Old Bega Hospital (Main building and outbuildings) | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Old Bega Hospital (Main building and outbuildings)

Item details

Name of item: Old Bega Hospital (Main building and outbuildings)
Other name/s: Not known
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Health Services
Category: Hospital
Primary address: 277 Princes Highway, Bega, NSW 2550
Parish: Bega
County: Auckland
Local govt. area: Bega Valley
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
277 Princes HighwayBegaBega ValleyBegaAucklandPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Historically significant for its initial construction in the late 19th century and subsequent development over many decades. Aesthetically significant for its architectural design, proportions and rich details. Socially significant for the long role it played in the community's health when operating as a hospital and for its role as a focus for community activities over many decades. The main building suffered extensive fire damage in about 2005, however many of its important values have survived.
Date significance updated: 20 Nov 12
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Unknown
Builder/Maker: Not known
Construction years: 0-1888
Physical description: Central brick comprising steeply pitched brick gables with intermediate roofs and verandahs. This section was extensively damaged in the fire. Various outbuildings that were not damaged and continue to provided support for community group activities. The outbuilding were variously manager's cottages, X ray rooms, laundries etc., that have their own aesthetic values.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The main building has lost its roof and requires extensive restoration (2012), However all brick walls and chimneys survive, as do many of the barge boards and decorative renderings.
Date condition updated:20 Nov 12
Modifications and dates: Not known
Further information: The community are optimistic that the building can be restored.
Current use: Outbuildings used for community arts purpose
Former use: Hospital


Historical notes: Built in 1888 and opened in 1989, by Robert Lucas Tooth, it was Bega's first hospital. It was replaced by Bega's new hospital in the 1950's circa.

The original moves to provide a public hospital in the district commenced in 1876, but due to a lack of enthusiasm quickly died away due to a lack of unanimity among the people of the day. The need was there for such an institution and efforts continued to be made by some members of the original committee over the intervening years with little success.

One problem, which caused the divisions was the proposed location of the structure as some wanted it here, others there, this spot suited, that spot didn't. The Committee members tired of the arguing and faded away. All the time, however, people suffering from accidents within the district had to rely on the charity of others or the forbearance of hoteliers in Bega where the only doctors resided.

The movement revived in 1883 temporarily but again flagged when a decision could not be reached as to obtaining a Government grant of land or buying same.

The Governor by proclamation in April, 1886 set aside five acres of the Bega Permanent Common for the purposes of a hospital. The papers of the day when reporting this action stated that the site was quite useless, too far from the town and years would elapse before a building was erected there.

This lack of decisiveness on the part of the locals could well have continued had Bega not had the good fortune of having Leslie McArthur appointed as Acting Police Magistrate. Mr. McArthur had had previous experience in country hospitals and prevailed upon the Mayor, Mr. Rawlinson, to convene a public meeting to get the ball rolling. This was called for 12th June, 1886. Mr. McArthur also wrote a most informative letter to the local press of the day setting out how such an institution could be commenced and funded.

The public meeting was held and well attended and some members of the original committee got their noses out of joint at this "Johnnie come lately upstart". However, for the sake of the district it was fortunate that the meeting overcame any pettiness and achieved the formation of an active committee to commence fund raising. Mr. McArthur also laid before the public meeting the rules of his extensive search into the formation, construction and operation of a number of country public hospitals.

The public meeting resolved upon several important matters: "That the site shall be the land upon the permanent Common, resumed by the Government for that purpose. "That the difficulty of the site being over, the hospital should be started with as little delay as possible and that no little obstructions be allowed to interfere. "That the building be erected at a cost not to exceed £1,200. "That a committee be formed to make arrangements for collecting subscriptions, to obtain plans and specifications and to take all steps preparatory to the erection of the building. "That the committee consist of 12, five to form a quorum. "That this meeting solicits the co-operation of the surrounding districts and requests that committees may be formed in the several townships to act in conjunction with the Bega committee." The meeting concluded with hearty thanks to Mr. McArthur for his efforts - he having been elected Secretary at the meeting.

