Roberts, Margaret Dorothy

Margaret Dorothy Roberts was born on 30th October 1870 in Dolgellau, Merionethshire Union Workhouse. Margaret’s Mother was Laura Roberts who died while Margaret was quite young, but it has not been possible to find the date. Her father was unknown.

In the 1881 Census: Residents of Dolgelley Union Workhouse she was listed as Pauper Inmate Scholar. Some of the others on the census under the heading of handicap were listed as Lunatic (x1), Idiot (x7), Imbecile (x6). Not titles you’d see on a census these days.

Historical Note ( Like a number of other Unions in central Wales, Dolgellau dragged its feet over building a workhouse. However, a Union Workhouse was eventually erected in 1857 at a site to the east of Dolgellau. The building comprised two parallel ranges running east to west, linked at the centre, and with an entrance at the north. between Pont Yr Arran and Fron Serth.

After 1930, the workhouse became a Public Assistance Institution, then later as Llwyn View Hospital providing care for what were classed as the “mentally subnormal”.

In 2000, part of the former workhouse was in use as a carpet showroom, with the entrance block undergoing conversion to residential accommodation.

Margaret was educated at Broad School Dolgellau and St Augustine’s Upper Grade Girls School Kilburn, London

She was sent into service at the Sisters of the Church, Kilburn in 1883 at the age of 13.

Certain information below comes from a purchased copy of Roberts, QAIMNS Service Record, National Archives UK, WO399/7086.

The following information has been extracted from a letter sent by Sister Frances Ashdown (Hon, Secretary of The Church Extension Association) after they saw an “Advertisement of Undisposed Balances of Deceased Soldiers and Airmen” trying to find next of kin.(Letter from Frances Ashdown [Sister Frances], Hon Sec of the Church Extension Association, 31.3.1925.

She requested that in the absence of such kin, could any amounts due be allocated to the Orphanage which undertook her care, and which she always regarded as her home.

It says that Margaret Dorothy Roberts  was known in the home as “Dorothea” came from Dolgelly and was illegitimate. “The mother who was described to us as “not quite sharp” died in the Workhouse of consumption and the child remained from the age of five in the workhouse from which she was sent to service at the age of 13. She was not strong, and at that time was not very bright, and did not get on, and we were asked if we would undertake her care. She entered our Orphanage of Mary in Randolph Gardens February 7th 1884 and was with us uninterruptedly until 1895 as she was delicate, and unfit for hard work. She developed wonderfully in mind while she was with us and when she left us in ’95 she took a post as children’s nurse and later trained first for Fever, and then for General Hospital work. The full report can be read below: –

Historical Note : The Orphanage of Mercy, at Randolph Gardens, Kilburn, was opened on June 3rd, 1880. It was run by the Church Extension Association, the charitable wing of an Anglican order known as the Community of the Sisters of the Church, and sometimes referred to as the Kilburn Order. The new premises replaced an earlier property opened in 1874 at Kilburn Park Road. It was one of around half a dozen orphanages run by the Sisters, which also included the Lady Adelaide Home for boys at Brondesbury.

The stated object of the Order’s homes was to help ‘those girls and boys who are literally without a friend in the world.’ In practice, this comprised girls who had lost both parents, had no other relatives capable of supporting them, and had no-one else willing to fund their maintenance at a paying orphanage. Wherever possible, the orphanage took members of the same family.

The girls were usually trained for employment as domestic servants or schoolmistress.

The Orphanage, which came to be known as St Michael’s home, expanded rapidly, holding 300 girls in 1886 and 500 by 1892. An adjacent building in Rudolph Road, the St Augustine’s Home of Rest, later became part of the institution’s premises.

The buildings no longer survive and modern flats now occupy the site.

Lady Adelaide Home where Margaret later worked as a nurse was established as a result of a donation, in November 1883, by the Rev. K. H. Law, a former rector of Croft, to the Church Extension Association. The Rev. Law stipulated that his gift of £3,000 was to be used for the building of a Home for Destitute Boys, in memory of his late wife, the Lady Adelaide Law, a sister of Lord Londonderry. The Home was subsequently constructed on Christchurch Avenue, Brondesbury, and could accommodate 50 boys.


Margaret trained as a nurse at St George-in-the-East Infirmary, London from Dec 1896 to Feb 1900 and at the time of her leaving was a Probationer Nurse.


