Sunday, 21 January 2018

Ramsay Mailer of ‘Hethersett’ Convalescent Hospital, Burwood

Ramsay Mailer, 1928, taken from a photograph of the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket Matches, Sydney. (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 September 1928)

Ramsay Mailer was the middle son of pioneering Coburg couple Robert and Isabella Mailer of ‘Glencairn’, Moreland. Born in 1866 in what was then known as Pentridge, Ramsay Mailer was too old to serve during World War One, although his younger brother David who was 41 at the time of his enlistment, spent three years at the Front.

Educated at Scotch College and Melbourne and Edinburgh Universities, Ramsay Mailer was a cricketer of some note. He was also a doctor, specialising in ‘nervous diseases’. In 1910 he married Minnie Jane Meares and the couple settled at ‘Hethersett’ in Burwood, a grand home with extensive grounds, including its own lake stocked with fish.

Punch, 9 March 1916, p.21

An anniversary program for ‘Hethersett’, dated Sat 23 September 1916. Inside the program is a list of players and synopsis of scenes. On the verso of programme are hand inscribed autographs including Ethel Wigg, and a stamp encircling the words ‘Hethersett / 1915-16’. Image H2009.103/80A . Courtesy State Library of Victoria.

Nurses and soldiers by lake in grounds of Hethersett Private Hospital, Vic. Image H2009.103/31. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.

Soldiers and nurses on verandah, Hethersett Private Repatriation Hospital, Burwood, Vic. Image H2009.10347. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.

From 1915 to the end of 1917 Ramsay Mailer and members of his family ran the 30-bed ‘Hethersett’ Voluntary Military Hospital in what had been his home. ‘Hethersett’ looked after psychological cases such as shell shock and fatigue, little understood conditions at the time. The staff, under the leadership of his sister-in-law Catherine Mailer, were volunteers. The atmosphere was less formal than a hospital and more in the style of a home away from home. 

Unidentified soldiers and nurses, Hethersett Private Repatriation Hospital, Burwood, Vic Image H2009.103/44. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. 

Soldiers and nurse relaxing in cane chairs, croquet mallets on lawn behind them, Hethersett Private Repatriation Hospital, Image H2009_10377. Image courtesy State Library of Victoria. 

And some not so good images from Punch, 9 March 1916:

‘Hethersett’ closed at the end of 1917, having been a haven for nerve-shattered returned soldiers for two and a half years. It had been financed by Ramsay Mailer and members of his wife’s family. (His brother-in-law was also a doctor specialising in nervous disorders.) By the time it closed they were being sent surgical cases and neither they nor their hospital was equipped for that, so they closed what had been an amazing philanthropic enterprise.

In 1938 Presbyterian Ladies College bought the site and its junior school moved there in 1939. 

Ramsay Mailer practised in Collins Street for many years and was also a breeder of cattle and sheep at his Shepparton stud farm. Described at the time of his death in 1943 as a philanthropist and slum abolition campaigner, he founded the Victorian Slum Abolition League and worked hard to better the lives of children, especially those living in industrial areas. He established the Opportunity Clubs for Boys and Girls. A talented cricketer, he was Melbourne Cricket Club President when he died and the Victorian Cricket Association patron.

Age, 18 April 1939. Ramsay Mailer at the time of his appointment as patron of the Victorian Cricket Association.

Ramsay Mailer and his brothers were also key figures in the early history of the Coburg Cricket Club. You can read about it here.

The Club has an interesting photo gallery, too and the very first photo is of a prize awarded to Ramsay Mailer in 1892.

If you are interested in the Mailer family’s involvement in the Coburg Cricket Club, the Coburg Library Local History Room has two copies of Don Hudson’s History of the Coburg Cricket Club 1856-2006 which you can consult at the library.

More on Ramsay Mailer and cricket

Finally, I have just been sent some information from Greg Mackie on the cricketing interests of Ramsay Mailer and his brother David:

Ramsay played District First XI cricket for South Melbourne in 1894/95 (5 games), Fitzroy 1895/96 (3 games) and Coburg (who were a District 1st XI team in those days, between 1905-06 (12 games)).

David Mailer played two games for St. Kilda in 1895/96 and 67 games for the MCC between 1898/99 and 1910/11.

One of the Victorian Cricket Association’s main trophies, on display in their board room in Jolimont, is the Ramsay Mailer Shield. As well as the roles already mentioned, Ramsay was also a member of the Australian Cricket Board for twenty-two years.

Ramsay Mailer is also mentioned extensively in Robert Coleman’s 1993 publication Seasons in the sun: the story of the Victorian Cricket Association (published by Hargreen). There’s a copy at the State Library of Victoria, if you’re interested in reading it.

Thanks, Greg, for this extra information.

Victorian Birth, Death, Marriage indexes
Age, 16 October 1915
Table Talk, 25 November 1915
Punch, 9 March 1916
Punch, 9 August 1917
Argus, 3 March 1917
Argus, 8 December 1917
Argus, 29 December 1943
State Library of Victoria image collection (State Library of Victoria has 54 images relating to ‘Hethersett’ available online for download. Use the search term ‘Hethersett Private Repatriation Hospital (Burwood, Vic.)’ in the SLV catalogue.)


  1. Hello I would like to use the photo of Hethersett in my Master Thesis which I am doing on Ina Higgins who designed the garden in this picture. I am studying at Deakin Uni. I will acknowledge where I sourced the picture from.

    1. Hi Sandi,

      Glad you found the entry on the Mailers and Hethersett useful. As you'll see, most of the images are from the State Library of Victoria's Picture Collection, all available online. There are other great photos that I didn't use here, so you should definitely check them out.
      The other images are from newspaper articles that I found online in the wonderful TROVE archive. Such a fantastic resource - you just need to acknowledge where they came from.
      Your Masters topic sounds really interesting and I'm sure you'll find the Hethersett photos at State Library really useful.