Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital

  • Date Established:
  • State:
  • Suburb/Town:

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


At the meeting of the founders of the Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary in 1869, a resolution was passed to try to establish a male and female ward, dedicated to the treatment of patients using homœopathy, at the Alfred Hospital when it opened. This did not eventuate, most likely because of objections from the medical establishment.


In 1873 the Dispensary's committee made further attempts, this time to obtain a ward within the Melbourne Hospital. These attempts also failed.


Rather than trying to be accepted by the established hospitals, those who supported homœopathic treatment decided to establish their own hospital instead. However, this achievement was not accomplished by the all-male committee of the Dispensary.


It was through the efforts of a committee of fifteen influential and well-organised ladies in Melbourne that a movement was formed in 1874, in order to establish a homœopathic hospital in that city. The hospital committee (initially unconnected with the all-male committee of the Melbourne Homœopathic Dispensary) was under the patronage of Lady Bowen, the wife of the Governor of Victoria, and Mrs Perry, the wife of the Anglican Lord Bishop of Melbourne.


On Saturday 10 January, 1874, the following letter appeared in The Argus newspaper:


Sir, - Will you grant me a small space in your valuable paper, in order to make known to the public that a movement has been set on foot for the purpose of establishing a homœopathic hospital.

A committee of 15 ladies, under the patronage of Lady Bowen and Mrs Perry, have commenced gathering subscriptions, the first £100 having been already promised by a few friends of the movement.

It is the desire of the committee to establish the hospital upon the principle of small payments according to means, with regard to both the indoor and outdoor patients, making the benefits of the hospital gratuitous only to those utterly destitute. Hospitals entirely free demoralise our working classes. The charities are abused, because the temptation to obtain medical attention for nothing is very great to persons of small means, when there is no alternative between paying the usual fee to a doctor, and then half a crown or more to the druggist for the medicine prescribed, and the free hospital.

If a public hospital were arranged to grant medical advice and medicine to the working- classes for, say 2s. 6d., or to the very poor, 1s., charity would be in her right place, helping those who are helping themselves, and not crushing out with her gifts the last wholesome spark of independence, and converting our working-people into pushing beggars at out hospital gates.

Surely we shall not be the less entitled to help from the public and the Government because we purpose helping the poor, and giving only to the destitute.

Feeling sure that you will consider it only just that the large proportion of the educated part of the community, who favour homœopathy, shall have fair play at your hands, I need not apologise for asking the favour of room in your valuable columns to make the object of this movement as widely known as possible.

I am, &c.,

E. SHANN, Hon. Sec. and Treasurer,

Beechwood, Boroondara, Jan. 9.


Eventually the Dispensary Committee agreed to amalgamate with the ladies' Homœopathic Hospital Committee. On 14 January 1875 the new institution, named the Homœopathic Hospital and Dispensary was formally established. The subsequent involvement of women in all aspects of the hospital – gaining donations and subscriptions, helping to assess the suitability of premises and architectural drawings, selecting the first Matron, and managing the Admissions Committee – was crucial to its early success. Over the years, however, the women were gradually voted off the Committee, so that by the end of 1882 the men took over and became The Board of Management.


In 1876 it was agreed that Life Governorships would be granted to those who donated 10 pounds or more to the hospital fund and to those who had rendered other special services to the institution.  Special changes needed to be made to the by-laws in order to provide life governorships to the ladies who had established the original hospital funds and to people who had donated to that earlier fund.  Life Governor Certificates started to be issued in mid-1881.


LifeGovernor-Melb Homoeopathic Hosp Cert-Small
  James S. Lannan Melb Homoeopathic Hosp Cert-Small 

Life Governor Certificate, 1880s

Photograph: Courtesy of State Library of Victoria [H 2009.161/7]



 Life Governor Certificate for James Stephen Lannan, 1921

Photograph:  Courtesy of James F. Lannan, grandson


Several sites for the hospital were proposed, including part of the current site of the Eye and Ear Hospital in East Melbourne. All proposals, however, were objected to by the medical profession and local residents, and rejected by the Government. Eventually, in 1879, the Government granted the Committee's request for a piece of land on St Kilda Road. Building on the site began almost immediately.



 View from Treasury Building in Spring Street, looking South down Spring Street.

