The ROYAL WOMEN'S HOSPITAL began as the
Lying-In Hospital and Infirmary for the Diseases Peculiar to Women and
in a terrace house in Albert Street East Melbourne in August 1856.
It is therefore Australia’s oldest and biggest specialist
hospital for women.
It was founded by a group of Evangelical
women, led by Frances Perry, wife of the Bishop of Melbourne, and two
young doctors: an Englishman, Dr John Maund, and an Irishman, Dr
Richard Tracy. Both had studied in Scotland and Paris, and were
determined to bring the latest clinical medicine to the colony.
In 1858 the hospital moved to its present Carlton site into
premises designed by Tracy himself to the latest standards. In
1862 it became the first Australian hospital to train nurses and in
1865 it became the first specialist teaching hospital as Tracy was
appointed lecturer in obstetrics at the new Medical School in the
University of Melbourne. It became the Women's Hospital in 1884,
and 'Royal' in 1956.
It was soon a big hospital. By the
1890s it was delivering over 1,000 children a year; by the 1930s over
3,000 and by the 1960s, over 6,000. It began as a charity
hospital and remains a public hospital, serving public patients and
those referred for specialist care. It developed particular
expertise in the treatment of puerperal and post-abortal infection,
pre-eclampsia, diabetes in pregnancy, neonatal intensive care and
infertility. Its clinical school has influenced the practice of
obstetrics and gynaecology throughout Australia. Midwives rather
than doctors still conduct normal deliveries and instruct students.
In 1996 it relinquished its independent Board to become part of
the Women's and Children's Healthcare Network.
plays a leading role in the promotion of women’s health, in research
and teaching and is now also home to the Key Centre for Women’s Health
led by Professor Lenore Manderson. It possesses a rich archive of
patient records beginning in the 1850s as well as of nursing history.
The archives will be open to visiting scholars.
Extracted from Women’s
Bodies/Women’s History Melbourne University, 21-23 June 2001
And this from Robyn Weymouth… firstname.lastname@example.org
Lying-in Hospital is now known as the Royal Women's Hospital. It's on
the corner of Grattan and Swanston Streets in Carlton. It was
founded in 1856 and was originally located in a rented house in Albert
Street, East Melbourne, but in 1858 it moved to its own site in
Madeline (now Swanston) St Carlton. It was originally called the
Lying-in Hospital and Infirmary for Diseases Peculiar to Women and
Children, but this (inevitably) was cut back to the Women's Hospital
and then in 1954 it became the Royal Women's Hospital.
A lot of
birth certificates of babies born there appear to show that they were
born in "Smith Ward". This causes a deal of confusion as it's not
a ward of the hospital, but a municipal district of the city of
The hospital's Archives Department has all its Birth
Registers from 1856 to the present, but they give virtually no more
information than an official birth certificate. They certainly
don't have addresses or any clues to fathers' names in the case of
illegitimate births. There are a considerable quantity of
clinical records as well.
One thing that is well established is
that there are innumerable inconsistencies between the various records
of the hospital and official birth certificates. It's very hard
(impossible?) to tell which, if any are accurate. You simply
cannot rely on 19th century Victorian birth certificates or the
Lying-in Hospital's records in isolation - you need multiple sources
and then work out what is most probable.
Legal requirements on
the confidentiality of patient records means that access to them is not
easy. If you can establish that you are a descendent of a patient
the archivist will search the records for you and provide a transcript.
It costs $25 or is free if you have a concession card.
Applications must be made in writing.
In its early days
the hospital was intended for very poor women - those who absolutely
could not afford any private medical or midwifery attention. The
irony was that they often received far better care than the more well
to do who had their babies at home.