Over the ensuing months, the committee commenced fund raising. Collectors were appointed for areas within the district and the town of Sega was divided into sections allocated to two members of the committee per section. A grand ball was held to raise funds in Sega, at Cobargo minstrels performed and at Candelo and Kameruka functions provided additional funds.

The committee also actively pursued the question of design of the hospital and Dr. Evershed provided a sketch of a building housing two wards each of eight beds, committee and waiting room, warders and matrons room, storeroom,- dispensary, kitchen, laundry, mortuary, bathroom and offices. The estimated cost was £1,000 in wood and £1,500 in brick. The committee decided to seek further plans also better access to the site.

A Government grant of £750 was sought and details of the funds raised was requested by the Government as the grant was on a £ for £ basis.

As the project was, by August, developing to the stage where a report could be furnished to subscribers, they were reminded- that under the Public Hospitals Act it was necessary for a subscriber to be paid up to the tune of £1.

By October 1886 the committee had in hand £350/7/9 and it was recommended to the meeting of subscribers that a Government grant of £1,000 be applied for and that the Government be requested to resume land on the western side of the site for access.

The meeting was also advised that the plans prepared by Messrs. Bolster and Justilius. Architects, of Sydney had been adopted and subsequently approved by the Inspector of Public Charities. The proposed construction was to be of brick for the administration and kitchen with the wards to be of wood lath and plaster lined.

The committee also submitted to a subsequent meeting of subscribers a set of rules for the conduct of the hospital. These were the predecessors of the hospital's current by-laws.

By December, 1886 matters had progressed to the stage where trustees were required to be appointed. Messrs. H. Wren, T. Rawlinson, J. D'Arcy, P. H. Wood, G. P. Kerrison and W. Scott were subsequently elected, the latter as Treasurer.

A committee of management to oversight plans, call for tenders, etc., was also formed.

The raising of the necessary funds was a slow task and by the end of January, 1887 only £500 was to hand. Much more had been promised but had not come to light due to a downturn in the economy of the area.

By the 4th June, 1887 the approved plans had come to hand and the Government grant was being actively pursued. Subsequently the Principal Under Secretary for Health advised that a grant of £1,000 would be made available on a £ for £ basis. As a consequence of this advice, tenders were called for the construction of the building on the basis of the approved plans. In addition further steps were taken to receive promised funds from around the district as well as seeking additional funds. The committee appointed a collector to call on persons who had promised funds to collect same.

Following closure of tenders, Mr. Malcolm's tender of £1,675 was accepted on 2nd November 1887. The local funds in hand at that time were £570. The need for the hospital was quite evident at that time with many cases of illness, some terminating in death, which it was believed could have been avoided by proper hospital care.

By early February 1888 work was progressing well on the construction by Mr. Malcolm and total local funds to hand amounted to £668/8/i.

The Government came good in May 1888 and funded the £ for £ grant being E668/8/ 1. However, on 24th July the committee was advised that the Government had passed a special vote of E500 in aid of the hospital.

By January 1889 the contractor (Mr. Malcolm) advised that the building would be completed that week and requested a representative to attend and assume responsibility for taking over the structure. He subsequently advised (19th January) that the work was completed and submitted a claim for £238/8/- as extras. The committee referred the claim to its building sub-committee and appointed Mr. McCaffery as temporary caretaker. Following review of the claim for extras the claim was reduced to E77/13/4 which was accepted by Mr. Malcolm.

The new caretaker did not last long and by the 9th February had been fired to be replaced in early March by Mr. and Mrs. Clarke. Fundraising was still in full swing and a further ball was organised, the fourth to this time. As Mr. R. L. Tooth (of Kameruka fame, etc.) had donated £100, by far the largest donation, he was asked to open the structure on Thursday, 18th April, 1889.

The official opening took place as arranged with Mr. Tooth officiating and giving a further donation of £50, making £150 in all. The official opening took place during Bega Show Week and was recognised by a community picnic.

The structure itself, was in three parts, the main section of brick and two wooden wings. There were two outbuildings - infection ward and mortuary. It was described in the press of the day as "a neat comfortable-looking edifice and has the appearance of a villa except for the square boxes at each of the four corners." It is complete in every detail and on too expensive a scale, the latter being the fault of the Government authorities who would insist on the plans of the Taree Hospital being adhered to.