From Feb 1900 to Nov 1907 Margaret worked at South Western Hospital Stockwell where she eventually became a Charge nurse

Historical Note ( Stockwell was the location one of the earliest hospitals erected by the Metropolitan Asylums Board which had been set up in 1867 to administer care for certain categories of the sick poor in metropolitan London.

After working at Stockwell Margaret went to Australia.

Margaret is part of a project by the East Melbourne Historical Society researching people from the area who enlisted in WW1. Janet Scarfe is a historian (returned to history after retiring from the public service) and who has an interest in WW1 and WW2 army nurses, so  has been researching the East Melbourne WW1 nurses and the results of her research can be found at

I am therefore indebted to Janet for the following supplementary information regarding Margaret’s time in Australia

As a qualified and highly experienced children’s nurse, she was ideal to assist the Sisters of the Church in their ‘Home for Waifs’ known as Parkerville, south of Perth. Sister Kate, the founder, operator and driving force behind Parkerville, had been in England briefly for health reasons in 1907. When she returned to Western Australia, she took with her at least two English trained nurses for Parkerville, one of whom was Margaret Roberts. Sister Kate and the nurses travelled together on the SS Medic reaching Albany, Western Australia on 29 December 1907 (Passenger List, SS Medic; Albany Advertiser, 1.1.1908, p2; Vera Whittington, Sister Kate: A life dedicated to children in need of care, UWA Press, 1999, pp141-42). No doubt they were very welcome: whooping cough had just swept through the children’s home.

Margaret Roberts spent eight months at Parkerville in charge of ‘the infants’ department’. For whatever reason – Parkerville’s isolation (30 kilometres by train from Perth), Sister’s Kate’s personality and opportunities for nurses in the new state’s developing medical system are all plausible explanations – in August 1908 Roberts left Parkerville for a government hospital run by WA’s Medical Department.

In July 1909, this highly experienced children’s nurse with English training became one of the first nurses at the newly opened 20 bed Perth Children’s Hospital. Patient demand immediately outstripped facilities which made for challenging working conditions. Perhaps that or homesickness prompted Roberts to return in England. She returned 3rd class on the SS Salamis via Cape Town and reached London in September. A few weeks later she began nursing at the Park Hospital for Children in Lewisham (London), a former fever hospital that had been disinfected and refurbished for its new role as a convalescent home for sick children from London’s Poor Law infirmaries (

Roberts was a staff nurse at the Park Hospital for over a year. In February 1912 she set out for Australia for the second time, as matron on a ship contracted to bring domestic servants and other immigrants to Victoria. Domestic servants were in high demand in Melbourne so young women were recruited by the Victorian government’s agent in England (one, Mrs McLeod) and dispatched in groups of about 40. They were under the supervision of matrons to ensure reasonable conditions, health and discipline. It seems Roberts and her charges (about 30 among 902 assisted passengers) arrived in Melbourne on SS Gothic, on 16 April 1912. Mindful of the public fear of diseases arriving by ship, the Argus noted that a female had died on the voyage of consumption, and that several passengers had arrived with minor illnesses (Argus, 12.4.1912, p8; 17.4.1912, p5). Roberts may well have been the only nurse on the voyage; the matrons were expected to render assistance to passengers who became ill.

Roberts remained in Melbourne, and undoubtedly reconnected with the Sisters of the Church community there. They were active in Melbourne with various enterprises including schools and clothing depots. The Sisters were also associated with St Peter’s Church, Eastern Hill, the well-known Anglo-Catholic parish. Roberts also became a parishioner. It would have been a congenial environment for her, with the Sisters, Anglo-Catholic worship and teaching familiar from her London associations, and parishioners who nurses working in the various hospitals nearby (sufficient to form a branch of the Church of England Guild of St Barnabas). Roberts was a member of the Guild. Initially, she worked near St Peter’s as a night nurse in Miss Garlick’s Private Hospital in Flinders Lane (1912-13).

Roberts resumed her specialist ‘fever’ nursing in May 1913 when she was appointed a sister at the Queen’s Memorial Hospital in Fairfield. The hospital’s administration had just been the subject of a scathing report and was under considerable public pressure to implement improvements in care and conditions. Her expertise should have been invaluable, particularly as the hospital introduced major changes in 1913–14 (see W.K. Anderson, Fever Hospital: a History of Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, 2002).

