The hospital began life as an asylum for destitute children
In 1920 the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, was visiting to Australia. On his itinerary was a hospital in Randwick that had once housed destitute children but had recently been converted to a military hospital.
The prince attended the ceremony at which the institution was renamed the Prince of Wales Hospital, presumably in his honour, although he was not the first royal prince to visit the hospital and it had also once been known unofficially as the Prince of Wales Asylum.
The building’s origins actually lie with the founding of an asylum for destitute children, at Ormond House, Paddington, in 1852. The asylum was a place of refuge for “abandoned or destitute children of both sexes under the age of eight years”. But it soon outgrew this first home and the administrators began looking for new premises.
They decided that, rather than looking for something already built, the asylum needed a purpose built structure to house it. In 1854 a site was selected on 60 acres (24ha) on Avoca St in Randwick, with valuable assistance from Simeon Pearce, the Commissioner of Crown Lands and property developer who gave Randwick its name.
The foundation stone was laid in 1856 by Governor Denison and soon an elegant Hawkesbury sandstone building, designed by Edmund Blacket, was rising on the site. Some of the cost of the building was paid for by a bequest from the late surgeon of the asylum Dr Alexander Cuthill, who had been murdered by a man who blamed the doctor for his wife’s death in childbirth.
In March 1858, the first 400 children took up residence, while work continued on a southern wing. At the opening ceremony the building was called the Prince of Wales Asylum, but that name was not official.
In 1859 Randwick elected its first council and a room was rented in the asylum to serve as the first council chambers. They used the room until chambers were finally erected in 1862.
The southern wing was completed in 1863 with capacity for another 400 beds. A measles and whooping cough epidemic that year also made it necessary to establish a cemetery on the grounds. Another epidemic in 1867 led to the building of a hospital as part of the complex, with funds provided by a charity concert performed by Irish opera singer, Catherine Hayes (the hospital opened in 1870).
The institution had its first royal visitor when Prince Alfred came to the asylum in February 1868. The buildings were decked out with flags, the garden was in full bloom and a boy’s band played patriotic tunes. In 1881 Prince Edward and Prince George (Prince of Wales and later King George V) visited while serving as midshipmen aboard HMS Bacchante.
By then the institution had become self sufficient, with its own dairy farm and piggery as well a large vegetable garden and an orchard, with much of the work of harvesting and producing the food done by the boys. Girls worked in the laundry and kitchen. It was seen as a way of teaching them useful skills and many of the boys went on to apprenticeships on farms.
After the government introduced a system of boarding destitute children with foster parents in 1883, the number of residents steadily declined. In 1904 part of the grounds were leased to market gardeners. At the start of World War I, in 1914, a paddock was used for troops to camp while waiting to go overseas.
The Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII (centre), with the Duke of Gloucester and the Duke of York prior to his departure for Australian in 1920.
The government passed a bill to turn the asylum into a military hospital in 1915. The children were fostered out or sent to other homes and in 1916 the building was officially handed over to the military. It became known as the Coast Hospital.
After the war, renamed the Prince of Wales Hospital, it became a repat hospital, looking after returned servicemen. As that role diminished through the 1920s it became a civilian institution known as the Randwick Auxiliary Hospital. In the 30s it was renamed the Prince Henry Hospital, possibly because the former Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, had abdicated. But after serving again as a military hospital during WWII, and a repat hospital after, it became known as the Prince of Wales again in the 50s.
Troy Lennon, History Editor, The Daily Telegraph (reprinted with permission)