Showing the side of the temporary Homœopathic Hospital

 Photograph:  Charles Nettleton, 1875, courtesy State Library of Victoria


While these plans were underway, a temporary location was found - a three-storey terrace house at 17 Spring Street, opposite the Treasury Gardens, which had previously been used by the Hospital for Sick Children. Advertisements during September 1876 notified patients of the move, effective 27th of September. The Hospital opened with an Out-Patient Department and 14 beds for in-patients.


                  Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital


           (Temporary premises at 17 Spring Street,

                     Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)



It should be noted that this was the second homœopathic hospital in the Southern Hemisphere, after New Zealand, not the first, as declared in Templeton's book about the Hospital. However, by the time that the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital opened, it was the only homœopathic hospital in the Southern Hemisphere.


When the Spring Street building was put up for auction on 25 February 1885, prior to the move to the new location, the premises were described as follows:


Frontage 30 ft to Spring-Street by a splendid depth of 121 ft 7 ins to a well made right-of-way, on which is erected the premises now in the occupation of the


containing, on the BASEMENT FLOOR,

large kitchen and store room.


Large hall, two very large rooms, dispensary, bathroom, two bedrooms, and sittingroom.


Two very large bedrooms, also balcony, from which grand views can be seen.


Contains four rooms and two linen presses.


contains coachhouse, stabling, and other conveniences, the whole now let at

£250 per annum and taxes.

The above offers a first-class opportunity to investors and others, the situation being one of the best obtainable, and with a very small outlay the building could be put in first-class order.


In 1882 the Marquis of Normanby laid the foundation stone. However, the first stage of the hospital in St Kilda Road was not completed until 1885.



                                    The New Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital


    St Kilda Road, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

(In 1934 it became Prince Henry’s allopathic hospital)


The following is a description of the opening of the new hospital.


Thursday 15 October, 1885



The new Homœopathic Hospital, on the St Kilda Road, was opened by the Chief Secretary, in the presence of a large number of ladies and gentlemen, yesterday. With regard to the history of homœopathy in Melbourne, it may be mentioned that a dispensary for out-patients, treated on that system, was founded here in 1869. Seven years afterwards, the dispensary was transformed into a hospital for in and out patients, which was incorporated in 1877. The old hospital in Spring-street, although in a very convenient position, was in a building not originally put up for such a purpose, and, consequently, inconvenient. Several years ago a few ardent advocates of homœopathy resolved that a new hospital should be erected, in which their system could have a fair trial. In 1879 the site on the St Kilda road was granted for the purpose of the proposed hospital by the Government. It is not, in all respects, an ideal position for such an institution. It fronts one of the dustiest roads in the metropolis, and at its rear is a large area of swampy ground.  


                  Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital Nurses' Home



This low land will be filled up at some time, but a considerable portion of it will be devoted to factories, from which much noise and smoke will proceed. On the other hand, the site is near the centre of the metropolis, and it is doubtful whether any more suitable piece of Crown land could have been obtained. The committee of the old hospital have devoted themselves with great assiduity to raising money for the new structure, and have shown some versatility in their efforts. In 1881 they provided a "Bruce auction," which realised £544. In the following year they held a bazaar in the Town Hall, Melbourne, the profits of which amounted to £1,300. They have also given a ball in aid of the land, and have kept a sharp look out for likely subscribers. In 1882 the Marquis of Normanby, the late Governor, laid the foundation stone of the new hospital, opened yesterday. When completed it will have cost about £14,000, towards which between £4,000 and £5,000 is still wanted. The bold and handsome appearance of the building will by this time have been observed by most residents of the metropolis. The practice of showing a red light on its lofty tower at night has been begun. It is built on the pavilion principle, and will easily contain 78 beds. There were 16 in the old hospital. The walls are finished inside with Keene's cement, which will prevent the accumulation of germs. There is a wire mattress on each bedstead, the whole having been made in Melbourne. At the old hospital there was no resident doctor, the patients having been attended to by honorary physicians and surgeons. But a resident medical man, Dr Bouton, was engaged in Boston, United States, and has lately arrived here. Paying patients are to be taken in, and a training institute for nurses is to be at once started. The rougher portion of the work will be done by wardswomen. There are four fever wards on the top floor, with a room for a nurse; and as there is a lift, the nurse attending any fever patient need not mix with any of the other inmates. The total number of patients treated at the old institution was 20,110; and of the 133 in-patients treated last year, the deaths of only 7 are recorded.



