Hospital’s hidden cave of wonders
A VIAL of unused war-era horse hair sutures.
A table scattered with hundreds of frightening metal instruments.
A large, dusty ledger containing hand-written details of more than 200 surgeries.
Unusual and rare items that are among thousands of treasures tucked away in Fremantle Hospital's old hyperbaric chamber, drawing all who step over the threshold into a different time.
Beautiful, technical and extraordinary pieces of the hospital's history have been brought into one of its oldest buildings, reminiscent of the life of a public hospital that has played a major part in Fremantle's history since it first opened in 1897.
Items such as old administrative documents are expected, but there’s also a touch of the unexpected, such as a brick from Florence Nightingale’s house, a 1940s-era matron’s tea-set complete with an ashtray, an array of historical microscopes and a collection of nurses’ uniforms chronicling the changing hospital fashion through the times.
The documents are also far from boring. The collection includes details of wage increases for nursing staff and old ledgers that outlined surgeries performed at the hospital. One of them shows the
particulars of more than 200 surgeries performed in 1902 and the procedures that were done. The vast majority used chloroform as an anaesthetic. The outcome of the surgeries were also recorded.
Although not an original project, the collection is a labour of love for former director of nursing and now volunteer Ruth Letts, who has been photographing, sorting and documenting the items with the help of other volunteers in the hopes of opening up an exhibition dedicated to Fremantle Hospital’s history. Ms Letts said the items came to her through a range of different methods, both from within Fremantle Hospital and from others like Woodside and Kaleeya. “A lot of the tertiary hospitals all try to keep their history intact and a lot of it was kept, like the hand-written original board minutes,” she said. “People have donated as well. I’ve got a box in there from a Dr Barrington Knight Pictures: Matt Jelonek who donated a lot of stuff, including a wartime metal medical kit.
“A dinner bell in one show cabinet is actually the Mosman Park annex bell and I’ve had that in my office for 15 years, just knowing that one day it would find a place.”
While still a while away from being ready for public viewing, Ms Letts said it was something they were considering to continue the strong links the hospital has had with the local community for more than 100 years.
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Fremantle Hospital Exhibition curator and volunteer Ruth Letts with Lesley Gibbs.