The final cost of the complex, including extras and furnishings, was £1,775. The committee having raised from all sources (grants, subscriptions and donations) £2,041! 17/8. After deducting the cost of the building, plans, etc. (81/11/-), incidentals (87/11/2), they were left with 97/15/6 in the kitty. As there were outstanding liabilities of £316 and outstanding Government subsidy of £ 151, there was an urgent need to raise a further £150 for urgent necessities.

The committee rallied to the hospitals support and by way of donations of cash, linen, vegetables, flowers. preserves and placing of milking cows (changing from time to time etc.), the institution carried on. One major and quite wonderfully successful fund raising function was a garden party held on 9th November 1889 in the home gardens of Mr. Gowing at Jellat Jellat. The gardens were quite magnificent from the press reports and comments made by the estimated 400 people who attended with total receipts in the order of £75, a princely sum for those days.

The first patient at the hospital was Janet Clarke and the first death occurred in early July, 1889 being James Whelan, the second being Mrs. Ross, of Wolumla in September 1889. This lady had been ailing for quite some time before coming to the hospital.

It is interesting to note that around this time (September 1889) Mr Thompson, Land Valuer to the Works Department, arrived in Bega to report on the Eden-Bega Railway.

In April tenders were called for the position of Secretary. This saw Mr JM Lee appointed at 25 pounds per annum.

The hospital went from strength to strength as the old ideas opposing the hospital faded and the institution was accepted and well used. Many donations of furnishings were given by the community. In 1904 extensions and outdoor toilets were provided, by replacing the wooden western wing with new brick extensions at a cost of £l,094/7/6. After paying for these there was still £525191- in kitty a big advance on 1889.

Similar progress occurred between 1905 and 1908 and in the latter a new wing was commenced in place of the existing white ant ridden wooden eastern wing and providing a larger brick extension. The total cost of this was £1,500 and a special Government grant of £600 was received for this. In addition a 15,000 gallon underground water tank was provided.

The problems with transport arrangements at the time can be appreciated when comments were made about the non-arrival of furniture owing to the rough seas preventing the "Eden" from unloading cargo at Tathra. The standard of treatment was also described in the press of the day as such "that no mother could have given better."

Mr. J. M. Lee severed his connection with the hospital in 1910. His services as Secretary had commenced in 1890 on acceptance of his tender for the position.

The common thread throughout these early years was the support from throughout the district, not the least Candelo, Bemboka and Cobargo and smaller villages. As indicated earlier it came in cash and kind including towels and pillow slips prepared by the schoolchildren. R. L. Tooth also again deserves mention for in 1897 he gave a further £100 making a total donation of £250, a generous sum from admittedly a wealthy man.

The total sum spent on the now revised and fully brick structure was £4,369 in original capital costs. To close this chapter of the hospital's development it would be fitting to quote the words of the Hospital President of the day, Mr. J. J. Ritchie: "

The generosity of the people of the district and their wholehearted support of our hospital is much appreciated by your committee, from whose shoulders a heavy load of responsibility, as regards the finance of the institution, has been h/led, owing to the splendid support so liberally given. The main building is now complete in every respect and should meet the demands of the district for some years to come. The detached fever ward, which has done excellent service, will, as it is now inadequate and badly eaten by white ants, require replacement as soon as finances permit."

AUTHORS NOTE: I have avoided listing the majority of people involved in the development of the hospital in this historical summary as while some individuals shine as leaders and have, in some historical articles been given considerable credit, the research I have made clearly illustrates that a team effort was required right from the outset and it was this absence of a united team effort that for so long delayed the commencement of the hospital. Thus only a few names appear in the article because of their unique contribution, the great majority have been omitted because to list some and explain their contribution would not do justice to the article or to those who contributed subsequently and yet were omitted. C. S. DAY.

From its opening the Bega Hospital received considerable community support, dances, sports days. concerts and even a circus provided funds for the Hospital's charitable work.

