Helen Bowie


Nurse, bacteriologist, amateur ethnographer, bird breeder, philanthropist, golfer

Personal Photo 1

Helen Bowie, a resident of Queens Parade in Clifton Hill for over twenty years, was a nurse who studied bacteriology and worked in military hospitals in France in 1914-15. She assisted in organising and classifying the significant collection of stone implements and weapons amassed by her aunt’s husband, Dr George Horne. She was involved in a number of charitable concerns; she was also a keen golfer and became the first woman president of a golf club.


Helen’s mother died in 1884 when the girl was about 11, and she became close to her childless aunt, also called Helen Bowie. The older woman married Dr George Hornein 1890 and young Helen went to live with her aunt and uncle at 59 Queens Parade. She participated in her aunt’s many philanthropic and charitable concerns, includingthe ground-breaking Collingwood Crèche.  She became a nurse and assisted her uncle in his surgical operations. Unusually for a woman at the time, she carried out research in bacteriology at the Melbourne University laboratory. She shared her uncle’s passion for birds, and the two raised pheasants for the table and for ornamental purposes.

In February 1914 Helen set sail with Dr and Mrs Horne for an extended tour through Egypt and Europe. They were in London when war broke out and Dr Horne joined the Australian voluntary hospital unit. The valuable experience Helen had gained in the operating theatre with Dr Horne, allied with her research work at theUniversity, stood her in good stead. Miss Bowie worked at the Wimmereux Military Hospital, both nursing and carrying out bacteriological investigations. On her return the Melbourne newspapers included a number of articles about her experiences.

Dr Horne was regarded as an authority on the subject of Aboriginal lore and customs and made the classification of a collection of stone implements and weapons his life’s work. Helen Bowie assisted him in this task. 

The Hornes and Helen moved into Lister House in Collins Street around 1917. The building housed medical rooms, with residential flats on upper floors. In 1926 Dr Horne and Helen presented the Horne-Bowie collection of stone implements and weapons to the Australian Museum of Natural History. This was regarded as the most valuable and remarkable collection of its kind in Australia. 

After her uncle’s death in 1927 Miss Bowie gave up her work as a bacteriologist and became a director of Lister House Pty Ltd.  Her aunt died two years later. Having inherited money from her uncle, she continued to be a generous supporter of philanthropic causes and welfare work. In 1934 Helen again made the newspapers, when she was elected as president of St Andrew’s Golf House at Flinders, probably becoming the first woman in Australia to become president of a golf club.

One newspaper article, in The Woman’s World in The Herald, suggests that Helen had accompanied her uncle on his expeditions, and continued collecting artefacts after his death. Certainly, on a trip to England in 1935, she took a collection of Aboriginal stone implements to the British Museum for lecture purposes and exhibition. As a keen ornithologist, she also took a recording of a kookaburra to amaze her English contacts. While in England, she took the opportunity of visiting several welfare institutions there. Among those she found the most interesting were the Dockland Settlement, a group of clubs in the East End, and the London Institute for the Blind. By the time of this trip, Helen had been elected President of the Collingwood Crèche committee, with which she had already had a long association. She was to hold this position until 1946. 

Helen remained living at Lister House where she died in 1959, leaving generous bequests to various relatives and charities. Her collection of pictures, inherited from her uncle, were bequeathed to the Shepparton Art Gallery.

House Photo 1

59 Queens Parade Clifton Hill

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1873 Digger’s Rest or Sunbury , Victoria
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
59 Queens Parade Clifton Hill Extant
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
29 May 1959 Melbourne Cremated; no memorial

LeaderThe AgeThe ArgusAustralasianPunch;Weekly Times;The Herald;The Adelaide Advertiser;The Prahran Telegraph;The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) 

Helen's war work in France

Welfare work in London slums

Online Image links

Museum collection