The Rockhampton Hospital - a 150-year story

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Rockhampton's first hospital was constructed on the south bank of Fitzroy River in 1858 on what is now Victoria Parade between Albert and Cambridge Streets. The flimsy prefabricated building had been shipped from Sydney to Rockhampton during the rush to the newly-discovered Canoona Goldfields, just north of Rockhampton.[1] Dr A C Robertson, who had been a Gladstone resident, went to Canoona at the time of the gold rush but soon returned to Rockhampton where he established a medical practice. He was also appointed as the first House Surgeon at the hospital but held the position for only a short time.[2]

This hospital ceased operation by mid-1859 at which time the residents petitioned Governor Denison that the private hospital site be set aside as a "Benevolent Institution" to be funded by fees and fines raised at the Court House. Subsequently two organisations were established which would have a long-term role in the care of the sick and needy in Rockhampton. These were the Port Curtis and Leichhardt District Hospital and the Benevolent Society.[3]

An enlarged hospital was opened on the river bank in 1860 and an additional wing was added in 1865.[3] In 1861, Dr William Callaghan arrived in Rockhampton and was appointed District Coroner and Government Medical Officer as well as taking on the role of House Surgeon at the hospital.[2] Horses were among his many interests and Rockhampton's Callaghan Park Racecourse is named after him.

The more substantial hospital served the community until 1868, by which time it had become very overcrowded. It is reported that:

"Under treatment in 1866 there were 291 males and 30 females, a total of 321, and 274 had been discharged. Deaths, mostly males, numbered 21. The number of patients treated was 381, a considerable increase on former years. The Matron was Mrs. Holland and the secretary-treasurer Mr J F Beddek, who also occupied the position for some years when the new hospital was built on the Range".[3]

By 1865, the Hospital Committee had decided to erect a new hospital on a more elevated site on the Athelstane Range and began the planning. The foundation stone was laid in 1867 by the Mayor, Captain R M Hunter and the opening was commemorated with a Ball on 26 June 1868.[1] The large two storeyed brick building shown in the 1886 etching below (Image 1) was constructed to the design of a local architect, John Thomas Thorne.[4]

Port Curtis & Leichhardt District Hospital 1886

On 15 July 1868, 25 patients were transferred from the old to the new hospital using Mr W. L. Martin's large coach.[1] [a href="#3">3]

The new buildings were extended in the late 1870's and additional buildings were constructed on the site in the 1880's. These were designed by another local architect, John Wilson.[4] In his book on the history of Rockhampton, Mr A E Hermann provides considerable detail on the difficulties which the local committee experienced in dealing with Governments of the day.

The Hospital's name was changed from Port Curtis and Leichhardt District Hospital to the Rockhampton Hospital in 1895. The reason for the name change is an interesting story in itself. Mr D. T. Mulligan, an Irishman, had been a wealthy local businessman and donor to the Port Curtis and Leichhardt District Hospital. When he died in Ireland in 1894 he left a bequest of 2000 pounds to the 'Rockhampton Hospital'. Since there was no organisation with that name, a question was raised as to whether the bequest could be intended for the Children's Hospital. The executors of his will sought guidance from the Supreme Court as to where the funds should go. Mr Justice Real ruled that the funds should go to the Port Curtis and Leichhardt District Hospital. However, after this experience, the Hospital Committee resolved to change the name of the organisation to the Rockhampton Hospital to avoid any future confusion.

Fortunately, there are quite a number of images available of the first buildings on the Athelstane Range site. The next photograph (Image 2) which was taken in 1895 is very similar to the etching shown above. The photograph was published in the Sydney Mail on 04 May 1895.

Rockhampton Hospital 1895

Another view of the original hospital is provided in the image below (Image 3) which is an 1884 etching of the end-on view of the building from the main gate in Canning Street. This sketch was published in the 1884 Christmas supplement of the Capricornian newspaper.

Port Curtis & Leichhardt District Hospital 1884

Perhaps the most amazing view of all is provided by this wide format early 1900's photograph which shows the building and a number of staff-members as well as Rockhampton's first ambulance vehicle (Image 4).

Rockhampton Hospital Staff 1915

Yet another view from 1902 shows the hospital from the western side and also shows the large Medical Superintendent's residence in the foreground (Image 5). When the site of this residence was required for hospital expansion, it was relocated to Quarry Street to be used as the isolation ward. The new Superintendent's residence was sonstructed facing Canning Street.

Rockhampton Hospital 1902

Another large wing of the early hospital was at right angles to the original building extending towards North Street (Image 6).

