University of Tasmania
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A place in the empire : negotiating the life of Gertrude Kenny

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posted on 2023-05-26, 06:17 authored by Morris, ME
In the winter of 1879 a riot broke out at the New Norfolk Hospital for the Insane in Tasmania. The focus was an effigy dressed in a frock and cap that was set alight amidst a cacophony of rough music. The figure represented the Matron, Gertrude Kenny. Exploring one woman's biographical trajectory, this thesis will examine the tensions and interrelationships between identity formation and imperial ideals of class, race and gender. Gertrude Kenny migrated from Britain to Tasmania in 1858, working initially as a parlourmaid to an Anglo-Indian family and then as a nursery governess of a family implicated in the a scandal over Aboriginal remains collected for the Royal College of Surgeons and whose fortunes were tied up with Kenny's own. In 1870 she became a matron, first training neglected and wayward girls for service and then, in 1878, at a hospital for the insane. Here, convalescing after a serious injury, it was rumoured that she was pregnant and she charged the Surgeon-Superintendent with rape. After an enquiry and hearing that found in his favour, Gertrude Kenny was tried for perjury. My thesis is divided into four parts. The first, Point of Departure, maps out my theoretical territory and includes the search for Gertrude Kenny's native place and her 'placing' in the period prior to her departure from England. In Part Two, 'Marking her Territory', I build on her context, moving from the almost unknown of her origins to the particular households and institutions where she worked. In these chapters, Gertrude Kenny forms her colonial identity in a quest for respectability, authority and independence. In Part Three and Part Four, the pace changes. In A Body on Trial, Gertrude Kenny, having been coaxed from obscurity, enters the text in full force, often in her own voice, and always amidst competing narratives. Her particular female embodiment breaks out from acceptable containment, and she is examined, judged and pilloried. The final chapters examine Gertrude Kenny's strategic deployment of the law, media and patronage, if not for retribution, at least for compensation and the re-establishment of her reputation; and how her desire for place, but refusal to be placed, destabilised the political and cultural institutions of a colony struggling with its own identity.


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