Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Special Collections Fossickings 20: From ocean to mountain – the Townsville Hospital journey

Have you spent time in the Townsville Hospital? And was that the new or the old one? How many public hospitals have there been in Townsville? It seems that the very first structure to serve in that capacity was a modest, four-roomed weatherboard cottage at the south-east end of the Strand. With a name almost bigger than itself the “Burdekin and Flinders District Hospital” lasted less than a year here, being destroyed by a cyclone in 1866.
Hospital on Ross Island, NQ Photographic Collection ID 348, Willmett & Wyeth Album.
Several locations in North Ward were considered for a new hospital building before a site on Ross Island was selected in 1867 and tenders called in February 1868. By August it was almost complete, making it probably the first building on this now vanished feature of the South Townsville landscape.

With a frontage of 50 feet, wide verandahs and 4 wards, each containing 5 or 6 beds, this was certainly an advance on the Strand cottage but it was not long before the deterioration of the buildings, no doubt exacerbated by the collapse of the roof in 1875, prompted demands for a replacement. In 1878 tenders were called for the next “new” hospital, to be constructed on the northern slopes of Stanton Hill.
Hospital on Stanton Hill in the early 1900s, NQ Photographic Collection ID 4317, Townsville Albums
By 1881 hospital patients had moved into the reportedly “handsome two storey building overlooking the Bay [which] certainly for salubrity of position could not be rivalled at any other site”. Within a few years 70 beds were available and, as new wings were added, the re-named Townsville Hospital was clearly serving a wide area.  Despite major damage, incurring the loss of nine lives, in Cyclone Leonta (1903) the hospital continued to grow over the following decades until the last but one of Townsville’s “new” hospitals opened on the Eyre Street site in 1951. It was to remain here, gradually outgrowing the site and its buildings, for the next half-century.
New hospital takes shape on Eyre Street site approx.1950, NQ Photographic Collection ID 252, W.J.Laurie Album
Just as Townsville itself started life anchored to the sea, so did the various incarnations of its public hospital remain within sight of it until its most recent move in 2001. From a 4-roomed cottage on the Strand to the present major facility in the shadow of Mt Stuart it has been a long and challenging journey.

Kay Jaumees  History of the Townsville General Hospital 1861-2001 is held in the North Queensland Collection.

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