Such was life

Love and larceny at the Melbourne Hospital

The winter of 1849 was an exciting time at the Melbourne Hospital as love blossomed between the resident apothecary and matron.

In those days, anyone who could afford to would pay a doctor to visit them at home. For those who could not afford this, they went to the Melbourne Hospital, which was the city’s first free hospital.

A lithograph of the first Melbourne hospital from the 1850s

Hospital, H16995

Mr Joseph Clowes was already working at the hospital as the resident apothecary when, in February 1849, the widow Mrs Marion Allingham started work as the hospital’s new matron.  As part of her employment, Mrs Allingham lived at the hospital. Mr Clowes obviously took an instant shine to Mrs Allingham, as in the following months he arranged to have her bedroom completely refurnished and repainted, according to their Annual Reports.

The workplace romance continued through autumn and by winter, wedding bells began to ring. On Wednesday 17 July, apothecary and matron tied the knot at the Wesleyan Methodist Church, just one block east of the hospital up Lonsdale Street.

The next evening, whilst Mr and Mrs Clowes were on their honeymoon, thieves struck! The burglary is described in the famous Chronicles of Early Melbourne, written by a journalist named Garryowen:

‘Some ruffians took it into their heads to perpetrate not only a larceny but a full blown felony at the Melbourne Hospital on the night of the 18th of July, 1849. The resident apothecary, like other boy-medicos since was spending an evening in some social relaxation and during his absence, a house breaking brigade turned its attention to his quarters at the hospital. Effecting a entree through the kitchen window, the robbers proceeded stealthily to the private apartment of the prescriptioner which they ruthlessly ransacked. Forcing a lock on the chiffoniere, they found 8 pounds which was forthwith confiscated. Two writing desks belonging to the dispenser and matron were removed to the yard where they picked the lock and emptied the contents…Noises had been heard during the night by the inmates but they did not disturb themselves, under the impression that the apothecary was taking some pedestrian exercise in his room, either somnambulistically or otherwise. No clue was ever obtained to the pilferers, or the abducted banknotes.’

A wood engraving of the Melbourne Hospital published in 'The Australasian sketcher' in 1881.

Sketches at the Melbourne hospital, A/S29/01/81/44

Mr and Mrs Clowes worked at the hospital for another year before moving on and having two children together.

The Library holds many publications by and about the Melbourne Hospital, which in 1935 became known as the The Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Written by Chris Wade, Newspaper Librarian

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