The image above is a beautiful glimpse into a day out and about on the water. Sydney has many beautiful river and creek systems that feed into the spectacular Sydney Harbour, and these have long been a popular destination for a lazy day out and about, used by residents and visitors alike. Yet this postcard also captures a beautiful 19th-century building – The Walker Convalescent Hospital. This building, which many Sydney residents may not realise exists, has a fascinating history.
The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, which is today known as Rivendell, is a stunning building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Parramatta River.
The story of the hospital begins in 1886 with the death of a well known Sydney philanthropist, Thomas Walker. Walker had left a bequest of £100,000 ($200,000) for the purposes of building a convalescent hospital, and also set aside a portion of his estate at Concord as the hospital site.
The executors of Walker’s will held a competition in April 1888 to select a design for the convalescent hospital, a competition won by John Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatricks design was criticised as too expensive but, in mid-1889, it was announced that although his design would be built, the architects engaged in the building of the hospital would be another firm, Sulman and Power.
Building of the hospital commenced in 1890 and the hospital opened in late September 1893. It was built in the Queen Anne style, and positively reflected the influences of Florence Nightingale on hospital design and organisation. The final cost of the hospital exceeded the bequest by Thomas Walker by 50,000 pounds, and the extra funds were donated by Walkers daughter Eadith, his sister Joanna and Eadith’s childhood friend, Annie Sulman.
The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was used for convalescents right up until World War Two, when the military took possession of the building to be used as the 3rd Australian Women’s Hospital.
Patients at the hospital were not charged for their care, with Thomas Walker’s bequest providing for four weeks of care per patient, with the option of a two month additional stay if needed.
After the war, the trustees of the hospital regained control and it continued to act as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when it was no longer a viable proposition.
In 1977 a unit founded by Dr. Marie Bashir, later to become Governor of New South Wales, was transferred there and it became known as Rivendell*. It is a rehabilitation centre and school for adolescents, under the direction of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.
*Rivendell is from the book, The Lord of the Rings.