Sydney Local Health District
RPA Museum & Archives

RPA History

The first Royal visit to Australia by Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria was marred by an attack on the Prince. On 12th March, 1868, while attending a picnic at Clontarf beach on Middle Harbour, Prince Alfred was shot by an Irish-Australian, Henry James O'Farrell, who claimed to be a Fenian. The assailant was quickly overpowered by William Vial, Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge which hosted the function, but not before a second shot was fired into the foot of an onlooker.

The Prince was quickly taken to Government House in HMS Morpeth, and attended by Dr Watson, Surgeon of HMS Challenger. Two days later the bullet was extracted by Dr Young of HMS Galatea. The gold probe used in this procedure is on display in the RPA Museum.

The citizens of Sydney held public meetings and quickly resolved to construct 'Prince Alfred Memorial Hospital' as thanksgiving for the recovery of the Prince. After much discussion, the University of Sydney Senate granted land from the Grose Farm estate for the erection of the hospital. The hospital was to serve as a clinical school for the new Medical School of the University and a training school for nurses. The 1873 Act of Incorporation of Prince Alfred Hospital followed. The foundation stone was laid on 24th April, 1876 by Sir Hercules Robinson, the Governor of the Colony and the hospital opened on 25th September, 1882 with 146 beds. In its first year, the hospital treated over 1000 patients.

Prince Alfred Memorial Hospital began as an experiment in the colony of NSW. It was to be founded on the newly-developed Nightingale style of hospital design and nurse training. Traditionally, hospitals had been filthy, vermin-infested buildings and nurses were untrained women of the 'lower classes', barely fit to care for patients. The situation was magnified in the colonies, where hospitals were often staffed by lay married couples who acted at Ward-Yardman and Matron-Cook. In contrast, Nightingale nurses were to be 'trained in science, strictly disciplined, have an attention to cleanliness and an innate empathy for their patients.'

The establishment of the Prince Alfred Hospital presented a unique opportunity to build a clean and well-designed hospital, staffed with trained nurses. Alfred Roberts, a surgeon and member of the committee responsible for planning the hospital with Henry Parkes, Colonial Secretary of NSW appealed to Florence Nightingale, the 'Lady of the Lamp' of the Crimea and famous nurse-reformer of the nineteenth century, for help. Nightingale had sent five trained nurses to Sydney Infirmary at the request of Roberts in 1868. She had many suggestions to make and sent a copy of her newly-published (1860) Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not.'

Florence Nightingale believed that bad air or 'miasma' caused infection to arise spontaneously in poorly ventilated and dirty places. The original wards of Prince Alfred, C and D Blocks, were built in the pavilion-style favoured by Nightingale, long, airy and bright 32-bed wards. These blocks were built to the side and behind the Administration Block. They were demolished in 1983 when the Edinburgh Block was completed.

Today the hospital continues to develop and proudly celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 2007, coinciding with the completion of the new Clinical Services Block.

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Page Last Updated: 10 August, 2021