Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Glenroy Military Hospital

The 5th Infectious Diseases Hospital (Victoria), more commonly known as the Glenroy Military Hospital, opened at Glenroy in June 1915 and closed in January 1917. I have also seen it referred to as the Glenroy Measles Hospital, and this was its principal purpose, although the hospital took in pneumonia and tuberculosis cases, the pneumonia cases usually linked to measles.
The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter, 10 June 1915, p.4, reported that:
‘Two large mansions at Glenroy, the property of the Wiseman family, … have been taken by the Defence Department and are being rapidly transformed into hospitals for the troops. A matron is to be in charge and will have female nurses to assist her. There will be some tents erected in the grounds and it is estimated that some 150 to 200 beds will be available. Major McEwan, of the Hospital Staff, who has returned from Rabaul, has taken up his residene at Glenroy nearby so as to be in readiness.’
The mansions in question were called ‘Ashleigh’ and ‘Sawbridgeworth’. They were built as mirror images of each other as can be seen in the following photograph provided courtesy of the Broadmeadows Historical Society. The photograph also shows just how rural and remote Glenroy was during this period - ideal for an isolation hospital. For those who know modern-day Glenroy, it is hard to believe that 'Sawbridgeworth', now known as Wiseman House, and the only survivor of the two houses, is located in busy Widford Street.

This second image, again courtesy of Broadmeadows Historical Society, is of a view looking south-west from the turret on the top of 'Sawbridgeworth'. It was taken in about 1918.  The building just right of centre is the old Glenroy Hall, located in Cromwell Street.

Despite its semi-rural location, the hospital soon ran into trouble with its neighbours. The culprit? The age old and vexed problem of drainage.

The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter, 5 August 1915, p.4, reported that the Broadmeadows Council had received a complaint from residents regarding the ‘defective drainage of a military hospital recently established at Glenroy, adding that the pollution of the Moonee Ponds Creek was imminent.’
A later issue of the paper (2 September 1915) revealed that the hospital needed a ‘more efficient and complete system of drainage, together with a better water supply, and removal of nightsoil.’ (The report had revealed that nightsoil was being buried on the grounds, hardly a practice conducive to best health practices.)
The scale of the problem for the neighbourhood was made clear in the Dairy Inspector's report in early October 1915. The hospital was now treating 40 [infectious] patients and the drainage from the site was ' finding its way into a creek to which dairy cows had access.' (The Essendon Gazette and Keilor, Bulla and Broadmeadows Reporter, 7 Oct 1915, p.4.)  This meant that residents were in danger of becoming infected themselves when they drank milk from the cows.

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