Mr. C. T. Stiles of "Kanoona" continued his tradition' of providing milking cows and Sir Robert Lucas Tooth continued to provide monetary gifts providing £50 in 1912 for the King Georges cot. Local residents also continued to provide gifts of linen, vegetables, fruit, cakes, cordials, wines and literature.

A new fever ward was built in 1912 to replace the structure destroyed by white ants. This building was 58' x 22'(17.4 x 6.6) and comprised two wards each of 15'x 12'(4.5 x 3.60). nurses room 13'x 12'(3.90 x 3.60). bathroom and verandah almost all round the structure. The cost of the new structure was £270.10.0.

Big improvements occurred in 1914 with the installation of a new fuel kitchen store boiler to provide hot water. A rotary pump was also installed to bring water from the two 80 feet deep wells to the kitchen. In addition a pulley clothes line was installed, and the gardens much improved with shrubs and roses.

One big financial supporter of the hospital was the Walter and Elija Hall Fund. The total donations from this trust amounted by 1916 to £280. Another long time supporter. Mr. C. T. Stiles of Kanoona", who provided milking cows, died in 1916 but his widow decided to continue the tradition.

The original cause for moving to erect a public hospital was a smallpox epidemic in the 1870's. It is therefore interesting to note that there was in 1917 a 40 increase in patients due to an outbreak of diphtheria and scarlet fever.

The municipal gas service was extended to the hospital in 1918 for lighting to replace the existing carbide lighting system. This was on the grounds of economy as carbide which pre-war had cost £ 14.10.0 per ton was in 1918 £65 per ton.

The estimated cost of this and other improvement works was £234 to which the Government assisted by a grant of £125 -. a generous amount having regard to the Government's strained post war financial resources. 1he gas was installed but cost148.3.10so other works were held in abeyance.

The hospital, having reached the requisite number of patients, was gazetted a training school in 1918. This was it considerable advantage to the hospital but especially to the nurses working there, and gave an employment boost to the area.

In October 1920 an X-ray unit and electric lighting plant was installed. Consideration was also given to installing it septic system but this was deferred pending the difficulty of obtaining it permanent and sufficient supply of water. The community as also still faithfully supporting the hospital and Mrs. Stiles is still providing milking cows. The town Band also gave it number of' recitals for patients and these were reportedly enjoyed by the patients and staff.

Progress had been made on the septic system built in 1923 with a solution to the water supply problem. The solution was to pump spring water to the overhead tank at the hospital to provide flushing water and the installation of the effluent system was then awaiting the Sydney contractors. The new nurses' quarters were still under consideration with plans and specifications being referred to the Health Department for approval.

In 1923 the district experienced a diphtheria epidemic and the hospital came to the fore in patient treatment. The staff cheerfully handled the extra work despite being overtaxed by the sudden influx of patients and the nurses even gave up their accommodation to live in a tent during the outbreak.

A new sterilizing plant was installed in 1924 and a Ford car purchased to replace the horse and buggy. One of the hospital's horses had been called Day and Night because it worked for the hospital during the day and was used by the nurses to visit their boyfriends at night!

One unique way of saving costs was an annual wood day. This was a day when local residents brought along loads of firewood and this greatly assisted the hospital's finances. Similar efforts were subsequently made with eggs. Notwithstanding this assistance, the hospital committee had to increase fees from 30:- to £2/2 -, but patients would be treated for whatever they could afford.

Community support was still very evident in 1924 in linen, fruit, vegetables, flowers, jams, cakes. etc.. and Mrs. E. Stiles and Mr. A. C. Wren were still providing milking cows. These cows were allowed to be grazed on the common free of charge by the common's trustees.

The system of financing the bulk of the hospital's running costs was based on voluntary contributions up to this time (1927) with district collectors calling on contributors. The hospital committee believed that there should be a more equitable system of forcing all to accept a fair share in the running Costs. However, while two N.S.W Governments had promised to amend the hospital's legislation to this effect, nothing had been done. The district residents still faithfully supported the institution in kind.

