RCH150 Timeline: 1870

1870: The Melbourne Free Hospital for Sick Children opens

The “Melbourne Free Hospital for Sick Children” is opened by Dr William Smith and Dr John Singleton with just six rooms, located at 39 Stephen Street (now 49 Exhibition Street) and treated more than 1,000 children in its first year of operation.

In colonial times, Australian children were particularly vulnerable to unhygienic living conditions. The chances of infants surviving decreased in the overcrowded and insanitary industrial inner-suburbs, where people lived in appalling conditions and knowledge of nutrition and hygiene was poor.

The Children’s Hospital was established as a charitable institution for children of the poor. The infants and children of middle and upper-class families, also susceptible to the diseases of the period, were attended by doctors who were paid a fee. Only later, as medicine and nursing became more sophisticated, did it cater for sick children of all classes.

Melbourne Free Hospital for Sick Children, 1870
39 Stephen Street, Victoria
Digital reprint

1870: Mrs Frances Perry elected first president of Ladies Committee of Management

Mrs Frances Perry, wife of the Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, is elected as the first President of a Ladies Committee of Management. At the time, caring for children was regarded as a task best left to women.

For many years there was no constitution for the running of the Hospital. Instead, the members made up their own rules, nominating those known to them and ruling all matters domestic and financial, as well as those involving staffing and eligibility criteria of patients for admission.

A Gentlemen’s Committee consisted of lawyers, accountants and businessmen, but, apart from financial dealings and lobbying, the men had no direct influence in the day-to-day running of the affairs of the Hospital, being frequently over-ruled by the ladies.

1872: Hospital changes name to Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children

The hospital changes its name to the “Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children” and moves to bigger premises at 13 Spring Street Melbourne.

The move to Spring Street enabled the number of beds to increase from 6 to 15 and outpatient attendances rose from 1,726 in the last year at Stephen Street to 7,381 in the first year at Spring Street.

Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children, 1872
13 Spring Street; Victoria
Digital reprint

1874: First “Hospital Sunday” appeal

The first “Hospital Sunday” appeal results in £223, much of which came from State schools.​

1875: Mrs Sarah Bishop commences as Matron

Mrs Sarah Bishop was appointed Matron in 1875, and served in the role for 24 years until 1899. She was responsible for the nursing staff and trainees, the maids, cook, laundrywoman, handyman, gardener and errand boy. Over the years Matron Sarah Bishop campaigned with the Committee for improvements to the living conditions of nurses, domestics and doctors who lived at the hospital.

Sarah Anne Bishop, Circa 1875
The Children’s Hospital; Carlton, Victoria
Gelatin silver photograph on card

1876: Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children moves to Carlton

The Children’s Hospital moves to the former home of famous Melbourne judge Redmond Barry on a one and a half acre property on the corner of Pelham and Rathdowne Streets, Carlton with 24 beds. To cope with increasing numbers of patients, new buildings were added to the property and extensions were made.


1879: First medical students accepted

The first medical students from the University of Melbourne were accepted at the hospital, paying a fee of £3 3s.