Thursday, 8 January 2015

Herries' Private Hospital - Cairns

In Queensland in the early 1900s many women gave birth either in their own home or at a private hospital.  Some of these private hospitals were known as "lying-in" hospitals, and were run by nurses with midwifery experience, in their own homes.  Some private hospitals catered for both maternity as well as general patients.
This photo of Herries' Private Hospital was taken sometime before 1927.  The two boys on bicycles are sons of Janet and Robert Herries (at left is Jim and at right is Gib).
Photo: Cairns Historical Society.
Herries' Private Hospital was a private hospital in Cairns that catered for both maternity and general patients.  Situated at 180 McLeod Street, it was run by Nurse Janet Abercrombie Herries between 1921 and 1939.

Janet was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1869, to parents Elizabeth Drew Lang and John Mackie.  In August 1900, at the age of 30, she emigrated to Australia, arriving in Rockhampton aboard the Duke of Norfolk.  In 1902 she married Robert Herries (a fellow Scotsman) in Mossman and by about 1915 they were living in Bunda Street, in Cairns, with their four sons: Robert John Mackie Herries, b. 1904; Charles Albert Herries, b. 1906; James McLeod Herries, b. abt. 1911; Gilbert Lang Herries, b. 1913.  

Here's a link to a photo of Janet & her sons on Flickr:

Until the move to Cairns, Robert Herries had worked in many of the sugar mills in north Queensland, from Mackay to Mossman.  In Cairns he worked as a waterside worker, while Janet's profession was only ever listed on electoral rolls as "home duties".  This was despite her long career as a nurse - Janet worked up until the age of 70.

Herries' Hospital was for many years a household name in Cairns.  The hospital could accommodate up to ten patients at a time and women travelled from regional towns throughout far north Queensland to have their babies at Herries' Hospital, such was its reputation.

As well as being an experienced and caring nurse and midwife, Janet also appears to have been a tenacious businesswoman.  She doesn't appear to have been frightened to stand up for herself.  In 1920, Janet sued a Mt Garnet man named Frederick Christensen for his daughter's debt.*  Clara Christensen had a baby at Nurse Herries' hospital but the bill went unpaid.  Christensen claimed that Clara was not his daughter, and that he had only "lived with her mother".  

In court, Nurse Herries was asked why she was not pursuing the father of Clara's child for the confinement fees, rather than pursuing Mr Christensen.  She said that Clara had not told her who the father of the baby was, and that Mr Christensen had agreed to pay the fees when he visited Clara at Herries Hospital.  Nurse Herries even had to justify why she had taken Clara in to her care in the first place, if she could not be sure of the father of the child?  Janet told the court that when the girl came to her place she was in such a state that she could not refuse her admission.  I just feel like I have to say here: Bravo Nurse Herries!!

The building itself is reputed to have been moved from Cooktown to Cairns in 1920.  It was once a retail shop, occupying a corner position on Charlotte and Walker Streets, Cooktown.  Janet originally leased the premises at 180 McLeod Street but in 1924, she bought the house.  It suffered extensive damage during a cyclone in 1927, when its roof was blown across street and into the cemetery.  The house remained in the Herries family until 1996 and recently, the house, which had become very run-down, was magnificently restored by new owners.

For modern pics, see for example:

* Cairns Post, 6 May, 1920, p. 2. "Nursing Expenses. Small Debts Action." 

Other sources for this article include; Trove; Qld Heritage Register.

If you have further information about Nurse Herries, or her hospital, I'd be very happy to hear from you.

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