Sydney’s Second Best Kept Secret is a rare, unchanged example of a late 19th century major institutional complex, which was built in one major phase, and survives along the foreshores of Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River. The only other surviving example is Callan Park.
This building, designed by John Sulman, was commissioned following the death of Thomas Walker in 1886 and built with the £100,000 bequest from his estate for this purpose. A further £50,000 was provided by his daughter Eadith, sister Joanna and Eadith’s companion, Anne Sulman (nee Masefield).
It is a fine example of a private architect’s design in Australia and is considered to be John Sulman’s finest work in this country.
Along with the Carrington Centennial Hospital, the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital is the only other convalescent hospital to have survived from the 19th century.
It is important because it reflects Florence Nightingale’s influence on 19th century convalescent hospital design principles and their adoption into Australian Architecture.
The hospital is also important for its social links with women in allowing them to pursue career opportunities.
The symmetrical division originally organised the building into male and female halves, with communal functions such as the administrative wing, the concert hall and the kitchen sitting astride the main axis.
The principal block of buildings consisted of:
- central administration block,
- concert hall,
- men’s pavilion (West) with ambulatory and court;
- men’s dining room;
- women’s pavilion (East) with ambulatory and court;
- women’s dining room;
- storerooms and
- male servants’ quarters.
The administrative section consists of three levels and a basement. The formal administration area was at ground level, nurses’ bedrooms on the first floor and servants’ quarters at the attic level.
A narrow staircase leads up from the second floor to the belltower with its magnificent views over the city.
The hospital was opened in 1893 and was used for convalescents until World War II. The patients were not charged for their care; Walker’s endowment providing for four week stays with a provision for further month if necessary.
The military took possession in 1943 and it became the 3rd Australian Women’s Hospital until 1946 when the Perpetual Trustees regained control and it continued as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when it was no longer a viable proposition. Control was then given to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital who currently use it as Rivendell Adolescent Unit, a rehabilitation centre for emotionally disturbed adolescents.
Three other significant buildings on the estate are the Joanna Walker Memorial Children’s Hospital, opened in 1895, the Land Gate House and the Water Gate House, which is an extremely rare type in Australia. To date no other examples have been found.
There were two modes of transport available to visitors to the hospital during the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, either by road or by river. The latter was the preferred option, where patients were transported to the hospital by ferry.
If you would like to put your name down on a waiting list to be notified of the next tour of this magnificent estate complete the form below. We will contact you approximately two months prior to the date to give you details.
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