Children Attending the Beaumaris Common School 1868, Kingston Historical Website. [ ]
  17. Victorian Pioneers Index Reg. No. 3684 & VPRS 583/P0000 Unit 3 Rate Books.
  18. The Brighton Court, Series 2831/P0000 Unit 1.
  19. Federation Index, Victoria 1889-1901 Reference 2657.
  20. Shire of Moorabbin Rate Books.
  21. Edwardian Index Reg. No.1388. Catherine's age varies up to 6 years on a number of documents.
  22. The Age March 23, 1912.

Article Cat. People
Article Ref. 364

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