Adelaide Hospital Gets Its Crown

Part 3: 1857 – 1963

In 1853, the site for the new hospital was chosen, just a few hundred metres west of where the existing hospital stood. This move would mark the beginning of a 160-year history with the site, as the new hospital would stand where the old Royal Adelaide Hospital as we knew it stood.

Construction would begin a few years later in 1855 as a result of the gold rush in Victoria which created an exodus of manpower. The new hospital would be built from stone quarried behind Government House and the contracted price at the time of building was £14 000.

The second purpose-built Adelaide Hospital was opened in early 1857. The new hospital was made up of a west wing and a central section. It had 8 wards with a surgery room, a dispensary, and house surgeons’ quarters.

The newly opened Adelaide Hospital. Ca 1860.

However, there was no dedicated surgery theatre, with operations taking place in a room that served as the chapel. By 1888, this was recognised as an issue and a dedicated surgery facility, including two post-operative recovery wards came into use on 4 February 1891, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia. The new ‘‘state of the art’’ operating theatre, known as No. 1 Theatre, remained in service until 1946.

Interior of No.1 Operating Theatre. Ca 1890.
Exterior of No.1 Operating Theatre. Ca 1891.

Other new facilities at the hospital included a dedicated kitchen and scullery, infectious diseases ward, the morgue and washhouse. Due to the nature of their unpleasantries, these facilities were kept deeper into the hospital grounds and further away from the main hospital ‘hub’.

The hospital did not recognise any division of labour between physicians and surgeons up until the 1880s. From then on, there was a move towards specialisation as well as expanding specialties that were not medicine and surgery. This coincided with the hospital’s involvement with medical education in 1885, when the Medical School of the University of Adelaide opened. This partnership is still in place to this day and marked by both having the same book icon in their respective coat of arms. A few years later in 1889, for the first time in South Australia, the training of nurses commenced. Miss Maud Thackthwaite was recruited from the London Hospital and was appointed matron.

Since the hospital site was relatively large, at 14.5 acres, the almost continuous expansion of the hospital building, and facilities occurred over the 160 years it stood in this location. Expansion happened in a piecemeal fashion. By the end of the new hospital’s first year in its new location, extensions to the building were already in progress. And by 1963, there would be 47 separate buildings.

One of the many architect plans for future buildings on the hospitals site. Ca 1891.

On November 2, 1939, by Royal Proclamation approved by King George VI, the Adelaide Hospital was renamed the Royal Adelaide Hospital. The original 1841 Adelaide Hospital was demolished the same year.

After World War II, it became clear that the facilities at the Royal Adelaide Hospital were outdated and inadequate, necessitating major rebuilding. Plans for redeveloping the main hospital and constructing a new nurse’s home were put into place, with the final plan approved on February 14, 1962.

Aerial view of the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Ca 1950’s
Architect’s model of the Royal Adelaide Hospital rebuilding scheme. Ca 1962.

Reconstruction of the Royal Adelaide Hospital began in November 1963, marking a new era in healthcare for South Australians.

To be continued…

Written by Anna Grigoriev, CALHN Health Museum