200 years of medicine in Newcastle goes back to our convict days

History: A famous Joseph Lycett painting of Newcastle in 1818. The colonial hospital is circled. Image: Newcastle Art Gallery
History: A famous Joseph Lycett painting of Newcastle in 1818. The colonial hospital is circled. Image: Newcastle Art Gallery

Way back in 1817, Newcastle’s first hospital was established.

The 200-year anniversary of that significant day in Novocastrian history will be marked on Saturday at a Hunter Postgraduate Medical Institute event.

A host of speakers will reflect on Newcastle’s medical past. Among them will be Dr Ann Hardy, a historian at the University of Newcastle’s Auchmuty Library.

Dr Hardy told Topics that the first hospital was originally a jail.

Convicts, the general public and government workers were treated there.

Many convicts were admitted to the hospital for treatment for wounds received from floggings.

Some convicts used the hospital as a chance to escape. A such, guards were required at the entry.

Coal miners, who worked in nearby mines, were often brought in after industrial accidents and suffering from black lung.

Medical treatment remained somewhat medieval and primitive. 

“Treatments were often ineffective and fatal during the 19th century,” Dr Hardy said.

There were no antibiotics or antiseptic treatments. Doctors didn’t understand the nature of germs back then.

It didn’t help that medical supplies were often in short supply. Newcastle wasn’t the first priority for the top brass in Sydney. (Some things never change!)

“Home cures and remedies like tonics were promoted for preventing illness. Plagues, measles and other epidemic diseases were prevalent and incurable,” Dr Hardy said.

Illness was common, given the poor sanitation and contaminated water.

It was a time when there was little fresh food and no soap.

There were many deaths. Sometimes the hospital was a place of last refuge, where people went to die.

The hospital also acted as an unofficial asylum for the mentally ill.

Its location on a sand-covered hill was problematic. Windows had to be shut to prevent sand blowing in. This wasn’t great for patients in need of fresh air.

In 1836, the hospital was basically stuck in the sand hill. And a few years later, the morgue area was completely covered in sand.

The event will be held at the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

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A baby tawny frogmouth perched on a car after Monday's storm.

A baby tawny frogmouth perched on a car after Monday's storm.

When a storm hits, humans head for shelter and try to keep vehicles out of the hail.

But what about our feathered friends? What do they do?

Emma Stronach sent us this photo of a baby tawny frogmouth, which she said “must have gotten blown onto my car in Nesca Parade [in Newcastle/The Hill] by the storm” on Monday night.

“I dropped him off to the vets in Darby Street, where they very kindly offered to check him over and then give him to wildlife rescuers.”

  • topics@theherald.com.au

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