Highlands History | April 24

It was a day of great jubilation when the Berrima District Cottage Hospital at Bowral officially opened on September 4, 1889.

IN SERVICE: An early view of the district’s cottage hospital at Bowral, c1900.

IN SERVICE: An early view of the district’s cottage hospital at Bowral, c1900.

A history of the dedicated efforts of local people to establish the hospital is presented here, drawn from “Blessed are They”, a book about the hospital by the late Win Smith, one of its long-serving nurses.

A public meeting was held on July 27, 1885 to discuss the establishment of a local hospital. Great inconvenience was being suffered in the rapidly growing district due to the nearest hospitals being at Sydney and Goulburn.

Dr Bernard J Newmarch of Bowral and Mr Copeland Bennett, stationmaster at Bowral, championed the cause. A total of 22 representatives from Berrima, Bowral, Mittagong and Moss Vale attended the meeting at the Bowral School of Arts. The Chairman, William McCourt MLA, advised that the Government would give pound for pound raised towards a hospital.

The Inspector of Charities, Mr H Robison, submitted a favourable report to the Government and suggested that the hospital would cost around 1,000 pounds. As half of this had to be raised locally, the meeting decided to immediately open a subscription list.

A committee comprising representatives from each of the four towns was set up to select suitable hospital sites. In May 1886 Mr Robison visited the district and was shown selected sites at Burradoo, Berrima and Moss Vale. Available lands at Sutton Forest and Lower Mittagong were considered “insufficiently central”.

Of several sites in Bowral, one was considered by Robison as being most suitable, and he advised that not less than eight acres be secured. He would not recommend any Government aid for a lesser area and further suggested that a building with provision for at least nine beds was required.

After much discussion at a public meeting, the recommended site was selected. It adjoined the Glebe near St Jude's Church in Bowral, on land owned by Edward Carter of Sutton Forest, and was available at 50 pounds per acre. Carter’s land was part of a Crown Grant made to the Oxley family in 1855.

Being in the centre of the district, the Bowral site was admirably suited for the hospital. Little interest, however, was shown by residents of the other towns, who looked upon it as a Bowral only affair.

While many Bowral residents were supportive, some questioned the wisdom of a hospital in their town which would be used for infectious cases, including typhoid fever. It would drive visitors away and ruin the district!

Due to this objection and difficulties with raising funds, it was decided at a committee meeting in August 1886 to relinquish the idea of building a District Hospital on Government terms. Instead a District Cottage Hospital would be established on a smaller scale and not be used for the admission of infectious cases. It would be paid for by funds raised locally and with the support of Government subsidies.

Carter was approached regarding the purchase of a reduced area but progress was slow. Eventually, in March 1888, the Berrima District Cottage Hospital’s Trustees (RP Richardson, PLC Shepherd and Dr BJ Newmarch) purchased 5½ acres from Carter for 362 pounds.

The Hospital Committee had the site cleared. Harry Kent, a Sydney architect, was appointed to prepare plans for the building, which was to cost no more than 800 pounds. Kent was well qualified, being Secretary of the Board of Sydney Hospital for Sick Children.

By September 1888 the plans had the approval of the Hospital Committee and the Government. 

Of the 16 tenders received, including several from Sydney, that of Bowral Alderman JJ Campbell for 833 pounds was accepted. By January 1889 the foundations had been dug.

A piece of trachyte stone from Mt Gibraltar was obtained for the hospital’s foundation stone. This was laid by Lord Carrington, the Colony’s Governor, on Saturday afternoon, February 9, 1889. More than 600 people attended the great occasion, a landmark in the area’s development.

By August 1889 the cottage hospital was built and ready to be fitted out.

IN CHARGE: Winifred Thompson, Matron at Berrima District Cottage Hospital during the 1890s. Photos: BDH&FHS.

IN CHARGE: Winifred Thompson, Matron at Berrima District Cottage Hospital during the 1890s. Photos: BDH&FHS.

  • Berrima District Historical & Family History Society – compiled by PD Morton. Part 1 of a 2-part series. To be continued.
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