The hospital's financial position deteriorated in 1928 because of the trying district conditions and the year ended with a deficit of £233. Voluntary collectors were having a hard time collecting and the hospital committee was finding it difficult to obtain collectors even on a commission basis.

The new nurses' quarters were completed following a liberal response for funds in 1928 at last freeing the isolation ward for its proper function and it suitable children's ward was by then also available. The C.W.A equipped the children's ward and cot and the R.S.L. provided a surgical bed.

It was in 1928 that the difficulty in obtaining nursing staff first became acute, and as a result the hospital had to rely on a permanent relieving staff. This was at a cost as salaries for temporary staff were higher than permanent staff.

In 1929 the Hospital Board adopted the Community Hospital and Systematic Contribution ion Scheme. This meant that for 6d. single and I - family per week paid quarterly, half yearly or yearly entitled contributors to free hospital treatment. The fees then applicable were £3 10 -ordinary and €5 5 - private with extra fees for X-ray and operating theatre. The Systematic Contribution Scheme proved most successful after the first twelve months operation.

In 1930. because of grave doubts as to the Government subsidy, the board reduced stall salaries by 10 The lighting plant broke down, and faced with expenditure of £120 to rectify. The board decided to connect to the mains of the Electric Supply Co.. at it cost of approximately £2 I 0.

This had been facilitated h the Bega Municipal Council having extended the electric mains to Newtown. As general funds could not support this cost, an appeal was made to the Hospital Commission and to the public.

The year 1931-32 saw the hospital financially sound in spite of the capital cost of connecting the electricity of £233. The board was happy with the second year of the Systematic Contributions Scheme having by then 1,486 contributors and the scheme had been expanded to enable contributors to receive free treatment at other hospitals. The hospital was also painted inside and out, and the hoard was attempting to raise £500 for a new X-ray plant.

Major permanent improvements were undertaken in 1934-35 consisting of new buildings and additions costing £5,034 and X-ray £973. The work in detail comprised new wards, verandah assembly, annexes in isolation block, two new bedrooms, sitting room alterations in domestic quarters, old operating theatre converted to two-bed intermediate ward, new theatre, new store and bathroom, new laundry, boiler room and wards man quarters, nurses' quarters, two new bedrooms and bathroom plus hot water and steam services to most buildings.

It might be noted that in 1935 Mrs. C. T. Stiles of "Kanoona" was still continuing the tradition of providing milking cows started by her husband so long before (about 1900) also Mr. J. B. D'Arcy was providing cows, having started in about 1925.

A further diphtheria epidemic occurred in 1936 placing a strain on the hospital with a 25 increase in patients. The new X-ray unit which had earlier been installed had saved many patients the long trip to Sydney. 259 being treated in the first full year of operation.

By 1937 the hospital was treating three times the number of patients it did in 1927.

The main front verandahs of the hospital were glassed in during 1937 providing extra permanent accommodation. The advent of it new nurses' ward necessitated further enlargement of the main nurses' home and separate night nurse quarters. The Minister for Health, the Hon. H. P. Fitsimmons, on visiting the hospital, promised the installation of a ne septic system and connecting town water to the hospital, lie also recognised the need for additional patient accommodation.

The year 1937 also saw the formation of the Bega. Cobargo. Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba branches of the Hospital Auxiliaries of New South Wales. This followed it visit to the area by Mrs. Catherine Grant, organiser of the Hospital Auxiliaries of New South Wales.

1938 saw the recommended up-grading of the X-ray equipment following a visit by Dr. Edwards of Macquarie Street. Sydney. The Hospital Commission subsequently agreed to find half the cost of the work of it ne full wave X-ray plant at a cost of £ 1,766.

An iron, being used in the treatment of polio victims, was given by Lord Nuffield in 1940. The board also was impressing on Mr. Primrose. the Minister for Health, the need for new nurses' quarters and increased accommodation for patients. The town water supply was finally connected during 1940. and being softer than the well water previously used, was expected to save money in water softening treatment costs.

1941 saw the acceptance of tender of 2.035 for the new full wave X-ray plant. and this was to he funded from the £2.500 raised at a hospital carnival. The plans for the new nurses' home had been approved and an early start as hoped for.