                                   Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital - circa 1920s

                                                                         (Rear view)

At the ceremony yesterday, the Rev. J. Turner, one of the presidents of the committee, delivered a brief address to the company. He hoped that the public would soon inquire into the system of homœopathy. Allopathists considered their system right; so did hydropathists, and so did homœopathists. The Chief Secretary had always been a good friend of theirs. It would require more revenue to keep this institution going than the other.


Mr Berry, who was well received, said it was highly creditable to any community to look after the sick and maimed. This new hospital would inaugurate here, under fair auspices, a new system of medicine, which, however, had already worked a revolution in medical science, and was destined to aid very considerably in alleviating the ills to which humanity was heir. (Cheers.) Much praise was due to the committee which had secured the erection of this new building. The institution had a claim on the Government, which had granted to it that fine and suitable site, and had also contributed to the building fund. (Cheers.) He did not say the Government had really contributed enough to what was really a national institution, and was the only hospital conducted on homœopathic principles in the southern hemisphere. It was creditable to Victoria that she had taken the lead in this new development of medical science, as in so many other matters. (Cheers.) As regarded the building fund, and also the maintenance fund, the hospital ought, in his opinion, to be placed on the footing of the most favoured institution, if any favour was shown. (Cheers.) The committee had established an endowment fund, to which some bequests had already been made, while others had been requested. That was a very judicious step. Homœopathy had had an immense influence upon medical treatment generally. (Cheers.) If only young people knew what their fathers and grandfathers had suffered from boxes of pills and bottles of medicine, they would know what an alteration had taken place in medical treatment; and the change was largely due to the principles of homœopathists. He would now declare the hospital opened. (Cheers.)


Mr J.W. Hunt, treasurer of the institution, mentioned that one of the vice presidents, Mr C. Smith, M.L.A., had offered £100 towards the furnishing fund, on condition that the remainder of the money wanted (£500) was subscribed by others. The committee had raised over £400, and Mr Smith had then given them his cheque for £100. (Cheers.) The committee were also largely indebted, not only to the Chief Secretary, but to Mrs and Miss Berry, who had taken great interest in the institution, and had assisted efforts made to raise funds. (Cheers.) He ended with an appeal on behalf of the endowment fund.


A few toasts, including "Success to the institution," proposed by Mr Berry, were drunk, and the company dispersed.



                A ward in the new Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital


In 1890 a new, southern, wing was built. The funds for the building and furnishing of the wing were donated (anonymously) by James S. Hosie.


In April 1891 the new wing was described as follows, following a visit from the Charities Commission:


Although in general design the new wing closely immitates the existing structure, the internal arrangements have been carried out on a much more elaborate scale, and the benefit of more modern experience has enabled the architect to supply many valuable improvements. At the special request of the donor, four private wards for paying patients have been provided on each floor of the new wing, and these, with the two large general wards, provide accommodation for about 30 additional beds. The arrangements for ventilation, for speedy communication of each patient with the nurse by means of a system of electric bells, and for the convenient working of the whole institution, were on a most complete and efficient scale, and the members of the Commission before leaving expressed their belief that the new wing was in every respect superior to anything of the kind in Melbourne. Perhaps nothing could better testify to the excellent working of the institution than the attention paid to the comfort of the nursing staff.  The nurses' sittingroom is in its way a model of good taste. Although the furniture is not elaborate, books, pictures, and art muslin have been used to the best advantage.  Dr Bouton stated with pardonable pride that positions at the hospital are much sought after, and that instances of a nurse asking to leave are very rare.


The Australasian of 1895 included a article about the Hospital, written by Jennings Carmichael following her visit to the premises.


The 1903 publication of The Cyclopedia of Victoria included a description of the Hospital, its origins, and its successes.


