The image above is a beautiful glimpse into a day out and about on the water. Sydney has many beautiful river and creek systems which feed into the spectacular Sydney Harbour, and these have long been a popular destination for a lazy day out and about, used by residents and visitors alike. Yet this postcard also captures a beautiful 19th century building – The Walker Convalescent Hospital. This building, one which many Sydney residents may not realise exists, has a fascinating history.
The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital, which is today known as Rivendell, is a stunning building, surrounded by beautiful grounds, on the banks of the Parramatta River. The story of the hospital begins in 1886 with the death of a well known Sydney philanthropist, Thomas Walker. Walker had left a bequest of 100,000 pounds for the purposes of building a convalescent hospital, and also set aside a portion of his estate at Concord as the hospital site. The executors of Walkers will held a competition in April 1888 to select a design for the convalescent hospital, a competition won by John Kirkpatrick. Yet Kirkpatricks design was criticised as too expensive, and in mid 1889 it was announced that although his design would be built, the architects engaged in the building of the hospital would be another firm, Sulman and Power.
Building of the hospital commenced in 1890 and the hospital opened in late September 1893. It was built in the Queen Anne style, and positively reflected the influences of Florence Nightingale on hospital design and organisation. The final cost of the hospital exceeded the bequest by Thomas Walker by 50,000 pounds, and the extra funds were donated by Walkers daughters Eadith and Joanna, and Eadith’s childhood friend, Anne Sulman. The Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital was used for convalescents right up until World War Two, when the military took possession of the building. Patients at the hospital were not charged for their care, with Thomas Walker’s bequest providing for four weeks of care per patient, with the option of a two month stay if needed. After the war, the trustees of the hospital regained control and it continued to act as a convalescent hospital until 1976, when control was given to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Today, the site is known as Rivendell, and acts as a rehabilitation centre and school for adolescents, under the direction of the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.