1942 saw the X-ray in place at it cost of I .963 plus 195 for alteration and additions. ..The nurses' home was still in abeyance but 12,500 had been included in the Hospitals Commission's draft estimates for this work.

The year 1944 saw approved given to tenders being called for the erection of the new nurses' home on the site of the existing hospital. The board objected strongly to this, seeing the need for a hospital closer to the town (Bega). feeling that if the nurses' home was built on the present site it would determine the hospital's location for the next 50 years. As a result of the board's representations, the Minister for Health directed enquiries to be made. and these resulted in the recommendation of a new site for the erection of the nurses' home and subsequently a new hospital.

The construction of the ne nurses' home commenced in 1945 and was completed and occupied in 1946. However, the shortage of staff necessitated their frequent conveyance by taxi to and from the hospital many times each day and at some considerable expense. This was seen as justified "because the staff could not he allowed to live a moment longer than was absolutely necessary under the deplorable conditions at the old home with three nurses using one bedroom and staying on verandahs,"

The board also sought advice from the Health Commission in 1945 as to the best and cheapest method to convert some public wards into intermediate wards to assist hospital finances by additional patent fees.

The hospital fund, so successfully operated since 1930, as closed on 30th June. 1946 by Act of Parliament.
The act of terminating the scheme was seen as a retrograde step by the Bega hospital hoard, as the scheme had stabilised its finances. Moves having been made for the erection of a new hospital, the only major development to take place was the conversion in 1949 of the old nurses' home to a maternity unit and painting inside and out in 1955.

With a new hospital well under way, suggestions were made for use of the old hospital as a home for those aged persons, not sick enough for hospital. yet having no one at home to care for them. Councillor R. M. Hart. of Imlay Shire, supported this idea. The Mayor of Bega. Aid. ft B. Goldberg. decided to call a public meeting and allow the matter to be discussed by the community. Alderman Roy Howard at the Council meeting at which the idea of a public meeting was discussed remarked "it would be better for the people of the area to decide what it might be used for and influence the Hospital Commission rather than have something thrust upon us".

The meeting was subsequently held and it was decided against using the buildings for a home for the aged. However, on 12th June. 1956. the Honourable W. F. Sheehan. Minister for Health, advised a gathering at Candelo that the old hospital could be used as a home for the aged, and handed over to a local authority to administer, provided one was established.

It is recorded that this advice was greeted with pleasure and both Councillors Clare and Hart of Imlay Shire (old hospital was in Imlay Shire) greeted the news as "a most humane decision". These Councillors had. at the recent meeting of Imlay Shire. criticised the Bega people for what they, saw as the heartless and selfish attitude adopted at the meeting. History should note that the board of the hospital did not share the community's view as expressed at the public meeting, for the minutes of the board's meeting on 23rd February, 1954 reveal that the board shared the Imlay Shire's view that the hospital should be used as an aged persons' hospital and had advised the Hospitals Commission accordingly.

Following transfer of patients to the new hospital on 2nd July. 1956 the old hospital closed. The board, on 30th October. 1956, recommended to the Health Commission that the buildings be used for: (a) Boys Hostel (b) Agricultural Farm (c) Old Peoples Home

However, because of comments by the Commission. unavailable to the author, the concept of the boys' hostel seems to have been dropped. The board advised the Health Commission in September. 1959, that it favoured the project by the Bega District Council of Junior Farmers leasing the buildings and grounds.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: History might also note that the uses to which the old hospital - a fine structure - even fi not functional as a hospital, did not last long and the buildings have remained essentially unused for many many years until in 1987 when community uses were proposed, and grants to restore the structures sought. This interest is currently very active.

Recommended management:


Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Statutory InstrumentList on a Local Environmental Plan (LEP)20 Nov 12


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental PlanBega Valley Local Environmental Plan 2013I00902 Aug 13 40891
Local Environmental Plan - LapsedSchedule 5 14 Jun 02 984222

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Bega Main Street Study1996 Bega Valley Shire Council  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
OtherMr Charles Day0Bega District Hospital - The First 100 Years

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1100009

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