Hospital records can be a great resource when researching your family history. The information in these records can provide an insight into your ancestor’s life. Take, for example, Ellen Bunell, a servant from Cork who died of phthisis at the age of 42, 23 April 1867, Melbourne Hospital 1. The medical record indicated she had migrated from Ireland and died of lung disease in Australia. A medical record may also reveal hereditary or chronic diseases within the family. Think of it as rear-view mirrors giving you hindsight to plan forward for your health and the future health of your family.

To assist you with your research, the State Library has released a new online research guide called Health and welfare records. The purpose of this guide is to assist family historians to find historical health and welfare records. Focusing on Victorian records, this guide provides information and links to resources that are available at State Library Victoria and other relevant agencies.

It was not until the 1850s that formal hospitals were open to the public in Victoria. Many of the earlier hospitals were established around mining towns 2. Some were tent hospitals, quarantine stations, private practice, homeopathy, and infirmaries 3

The Hospital, 1859, Ballarat West. 1859. Cogné, François, 1829-1883, lithographer. This work is out of copyright; H17101

When the population started to blossom in Victoria more hospitals were built in and around Melbourne. 

Hospital, ca. 1850. By Stringer, Mason & Co., lithographer. This work is out of copyright; H16995

Before seeking hospital records, think of the time and place you want to investigate. Once you are ready, try doing a general search using newspapers, and see if a hospital along with your ancestor shows up in the results. Trove’s digitised newspaper website is a great place to start – you could try starting with a search of your ancestor’s name. If they had an accident, they might get a mention in the breaking news section, or the newspaper might note they had attended hospital in their obituary or memorial. Another source of information is a death certificate or a coroner’s inquest report as they may list a hospital name or institution as the place of death. 

Hospital records are not located in one place and instead in various repositories. Finding hospital records can be tricky as hospitals can change name, amalgamate or close down. Where a hospital record is stored is determined by who has become its custodian.

For example, the Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Asylum changed to the Geelong and District Hospital. Then it changed to Geelong Hospital. When Barwon Health took over and it changed to University Hospital, Geelong. Early colonial admission records are held at the Geelong Historical Society. 1920s admission records onwards at Public Record Office Victoria. Present-day medical records are at Barwon Health.

If you are looking for records of a hospital that still operates, try contacting the hospital in the first instance. If they no longer hold the records, they will likely know if they still exist and where they are currently located. If the hospital amalgamated with another hospital or service, try to find out who the successor is and contact them directly. If the hospital has closed down and if it was a public hospital, try searching the Public Record Office Victoria’s collection.

The Geelong Hospital, 1858, Butler, J. E., (James Edward), active 1856-1872. This work is out of copyright; H5344

State Library’s collection

Here at the State Library, we have a collection of Victorian hospital records. The following records are available to view in the Newspapers & Family History Reading Room:   

Hospital records in the Australian Manuscripts Collection:

The Library also holds some hospital records in the Australian Manuscripts Collection. These records can be found by searching the catalogue for hospital and confining the search to Manuscripts.

As with welfare records, hospital records held in the Library’s collection are available subject to access restrictions and privacy embargoes, due to the personal nature of the contents. The item’s catalogue record will contain further details about any access restrictions, and for further information you can contact the Library via the Ask a Librarian service.

Other resources:

Hospital records at PROV (Public Record Office Victoria). They hold some Victorian hospitals records – mostly of those that have closed. It is best to have the name(s) of the institution(s) for a place of treatment and dates.  

Registers of vaccinations at PROV (Public Record Office Victoria). It lists children and adults who were vaccinated during colonial times.

Journals of general surgeons in AJCP (Australian Joint Copying Project). It has medical and quarantine information of those who sailed from the UK to Australia and New Zealand during colonial times.

Ballarat Benevolent society register of inmates (1860-1872) (available online)
Information in the register includes: name, occupation, place of residence, birthplace, age, parent’s name, married or single, issue, arrived in the colony, religion, ground of application, by whom recommended, date of administration, the period for which admitted, discharge date, discharge cause, died, remarks, source, and event year. 

CoraWeb Asylum and hospital records. This website provides a list of asylum and hospital records you can access online.

Please note that hospital records are generally closed for the approximate lifetime of a person due to privacy embargoes. You are entitled to access your own records but you will need to make an application to the holding agency’s Freedom of Information officer. If the patient is deceased and you’re next of kin, you may also be entitled to access these records.    

If you have any questions about these collections or would like assistance, please contact us via our Ask a Librarian service.

References

  1. Wayback Machine, October 2006, Deaths in the Melbourne Hospital, Part 1, viewed 23 June 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20120318115429/http://tfoenander.com/meldeath1.htm
  2. Withers, G. S. (2010). History of the Stawell Hospital 1858 to 2009. Stawell, Vic.: Gary Withers.
  3. McClelland, J. E., & Geelong Hospital. (1996). From infirmary to hospital : Geelong and District Hospital (Kitchener Memorial) 1924 to 1966. / John E. McClelland. Geelong, Vic.: The Geelong Hospital.

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  1. Much appreciated

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