Early ward block at Rockhampton Hospital

Although the remaining nineteenth century buildings on the Rockhampton Hospital site were demolished in 1986, many other notable buildings co-existed with them for decades. We will examine some of these, based on information and photographs which are part of the ACHHA collection.

A very well-known building on the site was the Lady Goodwin Maternity Hospital which was on the western end of the main building running parallel to North Street (Image 7).


Lady Goodwin Hospital Rockhampton

This building was opened as a maternity hospital in 1930 to replace the previous Women's Hospital which had been located in West Street. Note the tall building in the centre of the photograph. This was a lift tower constructed as part of the Lady Goodwin project which formed link between the original hospital seen on the right hand side of the photograph and the Lady Goodwin on the left. This would have provided lift access to the earlier buildings for the first time.

Soon after the relocation of the Women's hospital staff to the Lady Goodwin, the Hospitals Committee integrated the two sets of nursing staff under the leadership of Sarah Maud Green who had been Matron of the Women's Hospital.

This view of the Lady Goodwin from North Street shows a better overall view of this new wing and also shows the link to the original buildings (Image 8). This photograph also shows another view of the wing of the original hospital as seen in a previous photograph (Image 6).


Lady Goodwin Hospital Rockhampton

Nurses' quarters were one of the features of all early hospitals since trainees and nurses were required to 'live-in'. The 1930 era panoramic photograph below shows the hospital from the Quarry Street side (Image 9). The building in the foreground is the first major nurses' quarters constructed around 1929. Some parts of these building were relocated from the former Children's Hospital on the corner of Agnes Street and Denham Street Extended. To put some these developments in context, the Women's Hospital, the Children's Hospital and the Rockhampton Hospital had been three separate facilities, each run by its own board or committee until 1925. At this time, the Government started to play a greater role in funding the hospitals and they were all brought under the management of a single Hospitals Board which was also responsible for other regional hospitals which had previously been self-managed. Hence the Women's Hospital relocation and the cannibalising of Children's Hospital buildings for use on the Canning Street site.


Rockhampton Hospital 1930's

Unfortunately, these buildings were destroyed by fire on 28 September 1945 when many nurses lost their possessions. The sad sight of the fully burned-out building is depicted in the two photographs below (Images 10 and 11).

Rockhampton Hospital Nurses' Quarters fire 1945Rockhampton Hospital Nurses' Quarters fire 1945

The fire left the hospital without quarters for the nurses. However, since the war was at an end, there were many demountable army huts available and these were soon pressed into service. It was not until July 1954 that a new nurses' quarters building with accommodation for 169 staff was opened (Image 12). These quarters which were used by so many nurses were demolished in mid-2008 to make way for further redevelopment.


Rockhampton Hospital Nurses' Quarters opened 1954

Fortunately, there are a number of aerial photographs available which allow us to appreciate the overall layout of the hospital at different times. This one was taken around 1954 (Image 13).

Aerial view of Rockhampton Hospital 1954

In this photograph the original 1868 building can be seen towards the centre left of the photograph, plus the lift tower and the Lady Goodwin. The building on the corner of North and Quarry Streets (lower right of the photograph) is the boiler house and laundry (now called the Building Engineering and Maintenance Building). This is one of only two early buildings still in existence on the site in 2016. The large, multi-storey building in the centre is the nurses' quarters opened in July 1954. Notice that there is now a large complex of buildings facing Canning Street which are discussed below.

A further insight into the changing face of the hospital can be gained from this 1965 aerial photograph (Image 14).

Aerial view of Rockhampton Hospital 1965

The nurses' quarters still dominate the photograph although in competition with the large building in the centre which is a Commonwealth-funded Chest Clinic and Commonwealth Pathology Laboratory. This was built in 1955-56. The building to the left of that is a new maternity building which replaced the original Lady Goodwin which can still be seen on the right of the photograph. The Lady Goodwin building was converted for use as private wards. The split-level building at bottom-left houses four flats built to accommodate medical staff. These were removed intact in mid-2010.

The cluster of buildings on Canning Street between the main entrance and the medical staff quarters underwent a number of changes over the years and served multiple purposes. The large L-shaped building closest to the Canning Street entrance was constructed in 1938 as an Outpatients' Department and Sister Kenny Clinic. It was opened by the Minister for Health and Home Affairs, Mr E M Hanlon on 25 June 1939.[4] A view of the building from a northerly aspect may be seen in the 1954 aerial photograph above. The building was later converted to a therapies block. After its demolition in about 1997 a dental clinic was built on part of the site. This ceased operation at the end of 2007 when a new $7.15 million Community Dental Clinic was opened in Quarry Street.

