Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

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Following World War I and the onset of the influenza epidemic at the College in 1919, a Hospital was built and opened by Drs A N McArthur and J M Baxter on 14 May, 1920. It was originally constructed as a timber building on the now grassed area between the Library Building and the Refectory Building. In his speech day address in 1921, the Principal, Rev F W Rolland described the Hospital 'with its two long wards dedicated to the memory of old boys who fell in the war' , as a model of its kind. ‘Everything that nurses can wish is available, infectious diseases can be completely isolated; and in the many airy wards and sunny verandahs and comfortable convalescent rooms a patient has the fullest chance of recovery’ . The building comprised an Isolation Ward funded by the OGCA and a Convalescence Ward funded by Mr Archibald (1862-1946) and Mrs Jessie Campbell in memory of their son Allan Fairbairn Campbell (1896-1916). In 1972, after the Hospital building was demolished to make way for the new Senior School library, the facility was re-established in Morrison House above the then administrative offices of 1972. In this location, there were two wards - one of five beds and the other of ten with a bathroom located between them. The hospital later evolved into the Medical Centre now housed at Mossgiel.

The events leading up to the foundation of the Geelong College Hospital reveal an era in which the School struggled with the profound impact of the First World War and the subsequent influenza epidemics. At least 512 men, Old Collegians and Staff served in the First World War and at least 85 gave their lives. They are remembered on the honour rolls in the War Memorial Wing. The return of the survivors to Australia occurred amidst a growing worldwide Influenza epidemic which had erupted in the closing months of the war and was eventually to kill millions.

In a letter dated 2 November 1918 to the Old Collegians Association a former student T Hawkes wrote 'we all expected to get leave here (Capetown) but the authorities came out and told us that the whole place was down with Spanish Influenza and that we could not land on any account. We were only a couple of days out from Capetown when the men started going down with the thing and in a week it had practically turned the boat into a hospital ship' .

The onset of the epidemic at the School in 1919 was to prove traumatic for the College with widespread disruption to normal schooling, sporting activities and administration. Owing to the influenza restrictions school work did not begin until March 11 and correspondence classes were arranged for many students doing public exams. The Principal in 1919 reported 'The work of the school was much interrupted… The number of boys affected together with those who stayed away through fear of infection, made a big gap in the attendance, and … work was almost impossible.” Pegasus of that year also reported that “after bringing so many invalids through last term the headmaster, himself was attacked by the scourge.' No students died from the epidemic while at the College and much of this good fortune was attributed to the untiring work of the Principal’s sister Miss Price, a trained nurse.

The Hospital, circa 1927.

The Hospital, circa 1927.

Pegasus records a litany of deferrals and cancellations of events from debating to football to Old Collegians reunions and Annual Meetings. One of the more noted events was the withdrawal of the Geelong College crew from the 1919 Head of The River. Despite attempts at isolating the crew, 5 members succumbed to influenza just prior to the event forcing the College’s withdrawal from the race. The Second VIII had previously been disbanded due to illness. In light hearted vein the crew became known as the 'influenza crew' and one Old Collegian is reported to have telegrammed “Crew stiff luck. Hope best next year. Cheero”.

Elsewhere however, there was a much darker side to the influenza epidemic. H E Hawkesworth entered Geelong College in 1893 attending for about 5 years and eventually became a metallurgist at Broken Hill. Immediately after war broke out, he returned to Geelong, enlisted and sailed for Egypt on October 21, 1914. From there he was posted to Gallipoli, was wounded at Cape Hellas and fought at Lone Pine. In 1916 he was sent to the Western Front where, at Passchendale, he was once again wounded and subsequently invalided back to England. Despite surviving Gallipoli and the slaughter of the French battlefields, Lance Corporal Hawkesworth contracted influenza and died at the Military Hospital at Devonport near Plymouth.

Shortly after the War, the Old Collegians Association decided to recognise the many Old Collegians who had died and established a Memorial Fund. As well as the War Memorial and several scholarships, the New Preparatory School in Aphrasia St. and the Hospital became the outcomes of this fund raising Project. In the same year 1920, that saw the Foundation Stone of the new red brick Preparatory School laid, the College also drew up plans for 'a complete hospital, with wards and nurses rooms and kitchens, in case of any outbreak of the infectious ailments to which schools are sometimes subject' .

The Hospital was opened on 14 May in the School’s diamond jubilee year of 1921 by Dr Norman McArthur. It proved providential, for in August 1921 the Principal reported that, 'on the occasion of the opening of the College Hospital last year one of the speakers expressed the hope that the new building would never be used. That hope has, alas proved fallacious as this term the Hospital has been taxed to its utmost capacity'and 'various dormitories in the school have been utilised to provide accommodation for those suffering from the influenza epidemic. The attack came and went in the usual mysterious way.'

In 1972, the Hospital was finally demolished to make way in its turn for the new Library Building.

Sources: Ad Astra September 1972.
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