The First Private Hospital
The first Mater Misericordiae Private Hospital, located in rented premises in Brisbane’s North Quay, opened its doors on 4 January 1906 with accommodation for 20 patients. By the end of its first year, the hospital had treated 141 patients.
The house, called Aubigny, overlooked the Brisbane River and was designed by the distinguished nineteenth century Queensland architect Benjamin Backhouse for the merchant Samuel Davis, a founder of Brisbane's Hebrew congregation. Built in 1865 the house, with a small synagogue in its grounds, was a handsome three-storied building surrounded on all sides by verandahs.
For the Sisters, a fee-paying private hospital was both a means of addressing the new hospital’s immediate financial needs and a stepping-stone to the Sisters’ ideal of providing a free public hospital for the poor.
Crossing the River
The private hospital remained at Aubigny for nearly five years. In keeping with their vision to provide public healthcare, construction commenced on two brand new Mater hospitals on 10 acres of land purchased by the Sisters of Mercy in 1893. The site, now called Mater Hill, is located south of the river and overlooks South Brisbane and Woolloongabba.
Building Mater Private and Mater Public Hospitals was only one challenge faced by the Sisters. The other was gaining support from the medical fraternity and attracting private patients. Many believed that doctors would never "cross the river" to treat patients in the new hospital—a theory that was quickly proved wrong once the new hospitals opened.
The Telegraph reported in March 1908 that rumours had been circulating for weeks that a new hospital was being built on a hill "facing the cool summer breezes, and protected by the rising hill behind from the westerly winds." The reference to the perfect Brisbane aspect is likely to have been no chance remark, but carefully placed to help reduce the reluctance of doctors and patients to venture to the southern side of the river.
Quality was the keynote. The plans were in the experienced hands of the Brisbane architectural firm, Hall and Dods, architects of the Lady Lamington Nurses’ Home at the Brisbane General Hospital (now Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital). Mater Private Hospital was to be a three-storied brick building with verandahs on all sides. Many elements of the design were characteristic of Robin Dods, one of the most distinguished Australian architects of his generation.
Cardinal Moran of Sydney laid Mater Private Hospital’s Foundation Stone in May 1908. The event was a cause of great celebration and attracted about 12 000 people.
Sixteen months later, on 24 September 1909, Archbishop Dunne laid the Foundation Stone for Mater Public Hospital also designed by Robin Dods and built further down Mater Hill.
On 14 August 1910, the new Mater Private Hospital was officially blessed by Cardinal Moran and opened by the Governor, Sir William MacGregor. The hospital grounds were brightly decorated with flags and bunting and crammed by a crowd of 8000 people overflowing to the hillside.
On 8 September, the hospital’s first patient, Mrs Bolger from Fortitude Valley was transferred from Aubigny.
Five months later, on 2 February 1911, the new Mater Public Hospital was opened without fanfare or special celebrations. The construction and outfitting of the v-shaped building had attracted tremendous community support. The women's wards were furnished by an anonymous donor and Brisbane's jockeys and horse trainers furnished the men's surgical ward.
A great deal had been accomplished in little more than five years. Mater Private Hospital was a great success and the Sisters’ desire to provide service and compassion to the poor and afflicted had become a reality. Like the Sisters, Brisbane’s medical community and patients had "crossed the river."
A Permanent Place for Worship
The slightly easier financial climate of the 1920’s enabled the Sisters to build a permanent chapel which was to be at the heart of the Mercy mission at Mater. Planning for the chapel, which was built close to the Private Hospital, actually began in secret during the First World War. Once again, the highly regarded architect Robin Dods was consulted even though he had moved to Sydney.
Constructing a Children's Hospital
By the mid 1920s, Mother Mary Patrick Potter was determined to build a children's hospital which would meet the needs of a growing population.
Mother Potter watched Archbishop Duhig lay the Foundation Stone for Mater Children’s Hospital in 1926 and saw the excavations begin in 1927. Sadly, she died in November 1927 and did not see Mater Children’s Hospital at work. The 1930s Depression prevented the building—designed by Hall and Prentice, the remaining partners in Robin Dods’ architectural firm—from being the large hospital Mother Patrick had planned.
Mater Children’s Hospital was officially opened and named after Mother Patrick Potter on 10 May 1931. Every one of its 80 beds was immediately occupied, when it accepted its first patients on 6 July.