Homœopathic Hospital, Melbourne - 10th Anniversary

  • Abstract:
    A report by Jennings Carmichael, published in 'The Australasian' July 20, 1895.

    Grace Jennings Carmichael (1867-1904) was a trained nurse who worked for a while at the Hospital for Sick Children in Melbourne. She wrote several articles in the world of medicine, including the following article, as well as a book called 'Hospital Children' which was published in 1891. Her many poems were also published and she was described as being 'a gifted Australian poetess'. For more information about her refer to the 'Australian Dictionary of Biography'.

         The Homœopathic Hospital, taken from St Kilda Road

(Material researched & presented by Barbara Armstrong)


It is just ten years since the first wing of the Melbourne Homœopathic Hospital was finished, the foundation stone having been laid three years before that by the Marquis of Normanby, then Governor of Victoria. The new wing, which is the gift of “An Unknown Donor,” was completed in 1890, the finished building now being one of the most imposing structures on the St. Kilda road. A great many people regard the Homœopathic Hospital as the institution of a few harmless theorists, never realising that within its walls the same momentous warfare with disease and death is carried on as in other hospitals. There was an increase by more than a thousand last year in the number of patients treated. This, in connection with the fact that the large building is always well filled, proves that the institution supplies a permanent want.


Similia Similibus Curantur [sic], the homœopathic motto, greets the visitor on entering the hall. The line is inscribed on a fine arch, supported on Corinthian columns, just within the door. To the left a marble slab on the wall testifies in letters of gold to the number of donors who have contributed handsomely to the hospital funds. Among the names I noticed Mr. Robert Reid, M.L.C., who gave 1,000 pounds, and the trustees of the estate of Mr. T.J. Sumner, who likewise contributed 1,000 pounds. Mr. J.W. Hunt, J.P., chairman of the board of management, an enthusiastic homoeopathist and one of the main supporters of the institution, subscribed 250 pounds; also the hon. treasurer Mr. G.G. Crespin, J.P., 100 pounds. Many others also gave this amount, the list being a fairly long one.



                                               The staff of the Hospital

                  The Matron (Miss Campbell) is in the black uniform in 2nd row from front.

            It is believed that the 2nd gentleman to the right in the back row is Dr E.A. Cook.

                                    The other gentleman is possibly Dr Bouton.

The main staircase, leading up from the hall, is enriched with a beautiful stained-glass window, bearing the appropriate figure of Æsculapius. This window was erected by Dr. W.R. Ray in memory of his father, who was one of the first physicians of the institution. The first ward we enter is the “male medical,” a beautiful room, containing 21 beds, 1,433 cubic inches of space being allocated for each patient. The kauri pine flooring, fastened with secret nails, is beautifully smooth, and covered with strips of linoleum matching the colour of the boards.

                                                    The Ward

The centre of the ward is ornamented with clusters of pampas grass and tables full of flowers and foliage. The pictures on the walls and the paintings on the ventilators – some of which were done by a member of the nursing staff – give a brightness to the place, which is completed by the glowing fire burning at the end of the ward. From the windows facing the front there is a pleasant view of the grounds and the Domain beyond. The space for a garden is limited, but what room there is has been well laid out in lawns and shrubbery. The female medical ward is a duplicate of the ward for males, and is situated on the same side of the building. Attached to every ward is a pantry and a private room for the nurses. The pantry is provided with a gas stove, which must be a great comfort to the nursing staff, and save endless running up and down stairs. The surgical ward for females has a novel look, through the fact that half the space is taken up in private ward, there being four off the main room. The prices for the occupation of these private wards have lately been reduced from three and four guineas weekly to two and three. In a corner of the general ward is the “Endowment Cot,” which costs 35 pounds a year to keep up. An entertainment in aid of this fund was held on the 8th inst., at the Kew Recreation hall, by the pupils of Rolyat College, assisted by Signor and Signorina Rebottaro, and I hear it proved a great success. The cot and the bright-faced little occupant remind me of old times.

            Ladies' Aide Association Cot


“Do you like this hospital, Gwennie?” I ask, as she lifts the bandaged leg and gives it a tender stroke. “Oh, yes; I like this hospital, and all the doctors too. Fancy! I keep all the nurses’ baskets tidy. They will miss me when I go! I’m always tidying those baskets, and yet they never seem tidy.” “You have a lovely cat there,” I observe, glancing at the stuffed object on the mantelpiece which was quite an anatomical curiosity. “Oh, yes; but his neck’s too thin. We have a lovely cat at home – a live one, you know – called Boots. Then we have another named Jim. I’m very fond of cats. Jim was lost once for seven days after we shifted. He came back all right, quite by himself. I expect he knew the voice of the magpie and the cockatoo in our backyard.” Gwennie was a communicative little chatter-box, and I could readily understand her popularity in the ward. She was looking forward to going home next day, and seemed quite excited at the prospect. No matter how contented the little ones become under the hospital roof, “going home again” is nearly always eagerly anticipated.


