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Florence (Flora) Reid, like Jane Barton, had been the vice-president of the Sydney Women’s Electoral League in 1899. More importantly, she brought to her role as prime ministerial wife in 1904–05 her extensive experience as the wife of a colonial premier.
A family with very young children, the Reids did not move to Melbourne during George Reid’s prime ministership. Florence Reid’s official duties during these eleven months were not extensive, as the first Sydney-based prime ministers (Edmund Barton, JC Watson and Reid) all had their homes in Sydney and boarded in Melbourne. This says less about the official role of the three prime ministerial wives, however, than Sydney’s power-broking prominence. Most of the unofficial campaigning and networking that all three men depended on took place in Sydney – within their electorates, their parties, and influential social circles.
Little is recorded of this work, and it was not until their London years in Australia House (1910–16), that Florence Reid’s social expertise and official duties were recorded. She almost literally stepped off the ship on her arrival from Australia in May 1910 to arrange an official reception for a United States delegation. A year later, on 25 August 1911, at Glasgow’s Clydebank shipyards she launched Australia’s first battle cruiser, the HMAS Australia.
Florence Reid was acknowledged in London as the indispensable consort of the High Commissioner, and also as an inexhaustible worker for the war effort, particularly for convalescent servicemen. In August 1917, with Queen Mary, she was one of the first recipients of the award Dame Grand Cross in the Order of the British Empire. After the death of George Reid in 1918, Florence Reid remained closely involved in work for returned servicemen, first in England and then in Australia. She died at her home in Rose Bay, Sydney in 1950.
McMinn, WG, George Reid, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1989.
Reid, George, My Reminiscences, Cassell, Melbourne, 1917.
From the National Archives of Australia collection
Deaths: Sir George Reid, 1909–23, NAA: A2910, 416/1/1
Condolences, death of Sir George Reid, 1918–19, NAA: A2, 1919/1834