Alfred Archives

Description of Service

The Alfred Archives is the home of the Hospital's collection of unique and culturally valuable items.

The Archives contain records, memorabilia and photographs dating back to the formation of "The New Hospital Committee" in 1868 which was the antecedent to The Alfred Hospital which opened on 6 March 1871.

The collection represents an invaluable cultural asset to the State of Victoria and the Hospital as it portrays the evolution of hospital life and health care provision in Melbourne since the later half of the 19th Century.

The Alfred Archives was established in 1995 as a centre for the protection of the Hospital's heritage collection and for historical research.  The collection contains documents, photographs and medical instruments some dating back to 1871. 

Donations of relevant material are most welcome.  Contact Peter Frawley, Telephone 9076 2022 or email

The role of the Archives is to protect items of ongoing evidential and cultural value and to communicate the history of the Hospital through its heritage activities.

History of The Alfred

The Alfred hospital was founded in 1869 as a result of the work of a number of Melbourne doctors who fought a long and internecine battle for an additional general hospital in the swelling colonial metropolis.

Melbourne's population swelled during the middle of the 19th Century as a result of the increased immigration inspired by the goldrush in Ballarat and Bendigo. While Melbourne's population exploded, essential infrastructure struggled to meet the increased demand.

Public health issues associated with the burgeoning population came to a head during the 1880s when a typhoid epidemic spread through the colonial capital.

The epidemic inspired one of the greatest engineering feats in Australia with the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works constructing a subterranean sewer system.

Central to the ongoing battle between the supporters for a New Hospital and Melbourne Hospital administrators was a number of factors. The New Hospital supporters were highly qualified physicians who were spurned by the Melbourne Hospital.

Another factor was the fear of Melbourne Hospital administrators that any new acute care facility would represent competition for the small pool of funds made available by charitable institutions.

Meanwhile, the Melbourne Hospital was attempting to cope with an emerging crisis within its wards by the significant number of "incurables", convalescent and disabled patients taking up valuable hospital beds.

In a bid to retain its imprimatur status as the only general acute care hospital in Melbourne, the Melbourne attempted to kill off two birds with one stone by suggesting to the New Hospital Committee that any new hospital in Melbourne should be for convalescent patients.

While debate raged about the purpose of the New Hospital, an event occurred which sealed the fate of both warring parties.

In 1869, a suspected Fenian activist, O'Farrell, in Clontarf, Sydney, shot the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Alfred, in the back. So great was the public outrage over the attempted assassination that the citizens of both Sydney and Melbourne commenced fundraising to build hospitals as a memorial to the cure of Prince Alfred.

O'Farrell's end came in what must have been a record time from incarceration to execution. Within two months, O'Farrell met his maker at the end of a rope in Parramatta Gaol. Back in Melbourne, the committee for the New Hospital and supporters for a hospital to memorialize Prince Alfred joined forces.

Prahran Council then donated a parcel of low lying land for the provision of a Hospital. In 1870, the Melbourne architect, Charles Webb, won the competition to design The Alfred Hospital with his revolutionary design.

Webb incorporated the "Nightingale" design principles by designing large light filled pavilions as wards connected by covered corridors or walkways. The basic design principles were later emulated in renovations of the Lonsdale Street campus of the Melbourne Hospital.

Since its inception, The Alfred set itself apart from the Melbourne Hospital and The Alfred was at the vanguard of health care provision. Not only was health care provision physically remote from the advances being made in Europe and the United States, the rivalry between The Alfred and the Melbourne Hospital inspired a culture of self sufficiency based innovation.

The Hospital's first matron, Miss Haldane  Turriff, was an acolyte of Florence Nightingale, sent to the antipodes to train nurses.

The Alfred also attracted its own degree of luminaries and infamous characters. Life at The Alfred, was anything but boring.

Dr John Blair was admonished by the Royal Society of Victoria after bragging about performing a kidney operation with a pen knife only to see his patient die of a post-operative illness.

The first three dispensers were hired and fired in short succession as the matron quickly discovered their clandestine enjoyment of ether, chloroform and alcohol. In at least one instance, a young doctor was discovered by the Matron in one of the nurse's beds.

Later, the Hospital was at the forefront of community based-care. The purpose of the Hospital, enshrined by its founders was for the care of the "sick poor".

During the early 20th Century, the Hospital was home to a number of temporary army tents to treat patients during the outbreak of the meningitis epidemic in 1915 and the Spanish influenza pandemic in 1918.

During the Second World War and the Vietnam War, The Alfred hospital medicos staffed field hospitals in war zones.

The Hospital has a long tradition of medical innovation including the first working heart-lung machine developed at The Alfred in 1957 and continues with this tradition with many new innovations regularly appearing in the electronic and print media.

While the Hospital is the second oldest general acute care facility in Melbourne, it is the oldest facility to be operating on the same site. Charles Webb's original Queen Anne design was slowly replaced with more modern buildings with the Linay Pavilion as the last element of the original hospital enveloped within the modern hospital complex.

The main activity of The Alfred's archives is indexing its material working towards the 150 years celebrations for the hospital in 2021.

General Information

9076 2022 / 9076 2424

Hours Of Service
Monday and Wednesday, 10.00am to 4.00pm.
Ground Floor, Monash Building, The Alfred

Tuesday 10.00am to 4.00pm
Undercroft, Caulfield Hospital

Visiting Hours - by appointment only.