Online Exhibition

The Royal Children's Hospital: 150 years of caring

In 1870 the Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children was founded by Drs William Smith and John Singleton. They were motivated by the mortality rate of young children in Victoria, which was significantly higher even than London’s at the time. Mrs Frances Perry, wife of the first Anglican Bishop of Melbourne, was elected as the first president of a ladies’ committee of management.

The University of Melbourne’s teaching connection with the hospital began formally in 1879, when the hospital began offering medical students access to its wards. Yet there was an even earlier connection: the university had supported the establishment of the hospital in 1870, and Professor Halford was among the original appointments, as consulting surgeon. Halford had also employed Dr Smith, soon after his arrival in Australia, as a demonstrator at the medical school.

In 2020 the Royal Children’s Hospital celebrated its 150th anniversary. But, like many other public and private events, celebrations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing rescheduling of some commemorations to 2021. The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne: 150 years of caring on line exhibition  present items from the RCH Archives and Collections Department and the Australian Medical Association Collection of the Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne. They explore the roles of important individuals, turning points, and changing responses to community needs—from the hospital’s first modest house to the extensive campus of today. Importantly, the stories and expertise of the traditional owners are acknowledged, through artworks commissioned by RCH for the anniversary.

Significant elements of this project have been made possible through close relationships between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Children’s Hospital. I am proud to celebrate our continuing partnership, its history and its future, with this online exhibition.

Professor Jane Gunn

Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne


Introduction from Professor Mark Cook , Chair Medical History Museum  Advisory Committee

and Jacqueline Healy, Director Faculty Museum

Jacky Healy Introduction

  • Partnerships

    The Institution for Sick Children, founded in Melbourne in 1870, was one of a burgeoning number of children’s hospitals being established around the world in the late 19th century, as recognition took hold that children required specialist health care. Over the ensuing 150 years, the institution has built a distinguished reputation for quality care, and the Royal Children’s Hospital now sits proudly in the Melbourne Children’s Campus, one of a handful of top-tier health and medical research precincts across the world.

    The relatively recent creation of the Melbourne Children’s Campus, comprising the Royal Children’s Hospital, the University of Melbourne Department of Paediatrics, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, is the logical next stage in the evolution of these institutions, as all are truly dedicated to providing the best clinical care, innovative teaching and cutting-edge scientific knowledge. The co-location of these partners in world-class facilities in the Parkville surrounds, adjacent to one of the world’s foremost biomedical precincts, benefits each element individually, as well as the partnership as a whole. The result is a health community that combines the clinical care, research and education essential to meeting the needs of the children whom it serves.

    Professor Dame Sally Davies GCB

    Master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge


    S Bennett, Convalescent: A sketch at the Children’s Hospital, 1881. IAN06/04/81/65, State Library Victoria.

  • Emblems

    There have been many symbols over the years that epitomise the values of RCH. The most enduring has been the coat of arms designed in the 1950s by the College of Arms in London and Peter Jones, a leading paediatric surgeon. His daughter Sarah Jones shares the intricacies of this process. The symbol of the boy and girl has been reinvigorated in the 150th anniversary year with two patients, Akeira and Kyle, depicted on the commemorative stamp. Sue Hunt tells of the role of RCH in changing these children’s life opportunities. The anniversary celebrations included major art projects, with works commissioned from Indigenous artists. Elders Aunty Joy Murphy and N’Arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs underline the cultural power of the RCH150 Aboriginal Art Project.


    Robyne Latham (Yamatji), Leaf, 2021, bronze, 1.6 × 3.9 m. Commissioned by the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. Photograph by Alvin J Aquino. Royal Children’s Hospital Communications.

  • Founders

    Hospital founders William Smith, John Singleton and Frances Perry were three individuals with a shared sense of social justice. These founders established a hospital that was to be transformed by William Snowball, now considered the father of paediatrics in this country.


    Melbourne Hospital for Sick Children, Training School for Nurses (active 1889–1987), Nurse’s certificate for Edith Florence Ochiltree, 25 March 1891, leather, gold, ink, print on paper; closed 22.5 × 15.0 cm, open 31.0 × 22.5 cm. MHMA0837.1, Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne.

  • Buildings

    Like many public hospitals in Melbourne, RCH began in houses built for residential purposes. The grandest of these was its third home, the Carlton mansion of leading Melbourne citizen and judge Sir Redmond Barry . In contrast, RCH’s current home, which opened in 2011 designed by architects Bates Smart has  carefully designed environmental, technical and patient-welfare features.