A painful contrast to bright Gwennie is the little burnt child at the other end of the ward. The small, cropped head lies so quietly on the pillow, and she looks at me with shy, wistful, brown eyes; but I cannot persuade the poor mite to talk. She answers my questions inarticulately, and a ghost of a smile lights her face. A velvet pussy, full brother to our friend on the mantelpiece, is close at hand, and I believe Gwennie and she often compare cats with a great deal of friendliness and some argument. The little ones give a touch of brightness and a pathetic interest to the adult wards. They are always popular and, consequently, nearly always spoilt.


Some “good” cases, to speak professionally, are in the female surgical ward, and the kind-faced head nurse gives me an account of them which both interests and astonishes me. I was not aware of the fact that major operations were performed at all in the institution, and I think my ignorance is more general than could be desired. In this ward are four patients, upon whom the most critical operations have been performed, all being successful. During last year 300 major operations were performed, so this is no experimental hospital. The male surgical ward is provided with four private rooms, and it is arranged exactly like the corresponding ward for females.


The nurses’ quarters are at the top of the building, and they are very comfortable and complete. A dining-hall and sitting-room are devoted to their especial use, the latter containing a library, for which contributions are always most acceptable. The Homœopathic Hospital nurses are very well cared for, the rougher work being taken from them, and every arrangement made for their comfort both on and off duty. The ward floors are polished by wardsmen; a special maid is told off for the nurses’ quarters, so that they have nothing to do but purely nursing duties – and quite enough too. The custom of keeping nurses constantly at menial work is a mistaken one, and it is rapidly giving way to a more reasonable and humane system. The probation at the Homœopathic Hospital lasts for three years, during which time the probationers are changed every few months from ward to ward, until thoroughly experienced in their duties. The lectures held in connection with their training are very popular both with the staff and the public. The friends of subscribers are admitted to the course by ticket, and so large is the attendance that the board-room is always filled to overflowing, fully 150 strangers being present the day I visited the hospital. The course of lectures for this winter comprises – “Elementary Anatomy, Elementary Physiology, and General Nursing.” Dr. W.K. Bouton’s little printed list of “Don’ts, for Hospital Nurses,” is an all-round lecture in itself, full of useful hints for either amateur or professional nursing.


Miss Campbell, who has held the responsible position of matron for the last 10 years, was the first nurse trained in the institution, and she seems most popular with her staff. She has a singularly kind face, and a very gentle and womanly manner. Miss Campbell has just been made a member of the Royal British Nurses’ Association, an honour rare, I believe, on this side of the world. Mr. Bennett, the superintendent and secretary of the hospital, who has held his position for 10 years, is a very popular and efficient officer, of whom everyone has a good word to say. Through the courtesy of Mr. T.J. Howard, a member of the board of management, I was introduced to the whole staff and shown over the building. I was very much struck by the evidence of good feeling existing among the members of the hospital family. There is an absence of the institutional air, giving a delightful sense of homeliness which the patients must appreciate. The nurses all look thoroughly happy in their work, and their health does not appear to suffer very much from the constant strain inevitable in hospital life. Of course the young faces grow a little pale, and have not the open-air freshness we might wish to see. But, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes:- “Souls grow white, as well as cheeks, in those holy duties; one that goes in a nurse may come out an angel.”


                                     Convalescents on the balcony

The fine large balconies, running all round the building, are a great boon to the patients. A gathering of “convalescents” has been taken by The Australasian photographer, the patients of both sexes being grouped together for the picture. As a matter of fact, however, the male and female patients are always separated, according to the usual hospital rule. The balconies, furnished with lounges and ornamented with pot plants, are reached from the wards, in each of which is a window opening on to the floor, so that a patient can be carried into the fresh air, bed and all, if necessary.


The resident medical officer, Dr. Henry Cook – who is, for the present, the only house doctor – kindly explains to me the mysteries of homœopathy as we make our way to the dispensary. Although I have practically believed in the treatment for some years, finding it especially successful in children’s ailments, I did not realise that homœopathy could cope with serious disease. However, I understand that the results, both in medicine and surgery, have been most satisfactory. Certainly, in surgical cases, ordinary hospital dressings are used, but only homœopathic drugs are given in all instances. The dispensary is a curious little place, especially to one accustomed to allopathic dispensing.

                                        The Dispensary

The rows of flat, grooved shelves, filled with tinctures; the bottles of powders and pilules ranging all round the walls, have an odd and unfamiliar look. The chief fitting of the room – which is on the basement of the building – is the large filter, pure water being so constantly used in homœopathic dispensing. The out-patients’ department adjoins the dispensary, also the servants’ quarters, laundry, &c.


I must not conclude without mentioning the Ladies’Aid Association connected with this institution, the members of which have done good work for both patients and staff. Two of the ladies visit the hospital monthly, and see that all requirements regarding the regulations are complied with. On these ladies also falls the responsibility of supporting the “Endowment Cot,” and subscriptions towards this fund are earnestly requested. Subscribers have the privilege of recommending through the committee, Sir W.J. Clarke, who is to the fore in so many philanthropic movements, is president of the institution. The vice-presidents are Mr. J.W. Hunt, J.P., and Mr. J.M. Bruce.



©   Barbara Armstrong