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Dame Alice Isabel Chisholm (1856–1954)

Alice Chisholm, by George Lambert, 1918

Alice Chisholm, by George Lambert, 1918

Australian War Memorial

The death of Dame Alice Isabel Chisholm, aged 97, at her residence, "Bolderwood," West Pennant Hills, on Sunday night, has removed another link in a pioneering Goulburn district family.

Dame Alice was born at Grena, near Goulburn, the daughter of the late Major and Mrs. R. Morphy, and was a colourful figure in the city and district's activities for many years.

She was the second Australian to become a Dame, Dame Nellie Melba being the first.

Despite her advanced age, Dame Alice enjoyed good health until the time of her death. She suffered a stroke at her home on Sunday night and died soon afterwards.

She married the late Mr. William Alexander Chisholm and moved to Merrilla, Goulburn, after her wedding. Surviving members of the family are two sons, Mr. W. M. Chisholm. of Merrilla, and Mr. H. B. Chisholm of West Pennant Hills, and a daughter, Mrs. M. R. Ward of Sussex, England, who married Archdeacon J. W. Ward, of Monaro and Goulburn, one-time Vice-Dean of St. Saviour's Cathedral.

The funeral will take place at the Church of England Cemetery, Kippilaw, tomorrow afternoon after a service in St. Saviour's Cathedral, commencing at 2.30. 

Dame Alice will long be remembered by members of the forces, and ex-servicemen and women, for her splendid work during and after the 1914-18 war.

She was organiser and superintendent of the Soldiers' Club and Rest Camp at Kantara, Suez Canal and was known to almost every member of the forces.

On her return to Goulburn and district, Dame Alice showed a keen interest in the welfare of ex-servicemen and was one of the original benefactors of the Soldiers' Club.

She always took a keen interest in the work of the Church of England in Goulburn and district centres and was a regular worshipper.

Mr. M. C. Morphy, of Kooringaroo soldier settlement, near Goulburn, is a nephew of the deceased.

It would be a gross under-statement to affirm that Dame Alice Chisholm will always be held in affectionate memory by the thousands of Australian Light Horsemen, who served in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns of 1916-1918.

Early in the war, when all Australian troops overseas were concentrated in Egypt, Mrs. Chisholm established a canteen in Heliopolis, but this was not the canteen for which she was to become famous.

After Gallipoli, and then the departure of the rest of the Australians for France, the Suez Canal was the first line of defence. From here, the Light Horse with No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps pushed out into the desert of Sinai to hold and later defeat the enemy in the battles round Romani in August, 1916.

Early in 1916, Miss Rout from New Zealand, Mrs. Chisholm and Miss Rania McPhillamy (who after the war became Mrs. Single, wife of the late much-loved commander of the 4th L.H. Field Ambulance) decided to form, at their own expense, a canteen at Kantara, a lonely outpost on the west bank of the Canal.

Their intrepid venture was not at first encouraged by the authorities, who were anxious about their isolation—the only white women for 20 miles with, at times, only a brigade between them and the enemy. Miss Rout resigned through illness, but the other two carried on. Little did they (or the authorities) visualise what they had started.

At first, one remembers their lone tent with, outside it, a table and some packing cases—just off the road opposite the pontoon bridge over the Canal. This was the setting-out point for all troops entering the fighting zone. The troops riding in column in the dust with Egyptian heat, flies and mosquitoes, were amazed to behold these two really "dinkum Aussies." There they were, handing up to the riders oranges and "eggs-a-cook" (hard-boiled—who wants to be told what that means). If you could break off from the column, a cup of tea was your prize—given with affectionate greeting and motherly smile. Here was true Australian bush hospitality in surely its unbelievably unique setting—and did the boys appreciate it!

As the campaign developed over the years 1916-1918, Kantara became its main base with a permanent population in various depots of 60,000. It was not long before such leaders as Generals Chavel, Ryric and McArthur-Onslow, pressed for some official assistance to the two lone ladies. The tiny canteen—a mere mustard seed—soon blossomed by their energy, devotion and ability into a large hostel. A group of buildings constructed of wood and hessian appeared—dormitories and dining rooms, with a staff of Egyptian "wallads." Eggs-a-cook gave place to three course meals, and there were shower-baths—the height of luxury. Generals and troopers Australians, Tommies, Jocks all accepted the gracious hospitality while on their way to and from leave in Egypt.

The growth of the canteen can be measured by the statement in the official War History of the A.I.F. Volume VII that, on one occasion, 60,000 eggs were cooked in the kitchens in one day. This was an addition to the rations of a whole division camped en route near by. Late in the campaign, Miss McPhillamy, with General Allenby's consent, established branch canteens in Jerusalem and after the Armistice, at Rafa. Eventually the financial profits from the canteens involved a sum of considerable size. The two ladies insisted that the whole of this amount went back to the troops as "comforts": for instance, on troopships taking the boys home. It is interesting to note that a considerable sum which was left over was donated by Dame Alice to help form the Goulburn Returned Soldiers' Club—for this club was originally conceived in the mind of the same very wonderful lady. While there are Light Horsemen alive "We will remember" Dame Alice Chisholm. —R.G.W.

Original publication

Additional Resources

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Citation details

'Chisholm, Dame Alice Isabel (1856–1954)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 27 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Alice Chisholm, by George Lambert, 1918

Alice Chisholm, by George Lambert, 1918

Australian War Memorial

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Morphy, Alice Isabel

3 July, 1856
Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia


31 May, 1954 (aged 97)
Pennant Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Organisations