    The Children’s Hospital, Carlton (in former home of Redmond Barry), viewed from Carlton Gardens, 1894, photograph on card, 27.1 × 32.9 cm. The Royal Children’s Hospital Archives and Collections Department.

    The Children’s Hospital, Carlton, c. 1907, postcard, 8.0 × 8.0 cm. State Library Victoria. View of Princess May Block (opened 1903), corner of Drummond and Pelham Streets (extant). The outpatients building is further down Drummond Street, on the right-hand side of the image. It was one of the principal buildings (including a ward named after Dr William Snowball) on the Children’s Hospital site in Carlton, 1876–1963.

  • Individuals
    Many remarkable individuals contributed to the evolution of RCH and its relationship with the University of Melbourne. Those highlighted here are exemplars, representing the achievements of countless talented and committed people in all fields who have created the extensive range of health, teaching and research services at RCH.


    Interns at the Royal Children’s Hospital (detail), 1923, photograph, 12.0 × 16.3 cm. MHM02257, gift of Miss Winifred Crick, 1987, Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne.

    Includes Kate Campbell (1899–1986) (front row, far left) and Jean Macnamara (1899–1968) (front row, far right).

  • Turning points

    In the realms of clinical practice, research and teaching, there were many turning points at RCH, of which but a small selection can be examined. For example, Dr John Colebatch revolutionised the treatment of children with cancer. Professor Henry Ekert surveys Colebatch’s achievements, as they laid the foundation for his own work with childhood leukaemias and other cancers, transplantation, and haemostasis. Professor James Wilkinson shares the pivotal moment of performing, with colleague Roger Mee and team, RCH’s first heart transplant operation, on 14-year-old Michael Sofoulis in 1988.

    RCH led the training of nurses in paediatrics, and Sue Scott, member of the League of Former Trainees and Associates and from the Nursing Research Department at RCH reveals the commitment of the early figures who introduced nurse training based on Nightingale principles. Professor Andrew Steer, paediatric infectious diseases physician at RCH, discusses the challenges of dealing with infectious diseases. Ruth Wraith, president of RCH Alumni, points out that RCH was a leader in child psychotherapy, introducing a multidisciplinary approach with the work of Dr John Williams and Ruth Drake. Allied health professions are essential to the care of many young patients, and one of the first to emerge was physiotherapy. Anne McCoy, a physiotherapist at RCH for 37 years, stresses the importance of its development under the leadership of Dr Jean Macnamara.


    Dr Jean Macnamara (Melbourne, 1899–1968) (designer); manufactured in Germany, Mannequins and papoose board, c. 1935, cotton and other fabric, elastic, plaster and wood; mannequin 4.7 × 32.5 × 11.8 cm; papoose board 6.3 × 37.7 × 13.8 cm. MHM02116, Medical History Museum, University of Melbourne.

    This articulated wooden mannequin rests in a papoose board to illustrate deformity prevention. Designed and used by Dr Jean Macnamara to demonstrate the principles of splinting paralysed limbs to avoid deformities in poliomyelitis patients.

  • Responding to community needs

    Over the last 150 years RCH has continued to respond to community needs, and has often been at the forefront of social issues and changing community perceptions. Many of these initiatives have received funding through the RCH Foundation; the foundation’s four funding pillars of leadership, education and training; patient- and family-centred care; equipment and technology; and ground-breaking research.


    Teddy Bear Hospital, 2019. Photographs by Alvin J Aquino. The Royal Children’s Hospital Archives and Collections Department.

  • The Future

    It is interesting to speculate what health care for children and adolescents might look like in another 150 years. The future will be shaped by research conducted by the Melbourne Children’s Campus—Royal Children’s Hospital, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, and University of Melbourne—supported by new technologies. The ‘transformative shock’ of the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly increased the use of telehealth consultations, and Professor Harriet Hiscock’s research has examined the response of patients and their families to this new type of service. But telehealth is just one of the emerging technologies that will radically change health services in coming years. The Hon. Rob Knowles, chair of RCH, speculates that the way of the future lies outside the walls of the hospital, with teleheath, digital care coordination and remote monitoring linking patients, clinicians and the wider community. Many forms of care will be available at the patient’s home or in the community, as well as at the hospital.

    The Royal Children’s Hospital, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, will continue to serve the wellbeing of the community in innovative ways, just as it has done for the last 150 years.


    Consultation available in the community, 2020. Photograph by Alvin J Aquino. Royal Children’s Hospital Communications.

  • Thankyou

    The exbition has now come to an end.