One of the brighter aspects of life is to observe, particularly during a general retrospect, that directivity which leads altruistic reformers to initiate noble minded deeds to alleviate suffering. The need for righting a wrong, or correcting a circumstance in which humane action and consideration are necessary, is readily apparent to the many. However, it is that benign trait of human nature which brings forth the few, who in the ultimate, feel impelled to initiate and carry out the task.
In Brisbane during the early 1870's, fifty percent of the population died before reaching the age of five years. The General Hospital did not admit children under that age as the prevailing idea in those days was that they would be better nursed in their illness by parents in their own homes.
However, the parents' inexperience of the correct medical treatment, the financial hardship in the cost of having constant attendance on the children and the high rate of child mortality created a pressing need for a sweeping change in the care of sick children of tender years.
As sympathy is better assimilated when accompanied by relief, these twin factors undoubtedly actuated the idea in 1876 to a few eminent and practical ladies, the leader of whom was Mrs. D. C. McConnell of Cressbrook, a pastoral property in South East Queensland. She also lived for a number of years at “Witton Manor" in the suburb of Indooroopilly, Brisbane.
The Government of those days was not over enthusiastic nor over generous on the question of establishing a children's hospital and consequently the burden of providing the necessary finance became the responsibility of the lady founder.
The establishment of a Childrens Hospital Brisbane Brisbane was cordially received by the residents of the Colony of Queensland as admissions thereto were open to children from any part of the Colony. A sale of work was held in the Exhibition Building at Bowen Park Brisbane as the initial means of raising funds to meet expenses and so successful was the effort that the sum of £1193 resulted.
After some preliminary meetings and completion of the details of organization, it was decided to rent a two storeyed brick building formerly occupied by the Christian Brothers College and which stood on the present day site of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in St. Paul's Terrace.
The hospital consisted of three wards of five beds each. One of the wards was on the lower floor while upstairs a balcony ran round the three sides of the building and served as a convalescent place for the children to play. The situation of the building commanded wide views and in its position caught the cool breezes during the summer months. Several additional buildings for the different uses as outpatients, kitchen and for laundry also stood in the large block of land where the hospital was, thus isolated from the other houses in the neighbourhood.
On 18 February 1878 the sailing, ship Gauntlet arrived at Brisbane with the ward appliances aboard but the two nurses who were appointed did not come. Miss Hillicar who was the first Matron was professionally trained in Westminster Hospital London and the Royal Southern Hospital Liverpool.
The staff consisted of two trained nurses and a probationary nurse. With that true feminine aptitude of discerning a bargain, the ladies committee embraced the opportunity of securing the services of the matrons of two emigrant ships at Brisbane.
It had cost the committee the sum of £50 for the fare of Miss Hillicar from London but by engaging the matrons on the spot at this port, the committee had not only saved the hospital £100 but had also relieved the Government of the requirement which then existed of having to pay that amount for the matrons return passage to England. That was not allowed to be forgotten when the committee sought and eventually obtained, a subsidy of £100 from the Government.
The medical staff consisted of Dr. Purcell, Dr. Rendle, and Dr. Clarkson each of whom took a turn of a week. A consulting staff was also attached to the hospital. An average of thirteen beds occupied showed that the facilities were readily availed of and although the figure may appear small, it will no doubt be remembered that the population of Brisbane and the Colony of Queensland was sparse in those early days.
On 11 March 1878, the first patient was admitted and thus began the noble work of tending children in illness in this hospital. After the hospital was established, Mrs. D. C. McConnell was elected President, Lady O'Connell, Vice President, and Mr. Thomas A. Archer of the Bank of New South Wales, Treasurer.
In the year 1879, there were 105 patients admitted of whom 81 were discharged as cured. Admission to the hospital was for children from two to twelve years of age, but there was a discretionary admission above and below those ages. No child was admitted unless it had the certificate of a medical man that it was free from contagious or infectious diseases.
A small payment was desired for the child's stay in the hospital but the contributions were voluntary. The following scale of contributions were recommended. Every annual subscriber of £l was entitled to vote at all general meetings and deemed to be a member of the institution for the current year and entitled to recommend to the committee, patients for admission as follows:
If a contributor of £1 1 indoor patient or 5 outdoor patients
If a contributor of £2 1 indoor patient or 6 outdoor patients
If a contributor of £5 3 indoor patients or 8 outdoor patients
If a contributor of £10 5 indoor patients or 16 outdoor patients
Contributors of less than £l per annum were entitled to one outdoor ticket for each 5/ subscribed.
The premises occupied as a Childrens Hospital Brisbane in Leichhardt Street (St. Paul's Terrace) were rented on a short tenancy. A suitable cottage in Warren Street, Fortitude Valley, was purchased by the Committee early in May 1879 and became the Childrens Hospital Brisbane at the end of June 1879.
A more compelling reason for the move was due to the necessity to reduce expenses owing to the fact that the income of the Hospital would not permit it being carried on in the original large building suitable for fifteen beds. The Warren St. cottage was only large enough to accommodate eight beds. The situation of this cottage (in present day identification) would be opposite the Warren St. frontage of the building of the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
In the year 1882, Sir Arthur Kennedy became Patron and his daughter, Miss Kennedy, the Patroness of the Childrens Hospital Brisbane. The cottage was small and unsuitable for the requirements of the patients. Moreover it had been disclosed by the committee that unless greater financial support was received, the Hospital would not be able to continue.
In 1883 Mr. A. Archer represented the case of the Children’s Hospital in Parliament and succeeded in bringing the institution under the Hospitals Act which allowed £l for every £l subscribed. A sum of £1000 was held by the Committee and this, together with an equal amount granted by the Government as well as a block of land (approximately five acres) adjoining the General Hospital provided for the building of a new Childrens Hospital Brisbane.
It was completed and the patients moved to it on 11 October 1883. A fever ward was found necessary and built in 1894 owing to the outbreak of typhoid in that year. Much practical sympathy to the Childrens Hospital Brisbane was given by the then Governor of the Colony, Sir Anthony Musgrave and Lady Musgrave, who opened it. The Lady Musgrave Sanatorium for convalescents was opened at Sandgate.
As the population grew, the need for additional space for hospital accommodation became evident and in August 1894 special meetings of the Committee and subscribers were held to consider the necessary funds for the new building. The idea of self denial was instituted and Mrs. Cowlishaw, a Vice President originated an appeal that was made to all children attending State schools throughout the Colony and resulted in the sum of £472 being contributed by these children.
When viewed in proper perspective against the background of sparse population, and the undeteriorated value of money in the days before inflation raised its ugly head, the effort was commendable. His Excellency Sir Henry Wylie Norman laid the foundation stone of the present hospital on 20 December 1894 and the Lady Norman wing (comprising the McConnell, Raff, Cowlishaw and Gray wards) was opened free of debt on 29 October 1895. The Lady O'Connell wing was erected in 1899.
The Childrens Hospital's first medical officer was Dr. Alfred Jeffries Turner, M.D., a child specialist, who was appointed in 1889. It is worthy of note that Dr. Turner, in his quest into the cause of the then prevalent lead poisoning among children, found after much research that it was caused largely by a child's habit of running its finger along under a veranda railing to collect the drops of rainwater and then placing the wet finger in its mouth.
From this discovery, the initial prohibition of painting with lead on surfaces under twelve feet from the ground (or floor area) was made and latterly a total prohibition of lead as a paint material has been proclaimed.
The Childrens Hospital Brisbane in providing medical care for young children, had an unceasing struggle for funds. This was alleviated by the passing of the Hospitals Act of 1923 whereby the Government made up the deficiency between the amount of receipts and expenditure.