The next chapter

The history of Maitland Hospital stretches back more than 175 years. With a new state-of-the-art facility to open in 2022, a Collected Memory Project is connecting the past with the future.

What better way to celebrate the opening of the new Maitland Hospital than to put its past into the context of memories, objects and images shared by the local community. Initiated in partnership with Hunter New England Local Health District, Health Infrastructure and Maitland City Council, the Collected Memory Project has received a wealth of submissions.

Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) has curated a companion exhibition, “A Conspicuous Object – The Maitland Hospital” which will run through 6 February 2022, featuring 10 artists who have responded to the stories that have emerged.

With more than 130 entries already published online, curators Joe Eisenberg, Cheryl Farrell and Janis Wilton will continue to add more on We have had the difficult task of selecting but a few from this treasure trove of local history.

A stolen stone and an empty beer bottle

The foundation stone for what was initially called the Maitland Benevolent Asylum was laid on 26th January 1846. The Maitland Mercury reported two days later on the long list of dignitaries attending the ceremony, led by Edward Denny Day, Esq., Police Magistrate of Maitland who served as a proxy for Sir George Gipps, the Governor of New South Wales. According to the Mercury, the stone was laid “in hope that Heaven will so prosper the work that many fellow creatures who, without this place of refuge, would linger through their sufferings in neglect and want, may here meet with sympathy and aid.”

However, a mere two months later, the foundation stone was stolen and a bottle that had been buried underneath, containing copies of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Maitland Mercury and a “few small coins of the present reign” was found smashed to pieces.

While a commemorative plaque for the ceremony was recovered in 2020 by a group around then General Manager Di Peers, the original foundation stone has never been located.

A conspicuous object

On 12 May 1849 as the new Maitland Hospital building was nearing completion, the Maitland Mercury marvelled at it as w “one of the chief architectural ornaments of the town” and as “a conspicuous object” sitting as it did on the slope of Campbell’s Hill.

The first patients were moved into the new building in November 1849, seven men and three women. The new hospital was commended for its ability to accommodate comfortably “more patients than (we trust) this district will supply for twenty years to come.”

Handsome and substantial

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, increasing demands for services and care fostered calls for a new building, with the original 1840s building described as “overcrowded and decidedly antiquated.”

Building commenced in 1903 and NSW Premier Joseph Carruthers opened the new facility on 22 March 1905. Designed by Australia’s most respected hospital architect of the time, John James Clark, and hailed as “a most substantial and handsome addition to the architecture of the land,” it also featured “most modern appliances” and a new operating theatre.

Adapted and added to over time, with some of its original architectural features partly hidden, the iconic building stands to this day.

In the name of charity

With Maitland Hospital originally a charitable institution, active fundraising has always been part of the hospital’s history. Announcing a Fancy Bazaar in April 1845 the Mercury wrote “We trust that the ladies of the town and neighbourhood will now show that energy and ability are not confined to their husbands and fathers. They could hardly have a nobler opportunity to evince the true feeling of charity.”
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, newspapers reported on the regular fundraising contributions of women, frequently the wives and daughters of men who served on the hospital committees. In the 20th century, a Maitland Hospital Auxiliary was formed that eventually morphed into the ‘Pink Ladies’ and later the Maitland Hospital Volunteers.

You could hear the cows mooing

From 1859 to 1987 Maitland’s stock saleyards were located next to the Family Hotel on High Street and opposite parts of Maitland Hospital.

In 1938, the Hospital Board commented that the saleyards “were a disturbance to the nurses seeking rest after night duty. ‘Cow Day’ as they named it, was dreaded for this reason.”

Nurse Christine Thompson recalls, “in the seventies, I was a 3rd year student nurse here at Maitland Hospital. The sale yards were located where the carpark is now. On night shift in the summer, the French doors would be open (no air con then). You could hear the cows mooing and sheep bleating. This never seemed to bother anyone, somehow it was reassuring. Patients still slept and we felt safe.”

Read more in the Summer issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Stories and images courtesy of the Collected Memory Project