This is a closer view of the therapies building which was designed by the architect who designed the Rockhampton City Hall and was built from similar bricks (Image 15).

Rockhampton Hospital Outpatients Department and Sister Kenny Clinic ca. 1939

The building closest to the medical staff quarters in the above aerial photograph is a Superintendent's Residence which was constructed in 1936. This building (and the fence in front of it) is heritage listed and is still in existence, now known as Sandrock House.

While on-going improvements in medical science and treatment regimes are good news, unfortunately these advances leave no room for sentiment when it comes to deciding the fate of our hospital buildings which are demolished and replaced on a regular basis. Even though the therapies building was heritage listed the Queensland Government had it demolished ostensibly to build a car park!

Another major development on the site was the construction of a multi-storey surgical block. This building was opened on 6th June 1973 by Hon. S. D. Tooth, Minister for Health. Part of the Lady Goodwin construction was removed and the building was inserted into the gap as can be seen in this 1972 aerial photograph (Image 16). This building had a relatively short service life.

Aerial View of the Rockhampton Hospital 1973

The year 1986 marked a watershed in the story of this hospital site since all of the early buildings were demolished. The site has undergone a continuous series of transformations ever since. The major modern building which replaced all of the demolished buildings was the Medical Service Building which was opened on October 1st 1986 and continues in service to the present day. This is a site view soon after the opening of the new building. The 1954 nurses quarters are still a prominent part of the hospital (Image 17).

The Rockhampton Hospital Medical Services Building in October 1986

One project which was completed in April 2008 was an $8.43 m staff accommodation block to house up to 40 staff in 1, 2 and 3 bedroom units. This building is pictured below (Image 18). At this time the Government projected that $75.6 m was about to be spent on a new emergency unit and 30 additional medical beds. $1.8 m was spent on a new Blood Donor Centre in Quarry Street.

Rockhampton Hospital staff accommodation building 2008

However, the major project completed in May 2015 was a $155 m seven storey ward block. Three of the levels are to house cancer care services, expanding services in colorectal surgery, breast surgery, urology, chest and dermatology services. Radiation services are being established in conjunction with the private sector. These local services will reduce the number of patients having to travel to Brisbane for treatment. Improved emergency services have also been constructed to provide improved facilities for people needing short term care but not needing to be admitted to a ward. A helipad has been constructed on top of the building to improve transfer of critical patients to the hospital.

This photograph shows a view of the hospital from Quarry Street on 19th March 2016 (Image 19).

View of Rockhampton Hospital from Quarry Street 19 March 2016

The seven storey building on the right of the photograph is the new Cancer and Inpatient Care Unit. To the left of that is the Medical Services Building which was opened in 1986. However, this is now part of a much larger building which can be seen extending to the left at the northern end (the Clinical Services Building). This complex is referred to as the Main Hospital. On the left hand side of the building in the foreground is Birribi (a residential care facility supporting people with high level disability). Behind that is the Mental Health Building, then Queensland Pathology, the Blood Bank and the Rockhampton Community Dental Clinic. The building on the corner is one of the few remaining parts of the early hospital which is now the Building Engineering and Maintenance facility. Out of the photograph to the right in Cambridge Street is the new Staff Accommodation Building and teaching and accommodation facilities for The University of Queensland to support their Rural Clinical Division student education program. Other services such as Geriatric and Rehabilitation Services are housed in new lowset buildings which are just visible in the centre of the photograph on the southern side of the two large buildings.

Clearly this short account of the Rockhampton Hospital and its predecessor leaves out a myriad of detail but does include many of the major changes to the site. For example, we have not made reference to the Hospital dairy and chicken run in the paddock facing Canning Street! There are so many stories which could be told about the full 150 year story of the site.



1. Lorna McDonald, Rockhampton - A History of City and District, Rockhampton City Council, 1995, pp. 357-358.

2. J T S Bird, The Early History of Rockhampton dealing chiefly with events up to about 1870, Central Queensland Family History Association Inc, 1999, p. 17.

3. A E Hermann, The Development of Rockhampton and District, Central Queensland Family History Association Inc. 2002, pp. 79-80.

4. Queensland Government Heritage Register, 'Rockhampton Hospital - Therapies Block and Medical Superintendents Residence', accessed 17 March 2016.