In October 1904 a new operating theatre and a new casualty-room were opened.   The new rooms were contained in a round tower of two stories built in the front of the main entrance to the building.  According to a newspaper item of the time: 


This building owes its origin and  its position to a somewhat unusual incident.  Some time ago Mr James Mason, of Brighton Road, St Kilda, met with a tram accident in St Kilda Road and was brought into the old casualty-room, near the rear of the hospital.  After recovering from his accident, Mr Mason offered the hospital £500 towards the erection of a new casualty-room, stipulating that it should be in the front of the hospital. Plans were obtained by the commmittee, and it was decided to add an operating theatre, the total cost of the building being about £1,000. Dr W.K. Bouton, of Collins Street, one of the honorary surgeons to the hospital undertook to collect sufficient money for the furnishing of the theatre and has successfully carried out his undertaking.


In 1906 the Victorian Medical Act was amended to regulate the admission of medical practitioners who had qualified in other countries, and in particular those that had not complete a course of training equivalent to that of the Melbourne University where five years of study was required.


As the majority of medical appointments for the Homœopathic Hospital, at this stage, came from America where the courses did not meet this criterion, it would have cut off their supply of doctors. As a result of pressure, a special exemption was obtained for the Hospital, permitting the importation of one doctor a year from either the Boston Homœopathic University and medical College, or the New York Homœopathic Medical College and Hospital.


In 1908 the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association drew up a code of ethics which excluded from membership those who “based their practice on an exclusive dogma, such as homœopathy”, and forbade its members to consult with those who did so.


The “Ethics of Medical Practice” published in the 1911 edition of the Australasian Medical Directory stated:


The common practice of abstaining from professional relations with homœopaths has not been universally adopted. At least one English and one Irish college have actually ruled to restrain or forbid their diplomates from countenancing them; and in New South Wales there is a resolution of the British medical Association to the effect that it is inconsistent with honourable practice for its members to meet homœopaths in Consultation.” But also: “… yet there are individual members of high standing in many parts of the world who make exceptions in the case of particular homœopaths, and in particular forms of illness.


In 1911 the Homœopathic Hospital had 80 beds. Staff included 2 physicians, 2 surgeons, 4 outdoor physicians, 2 resident physicians.


In 1915 the Hospital had 98 beds. In the previous year it treated 1,341 inpatients, 11,039 outpatients, 3,295 casualties.


By the time of the 1920s the Charities Inspectors had become extremely critical of the Homœopathic Hospital and its lack of essential services and equipment. Its doctors were demanding expenditure on items appropriate to the practice of orthodox medicine.


In 1923 the Treasurer of the Homœopathic Hospital suggested that “in view of the increasing difficulty in obtaining duly qualified Homœopathic practitioners” the constitution of the Hospital should be altered and broadened “in order to enable the Board to invite the co-operation and assistance from the Medical Profession and the public generally”.


In 1924 the Council of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association (B.M.A.) voted “that the ‘Principles of Medical Ethics’ concerning homœopathic practitioners shall not apply to Resident Medical Officers of the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital who are members of the B.M.A”.


In 1925 the B.M.A. decided to allow its members to accept honorary posts in special departments at the Homœopathic Hospital. Many changes were made after this time, as the hospital was no longer exclusively homœopathic.


At a special meeting in April of 1934, the contributors of the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital gave their consent to a change of name. Originally the hospital was to be named "Prince George Hospital", as Prince George, Duke of Kent, was scheduled to visit Australia and would be available to commemorate the change of name. However, as he was exhausted following his visit to South Africa, the Royal plans were altered and it was announced that Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, would take the place of his brother.  Hence the Hospital was renamed as the “Prince Henry Hospital” on the 18 September 1934, by decree from His Majesty, King George V.  The hospital was more commonly known as "Prince Henry's Hospital".


Six months before it ceased to be, the Homœopathic Hospital had treated its millionth patient.


In 1936 Dr WK Bouton, the surgeon in charge at the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital, died. He was probably the last “pure straight homœopath” to work at the Hospital.


The Hospital was located on the West side of St Kilda Road, between Grant and Wadey Streets.  The buildings have now been demolished, and the land is now occupied by 'The Melbournian Appartments' at 250 St Kilda Road, built around 2001-2002.  The Prince Henry's Hospital is now renamed as the Monash Medical Centre.


©   Barbara Armstrong     


  • Created:
    Sunday, 30 December 2007
  • Last modified:
    Sunday, 21 June 2020