Encouraged by St Peter’s clergy and its spiritual atmosphere, a number of women parishioners around this time entered religious communities, notably the Sisters of the Church, or became missionaries. (Colin Holden,From Tories at Prayer to Socialists at Mass, St Peter’s Eastern Hill Melbourne 1846-1990, 1996, pp105-06). In 1914, 43 year old Margaret Roberts became the ‘eighth worker sent from the parish to the Mission field during the years 1911–14’ (Ecclesia, May 1914). Her name was mentioned by the Anglican Archbishop in his annual charge to synod. She was appointed matron at the aboriginal mission at Yarrabah near Cairns in Queensland, a controversial establishment with a troubled recent history. Her experience, progress from the south and arrival in Cairns were noted in various regional newspapers (e.g. Townsville Daily Bulletin, 5.5.1914.p6).

Despite the formal parish send-off and anticipation in the press, Margaret Roberts remained at Yarrabah only a few months. Ecclesia (July 1914) noted briefly that she had resigned.

That conditions specific to Yarrabah with the recent turmoil in its administration was the prime cause is suggested by the fact that Roberts accepted appointment as a nurse on another aboriginal settlement at Taroom in Queensland, 400 kilometres north-west of Brisbane ( Government-run, Taroom was also a volatile place with aboriginal people from various parts of Queensland brought together in a highly regulated institutional environment.

It was from Taroom in July 1915 that Roberts applied to join the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service (Roberts, Service Record, National Archives [UK]). At nearly 45 she would have been deemed too old for service with the Australian Army Nursing Service.

Margaret was accepted into the QAIMNS Reserve but she was informed that she could not be appointed for duty until she returned to England at her own expense (Roberts, Service Record).

Her call up for duty in WW1 was 29.09.15 and at the time of her application to serve she was back at Lady Adelaide Home, Brondesbury, London

She was later listed as ‘temporarily’ employed with Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS). Date of her first issue of army pay was 21/3/1916

Just prior to going abroad she was working at the Military Hospital Fargo (or Fargo Down), Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain.

Historical Note: The Fargo Military Hospital on Salisbury Plain. (1200+ beds) served the massive concentration of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were training on the Plain for trench warfare on the Western Front. It could be a place of severe cold and wet, with ‘archipelagos of mud’. Many of the hospitals’ patients were admitted with pneumonia, bronchitis and other severe respiratory illnesses which sometimes proved fatal, but there were also cases with gunshot wounds, fractures and other illnesses.

Margaret’s official Active Service Record reads

19.12.17 Embarked for Egypt

28.12.17 Embarked H T “Osmaniah” 28.12.17

31.12.17 Drowned – Body recovered

01.01.18 Buried by Rev E F Packer

The Cox Shipping Agency raised £12.1.11d for the sale of her effects

Several of her records including her grave for a time had her named as Rogers not Roberts. Records on file have been amended with the handwritten name of Roberts and the grave had to be changed.

A letter signed by Sister Rosa C. C. S. dated March 15th 1920 states that they knew of no blood relative and that “Miss D Roberts came to us as a child of 13 from Dollellau Merionethshire & we understood her to be quite friendless, her mother being dead at the time”.

Historical Note: The S.S. Osmanieh

Owner -Khedivial Mail S.S. & Graving Dock Company – Date launched 9 May, 1906.

Builder – Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Yard No 761.

Weight . 4,041 tons, Dimensions: 360-2×45-2×24-3. Power/Speed. 650n.h.p, 17 knots. Quadruple-Expansion Engines.

Originally a merchant ship, part of the Khedival Mail Steamship & Graving Dock Company, she was taken over by the Navy in 1916 and was a commissioned ship of the R.N., being classified as a ‘Fleet Messenger’, which involved fleet support duties, mainly carrying stores and personnel.

On Monday – 31st December, 1917, commanded by Lt. Cdr. David R Mason RNR she was carrying troops and a large party of medical staff to Alexandria, Egypt, over a thousand in all. At 10.30 a.m. as she was approaching the swept channel leading to Alexandria she struck a mine laid by German U-Boat UC 34 under the command of Horst Obermuller at the entrance to the harbour and it exploded on the starboard. She sank very quickly taking with her: Lieutenant Commander D.R. Mason, Two officers, 21 Crew members and 167 Troops and eight nurses.

Margaret’s grave is in the Hadra War Memorial Cemetery, Alexandria, Egypt.

She is also listed on the York Minster QAIMNS Plaque

And also on a roll of honour in the St Peter’s Eastern Hill church in Australia

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