With all the news about the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert it doesn’t take much imagination to compare it with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

The following article by historian Troy Lennon in the Daily Telegraph (27/2/20) points this out.

“In 1918 reports of a deadly flu virus began filtering from overseas into Australia.  One of the first stories that made it to Australia was that King Alfonso XIII of Spain and some of his ministers had contracted the disease.  It was therefore dubbed Spanish flu.

Despite a quick response by quarantine officials, seeking out possible cases arriving by boat, the disease still made it to our shores. The first cases began appearing in Australia in July 1918, with many people confined to the quarantine station at North Head in Sydney.

In Sydney schools and theatres were closed and people were told they had to use masks in public.  By the end of 1919, Spanish flu had killed 15,000 Australians.

With a death rate of 2.7 per 1000 of population, Australia had one of the lowest recorded death rates of any country during the pandemic.  Some of this was due to the fact that Australia heard the news of the disease via telegraph and had months to prepare.”

Currently, two displays at our City of Canada Bay Museum are most appropriate:  “The Armistice and Beyond”, which highlights the aftermath of the Spanish Flu Pandemic and “A Tribute to the Walkers of Yaralla”. 

In his will Thomas Walker bequeathed £100,000 pounds ($200,000) to build the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital at Concord West*.   This hospital was used to quarantine many of those suffering from Spanish Flu.

“Australia’s Top 50 Philanthropic Gifts”

In October 2013 The Myer Family Company Ltd. compiled a list of Australia’s top 50 philanthropic gifts.  This included Thomas Walker’s gift of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital and reads as follows:

NSW Merchant, banker and benefactor, Thomas Walker, became joint owner of merchants William Walker & Co. upon the death of the founding partners and later went on to be director and president of the Bank of New South Wales.

Although vigorously opposed to showy expenditure and tight-fisted, Walker was conscientious and benevolent, making numerous personal benefactions and for a time employed a private agent to seek out and relieve people in distress.

Shortly after his passing, construction of the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital commenced in 1891 on 12 acres at Rocky Point through his generous £100,000 bequest. The original amount was quickly spent, so an additional £50,000 was contributed by his sister Joanna Walker, daughter Eadith, and Eadith’s adopted sister Annie Masefield.

The hospital was run exclusively for patients who were convalescing or in need of rest, fresh air or peaceful surroundings. Having been referred by many Sydney hospitals, most patients stayed for up to four weeks with running costs met by Thomas Walker’s endowment. Over 70 years the convalescent hospital would see more than 50,000 patients.

In 1979, it was transferred to the NSW Health Department and now houses the Rivendell Child Adolescent and Family Unit, a centre for the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed adolescents. 


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