The Lying-in Hospital, Melbourne

The ROYAL WOMEN'S HOSPITAL began as the Lying-In Hospital and Infirmary for the Diseases Peculiar to Women and Children 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.

The hospital 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…

The 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 Melbourne.

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.

Here are some more links ...

Online Midwifery Book 1856-1876