Matron Sophia Morphy

Etching of the Immigration Depot, 1868. Matron Morphy’s private rooms were at the front right of the building.

Sophia Morphy was appointed Matron of the Immigration Depot in January 1854. At this time the Depot was located in buildings on the south bank of the river. Her main role was to ensure the good health and well-being of the women who were in her care for brief periods of up to a week. Much the same role, albeit for longer periods, was undertaken by matrons on immigrant ships.

Sophia Wilson was born in Ireland in 1806. She had married Lieutenant Arthur Herbert Morphy of the Royal Navy and was a widow at the time of her employment as Matron.

At times the position of Matron would have been an unenviable one. An additional role was to liaise between the immigrants in the Depot who sought work and potential employers in the community. In 1863 it was announced that if an immigrant refused what was considered fair wages, in essence demanding a higher rate of wage, they would no longer be allowed to remain in the Depot.

The budget estimates for 1860 show that after six years in the position, Matron Morphy received £55 per annum. In her duties she was assisted by a wardsman who received £30. The government’s budget allowed for only £1,000 per annum to be spent on provisions for the Immigration Depot, another of the reasons why migrants moved quickly through the Depot. Although the Legislative Council agreed in 1860 that the matron was underpaid, an increase to £75 was not approved until 1861, with a subsequent increase in 1862 to £100. A fringe benefit was the rooms provided in the William Street wing of the new Immigration Depot from its completion in 1866.

Ill-health compelled Matron Morphy to vacate the position after twenty-five years of service. Dr Hobbs, who as a government medical officer with an interest in the welfare of immigrants would have known her well, was one of those who petitioned Parliament in 1874 asking that she be provided with a competency for her old age. A retiring allowance of £18 6s. 8d. was provided. She died in 1880 at Harcourt Street in Fortitude Valley, the home of Walter S. Taylor, a public servant. Her daughter Barbara had married Taylor in 1867.

At the time of her death, Sophia Morphy had effects to the value of £5. She was buried in Toowong Cemetery, largely unremembered as one of Queensland’s earliest female public servants.