Royal Reels: Gambling


A century old postcard with 3 be-ribboned aristocrats (kittens) on the front brought back memories of my 4 year’s working at the Coast Hospital, as a physician in charge of half a ward’s patients, when it was known as the Prince Henry Hospital. The 1d red N.S.W. ‘Shield’ stamp had a fine Type D3(ii) barred numeral ‘208’, Waverley/ NO 10/ 10 40 AM/ 06/ N.S.W duplex postmark, plus a reception postmark of BOTANY/NO 10/ 1906/ N.S.W (same day postal service for 2 Sydney eastern suburbs) (Figure 1).

The card was addressed to Miss Ada James, 15 Ward, Coast Hospital, Little Bay and the short note read: Dear Ada, glad to hear that you are improving, hoping that you will soon be home and well. Love from all at home. Daddy.

The main focus of this paper is a brief history of the Coast Hospital in relation to it being a hospital devoted to infectious diseases. It was established to deal with a growing epidemic of smallpox in Sydney on September 5, 1881, and the site of Little Bay was chosen because of it’s isolation from Sydney’s population, its sweeping coastal views and fresh air. In July of that year, the horse-drawn ambulance was established upon the outbreak of smallpox, and it was disbanded in February/March 1882, once the outbreak was declared over. In 1883, the hospital was converted to a convalescent hospital for patients previously in other Sydney metropolitan hospitals.

In 1888, the hospital became a “fever hospital” treating diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid, measles and scarlet fever. In 1890 a new lazaret was opened to accommodate patients suffering from leprosy, who were kept isolated from the general hospital operation. In 1910, a trial was conducted at the hospital on the use of Salvarsan (arsphenamine, an arsenic containing compound) in the treatment of syphilis, which was a great success. In 1921 an outbreak of the Plague began in Sydney and patients were isolated at the Coast Hospital for treatment.

In 1934, the hospital was renamed ‘The Prince Henry Hospital’ in honour of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester’s visit to Sydney. In September, 2002 only 50 beds were still in operation and the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ said that the Coast Hospital was “to stage a day of celebrations to mark 121 years, its last birthday party, before it closes its doors to the sick next year”. The final destination was to become a residential redevelopment with a completion date of 2007.

When I was there in the early 1960’s, Ward 15 Coast Hospital where Miss Ada James stayed, looked just like Ward 18, ca. 1900-27, in Figure 2.

Addendum (November 2007):    The original paper was No. 39 in my list of papers which was written 5 to 6 years ago.  Miss Ada James, previously had been in Ward 15 at the Coast Hospital in November 1906.  This postcard had an exquisite front marked ‘At The Brook’.  It could not fail to lift the spiritsof Ada who received this second card four months later than the first card  (Figure 3).

The message is written by her mother with good wishes expressed by the father, and we learn that she is now in Ward 10 at the Coast Hospital (Figure 4). 

 Let’s hope that Ada made a full recovery!

Categories: Health Sciences, Postcards