Ellen probably originally lived at Wandsworth, South London. She came to SA in 1852 (?) at the age of 19, possibly alone, on the ship Hashemy. It appears that she may have had relatives at Lyndoch. She assisted the Rev. John Ayling at a day-school held in the Congregational Chapel at Lyndoch, and in 1858 was running a private school in the district.
In 1860 she became the second wife of George R Debney, a furniture maker and funeral director, and went to live at the Debneys' property at Second Creek in Burnside. George Debney's wife and daughter had drowned, together with their servant girl, in a rowboat accident off Glenelg the year before. In 1865 George and Ellen moved to the larger house on the property, "Laurel Grove", later to become "Undelcarra", where George's parents had been living. George was Chairman of the Burnside District Council. Their first child died (a poem published in the Adelaide Miscellany suggests in fact that she lost two babies), and Ellie herself died giving birth to their second daughter. She wrote a number of poems on the death of famous men, such as Sir Dominic Daly and the Rev'd Q T Stow, and composed her own music for the "Song of the Laughing Jackass". She was buried at the West Terrace Cemetery "in the presence of a large number of persons, including members of both houses of Parliament, representatives of the press, merchants and tradesmen. The cavalcade consisted of between 20 and 30 vehicles." (Advertiser, 2 Mar 1870).