Edited excerpt from book, Other hospitals in Launceston

The first hospital in the Port Dalrymple District

Among the early arrivals to Launceston was Dr Jacob Mountgarrett, sent from Sydney. He came as official surgeon for the new settlement at York Town where stood the very first hospital, the site of which has not been identified yet and there is no written record of medical activity. However, a list of hospital requirements was recorded in the Colonial Office records at the Public Record Office, Kew, London. The items listed were:

Scotch Barley 28 lbs | Vinegar 4 gallons

Potable soup 1 case | Lime Juice 4 cases

1 small fish kettle 56 lbs | 1 cask wine 33 gallons

At a total cost of £8-9s-0d

After the settlement moved up-river to Launceston, a small hospital was established there and appears on a map by John Dent, drawn from Grimes’ notes of 1807. It had seven beds and stood on the boundary of today’s City Park opposite the end of Willis Street. 

The penitentiary 

This place, well-known as The Tench, listed under military and convict establishments, dates from the early 1820s and is on Sharland’s map of 1826. It started as a group of buildings labelled ‘Prisoners’ Barracks’ as a long single storey building of brick that stood on the west side of a substantial piece of land facing George Street at the corner with William Street.

On a map of 1856 by the Surveyor General, this same site has “penitentiary” written boldly across it. In 1858, George Babington produced a plan of Launceston with a list of venues at the side, including a Military Hospital as part of the barrack site in Paterson Street, the Cornwall Hospital in Wellington Street and the Immigrants’ Barrack in George Street, (alias the penitentiary). 

The original penitentiary block was extended taking in a new building on the south side to surround a yard on three sides with a brick wall to make a secure quadrangle.

The building facing George Street possibly housed the hospital. Although it may have been at the extreme corner of George and William Streets. This portion was later developed into a substantial building of several storeys as Her Majesty’s (Queen Victoria) government bond-store.

By the time Henry Button was writing Flotsam and Jetsam in 1909 his aged informant on page 393, muddled his street names, stating Cimitiere and George instead of William and George. Button remembered this building in his time, on the George/William site as ‘the old bonded store belonging to the government’.

Even today, people mistakenly put the ‘Tench’ on the corner of Cameron and George Streets.

Struan Private Hospital

In 1893, Dr Charles James Pike moved from his residence at the corner of Cameron and Charles streets and leased the property Struan House further along Cameron Street. There he set up a private maternity hospital and nursing home, which he operated for the next 18 years, it being the fashionable place for all the new mothers. In 1904, Dr Allport joined Dr Pike at Struan House. When Dr Pike died, the house was rented by two sisters, nurses Cathleen (Kate) and Bessie Massey, who ran the hospital for another seven years.

[Nurse Mabel Roper] trained at the Launceston General Hospital and was awarded her certificate, on June 18, 1901, after a three-year course. During 1904 and 1905, she conducted a private hospital at 11 Elphin Road, then from July 1906 until 1914, her private hospital was at 264 Charles Street. Nurse Roper’s hospital was licensed for medical and surgical patient and as an example of events carried out at this and other private hospitals in the early 20th century the following is quoted from the newspaper;

The many friends of Mrs. Walkem of King's Meadows will be glad to hear that she is progressing favourably after an operation performed at Nurse Roper's private hospital.

After 1914, Nurse Roper disappears from the records except for the following;

COX (nee Mabel Roper) - On January 30, 1935, at Malonga, Sister Whitelaw's private hospital, George-street, to Mr. and Mrs. C. Cox a son (Charles Henry).

St Ives’ Private Maternity Hospital

Sister Mary Kirkland’s name is still well-known amongst Launceston people to this day. ”Kirk”, as she was known, was born at Cormiston on 24 May 1888, but spent her childhood at Winkleigh where her parents had a farming property.

Miss Kirkland trained at the Queen Victoria Hospital. Her name first appearing as a registered midwife in 1918. She was also listed in the September 1918 telephone directory under nurses. At the time she was living at 68 Frederick Street and working as a midwife attending patients in private homes. Her Maternity Hospital St Ives, 3 College Street, was licensed for six patients on February 8, 1937.

In July of that year, a case of puerperal fever meant no patients could be admitted for seven days as the ward had to be fumigated before use.

By July 1943, the license allowed for 12 patients at any one time and Nurse Suter joined the staff. In 1943, legal proceedings were instituted against Nurse Kirkland for exceeding the number of patients provided for by her license. It was a difficult situation, the Queen Victoria Hospital was overcrowded and had to beg the private hospitals to take their surplus patients, and the private places were obliged to break the law or leave patients in labour on the doorstep.

The hearing was set down for the Court of Petty Sessions on October 14, 1943, but the case was withdrawn the following day. In January 1947, Sister Kirkland exceeded the number of patients due to the death of Nurse Hodges of Naldera private hospital (Canning Street) the previous December.

From February 1949, payment of £250 per annum was made to Sister Kirkland to allow St Ives to continue, and in consideration of the subsidy one bed was to be allocated for use of indigent patients as required. In April of that year, St Ives’ became an annex of the Queen Victoria Hospital and some St Ives patients transferred to St Ives’ when accommodation was short.

Sister Kirkland had special methods when dealing with premature babes. She would wrap them in cotton wool and place the babe on a pillow to keep the child with her and always in view. Feeding was difficult for these little ones and a good-sized eye-dropper was always useful at feeding time.

At the end of 1952, the arrangement with the Queen Victoria Hospital ended and Sister Kirkland conducted St Ives’ as a convalescent home. She was still active in this work up to the time of her death on November 1, 1954, at the age of 66. Sister Kirkland’s name had become a by-word in kindness and generosity to both her patients and staff.