Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington

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In 1820, seven years after the foundation of the Benevolent Society under the approbation of Governor Macquarie, ‘a suitable plain building near the Turnpike House’ was erected on portion of the site now occupied by the Central Railway Station and the inscription on the foundation stone, which is still preserved at the Royal Hospital for Women, reads: ‘This asylum for the poor, blind, aged and infirm was erected in 1820, L. Macquarie Esquire being Governor’.

The first completed portion provided for fifty to sixty persons, but additions were made at different periods in accordance with the increasing demands for accommodation. A development that was destined to have far-reaching effects on the direction of the Benevolent Society into maternity care was the formation on 4 August 1820 of a committee of ladies under the chairmanship of Mrs Macquarie, wife of the then Governor of New South Wales. This committee was the first voluntary organization in the Colony of New South Wales. Its objectives were ‘for the poor married women during their confinement … so that the deserving and virtuous poor, in that hour of trial may experience all the sympathy and relief which female tenderness and commiseration can administer’.

The first accouchement under their care took place in October 1820, and by June 1821, it is recorded in the annual report of the Benevolent Society that six mothers had been confined. Thus began an aspect of institutional maternity care which has continued to the present time. In 1866 it was reported that 129 mothers were confined in the Society’s asylum where a newly completed northern wing of the building was named the ‘Lying-in Hospital of New South Wales’. In 1870 the Society’s annual report states ‘one of the nurses sent by Miss Nightingale from England’ was appointed Matron, and that, in 1877, the Hospital was constituted as a training school for midwives and nurses. So commenced the first formal, organized educational programme for pupil midwives in N.S.W. In the year 1888, medical students attended for obstetric training at the Lying-in Hospital, it being recognized for training purposes by the University of Sydney and Universities in the other Colonies (now States).

In 1901, the Benevolent Asylum and the Lying-in Hospital, an historic block of buildings so long a landmark which the Benevolent Society had occupied for over eighty years, were resumed. The outcome was the dispersal of the various activities of the Society and the acquisition in 1901, of property of seven acres on the hills of Paddington. The property was the home of a man called Dean; his house became the Hospital for Women, Paddington, until a new building was erected and was opened by Lady Northcote, wife of the third Governor General of Australia, on 3 May 1905. It was also in this year that the hospital was granted the title of ‘Royal’ under the patronage of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra (4 August 1904).

In 1906 a department for the welfare of infants, to which mothers could bring their babies for consultation and advice, was established. So the first baby health care clinic in Australia was initiated as an aspect of maternity care. On 24 August 1912, an antenatal clinic was established at the Hospital by J. C. Windeyer (later Professor). This may seem a commonplace happening to us today, but it was, in fact, historic. It was a major pioneering effort in promoting the welfare of mothers and babies and has functioned continuously for some sixty-nine years since its establishment — the longest continuous period of service of an antenatal clinic in the British Commonwealth.

From these early times to the present day, many of the outstanding achievements of the Royal Hospital for Women as a modern and leading obstetric and gynaecological hospital, both in education and research, were related to its association with the University of Sydney as a teaching hospital.

Among the Medical Officers of the Benevolent Asylum in its early days are several whose names feature prominently in the history of the Faculty of Medicine at Sydney University. These include William Bland (see Chapter 1), Arthur Renwick (q.v.) and J. C. Windeyer (see Chapters 5 and 8). Bland was the Society’s first Medical Officer (1820–1830) and, after his retirement from this full-time position, became its Gratuitous Surgeon (1830–1863). Renwick served as its Honorary Medical Officer from 1862 to 1877. In 1904, J. C. Windeyer was appointed to the honorary medical staff of the Royal Hospital for Women; he later held the first Chair of Obstetrics in the University of Sydney from 1925. He was followed as Professor by B. T. Mayes in 1941, also an Honorary Medical Officer at the Royal Hospital for Women.

With the establishment of the Medical School at the University of New South Wales, the Hospital ceased to be associated with the University of Sydney and now serves as a teaching hospital for the second Medical School.

Source: J. Greenwell, "The Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington" in Young J, Sefton A and Webb N, Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine. Sydney University Press, Sydney