Tomkinson, Ethel May

Born on 4 March 1887, she trained as a Wesley Deaconess and then as a nurse before going to India in 1914. For eighteen years she was a ward sister and nursing tutor at the Holdsworth Memorial Hospital in Mysore, but her gift for pastoral and evangelistic work among women and girls was evident and she was persuaded to move on and lead a team of 'Bible-women' working both in the city and across a 400-mile-wide circuit. She saw that for this work she needed to live outside the city and, thanks to generous supporters, built a women's centre at Kastur which she named Premalaya, House of Love. For twelve years she cared for needy mothers and babies, offering prayer and still touring distant villages.

At the age of 62, returning from furlough, she was asked to start an ashram at Mandagadde, in dilapidated premises which had been a base for training troops in jungle warfare. It became both a medical and a meditation centre. At this time she was commissioned as a member of the new Order for Women in the Church of South India. One of her Indian colleagues eventually took over the care of the ashram but she was not ready to retire. Premalaya was short-staffed, and famine stalked Kastur. The people wanted Sister Ethel back, and she went. In its new phase Premalaya included a retreat house, a home for elderly workers, a nursery school, hospital, food distribution centre and agricultural project. She ran the dispensary, seeing 70-80 patients a day, until a medical officer was appointed, whereupon she resumed village midwifery work. In 1960 Mandagadde in turn needed reinforcements; she postponed her furlough to lend a hand and finally retired in 1964. She died in Farncombe, Surrey, on 11 December 1967.

  • Methodist Recorder, 28 December 1967
  • Pauline Webb, Women of our Time (1963) pp. 97-116

Entry written by: JRP
Category: Person
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