Port Elizabeth of Yore: The First Provincial Hospital

Plans for a hospital were discussed over several years. It was not until Act 5 of 1856 established the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital that planning for a hospital could commence. As an interim measure, a house in Rodney Street was hired to serve as a hospital. This was opened on the 10th September 1856 with Dunsterville and Rubidge serving as doctors.

Main picture: Entrance to the Richmond Hill provincial hospital in 1856

The spot for a permanent hospital was finally selected, on what became known as Hospital Hill. The hospital was bordered by Lansdowne Place and Wills Streets. Robert Archibald, the Town Engineer, drew-up the plans and building commenced in February 1857. In October 1859, during an outbreak of smallpox, the hospital was first taken into use. Over the years, extensions were built, and other buildings added in the grounds.

Temporary accommodation for the Provincial Hospital in Rodney Street, in 1856

During April 1871 two senior employees resigned. Chemist James Richardson, and his wife, since 1863 Superintendent and Matron of the Provincial Hospital respectively, resigned. The Board appointed Dr George Askew Hull to be the first Resident House Surgeon and Dispenser and he was succeeded in August 1872 by Dr Robert Lamb.

View of the harbour taken from Hospital Hill

Children’s Ward

The official opening of a children’s ward at the Provincial Hospital was performed by the Mayoress, Mrs. Pearson on the 17th January 1888. The necessity of a ward specifically for children had long been acknowledged and fund-raising for this purpose had been in progress for a decade with concerts, bazaars and donations.

View of the hospital from photo taken circa 1905 with Richmond Hill (street) in front, Dagbreek Single further up and Lutman Street to the left

Mother Cecile of St Peter’s Mission in Grahamstown (The Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican Order) offered to provide nursing staff free of charge for three years if a children’s ward were built. The Sisters managed the ward until 1898 when it was decided that the Hospital Board should control it. Sister Fanny, a trained nurse, was placed in charge. The Sisters also nursed in the main hospital until 1898.

After the hospital’s relocation

The foundation stone of the new Provincial Hospital was laid on the 5th June 1912 by the first Administrator of the Cape, Sir Frederic de Waal. Designed in Cape Town, the much larger hospital was keenly awaited, and was finally opened on 4th June 1915.

The old hospital was disinfected and then taken over by the School Board. A Hebrew School was opened in part of the old hospital premises in 1918. This was later moved to the Old Foresters’ Hall on the western corner of Edward and Campbell Streets.

In 1926 The Port Elizabeth Secondary School opened in the old hospital buildings, with L.V. Deary as Principal, and going up to standard 8. It was the first school here to offer Afrikaans on the higher grade, thus catering for children from the Afrikaans-medium primary schools as well as for those from English-medium, schools.
The section for infectious diseases (Isolation Ward) of the old hospital can still be seen to the west of the new buildings on the property.

The hospital is prominent on the crest of the hill


Port Elizabeth: A Social Chronicle to the end of 1945 by Margaret Harradine (2004, Historical Society of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth)

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