Launceston General Hospital

Undated postcard of Launceston General Hospital (Tasmaniana Library, SLT)

During the first fifty years of white settlement in Tasmania, the government provided a medical and 'hospital' service of sorts, mainly to soldiers and convicts. With the growing number of free citizens, a joint community-government hospital situated in the former British Hotel became the Cornwall Hospital and Infirmary. It had many inadequacies, including beds taken up by the chronically ill (a problem that now, 150 years later, governments have neglected to overcome).

A government enquiry recommended a new 102-bed hospital, which was occupied in 1863 and named the Launceston General Hospital. The advent of general anaesthesia for surgical operations, and understanding of the bacterial cause of infections, meant safe and painless surgery advanced quickly. With a succession of highly regarded surgeon superintendents, notably Sir John Ramsay and Dr Clifford Craig, the hospital became one of the few provincial hospitals to compare favourably with those in capital cities. Ramsay performed one of the first successful treatments for cardiac arrest by internal heart massage, and the hospital was one of the first to install an X-ray machine.

The hospital soon became a recognised training centre for undergraduate and postgraduate doctors and nurses. It is now a tertiary referral hospital for a variety of specialities, and provides a wide range of specialist and ancillary services. Between 1937 and 1942 a new hospital was built on the same site, and by 1981 another new and modern hospital was erected on the opposite side of Charles Street. This incorporated the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women, originally opened in 1897. The Launceston General Hospital is regarded as one of the leading regional hospitals in Australia.

Further reading: C Craig, Launceston General Hospital, Launceston, 1963; L Bethell, The story of Port Dalrymple, Hobart, [1957]; H Button, Flotsam and jetsam, Launceston, 1909; A Piper, 'Emancipists, destitution and infirmity', LHSPP 14.

John Morris