In the 19th-century Melbourne most babies were born at home, with attention provided by wives and mothers who had borne their own children; these women were known as 'handywomen' or 'granny midwives'. But some midwives, such as Mrs Sarah Barfoot of Emerald Hill, had undertaken formal training in midwifery overseas. Instruction for pupil 477 nurses in midwifery was first offered in Australia in 1859 at Melbourne's Lying-in Hospital and Infirmary for Diseases Peculiar to Women and Children (Royal Women's Hospital). Pupils paid for their education and board for the program which, in 1862, lasted three months. Successful pupils were awarded a certificate qualifying them to work as a 'Ladies Monthly Nurse and Sick Nurse'. In 1897 the pupils asked to be certified as 'obstetrical nurses'.
As cases of maternal death during childbirth came before the coroner, the practices of midwives were increasingly scrutinised. It was claimed that midwives procured abortions and caused irreparable damage to women and their babies. Under voluntary professional regulation introduced by the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses' Association in 1901, midwifery was deemed a 'special' branch of nursing. A Midwives Board established under the Midwives Act 1915 governed this occupational group until the Nurses Board assumed responsibility for their regulation in 1928. It was possible to train in midwifery in Melbourne without first being a nurse (known as direct-entry midwifery) until the mid-1950s, but a general nursing qualification was required for the study of midwifery for the next 50 years. In 2002 a Bachelor of Midwifery, an educational path for midwives independent of nursing, was introduced by the Australian Catholic University, Monash University and Victoria University.