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Image Diphtheria ward of the Melbourne Hospital, Christmas 1900

TLF ID R2793

This is a black-and-white photograph taken in the grounds of the Melbourne Hospital on Christmas Day, 1900. It shows children from the hospital's diphtheria ward seated in a large wicker pushcart. Two nurses, one of whom holds an infant, stand behind the children. On the right of the photograph is a doctor. The photograph is mounted on card. The details of the photograph and the names of the subjects are inscribed in cursive script on the card. They are listed as Nurse Grant, Sister Duncan, Tommy Cundl (infant) and Dr Owen. The children in the pushcart are, from left, Matilda Bradshaw, Percy Fouracre, Edgar Turner, Francis Bowes, Arthur Bliss, Dick Bliss and Amy Walter.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows a group of children affected by diphtheria - diphtheria is a highly infectious and often fatal bacterial disease; diphtheria bacteria produce a membrane that grows in the throat and can lead to suffocation, and a toxin that can lead to paralysis and heart failure.
  • It in this period, diphtheria outbreaks frequently reached epidemic levels and caused more deaths in Australia than any other infectious disease; the increased use of the diphtheria vaccine and improved living standards have led to the virtual disappearance of the disease.
  • It suggests that diphtheria is primarily a childhood disease - prior to widespread immunisation, children under 15 years of age were the most at risk of contracting diphtheria; one of the main causes of childhood mortality in Australia, diphtheria sometimes affected entire families (Dick and Arthur Bliss, who are shown in this photograph, may be siblings).
  • It indicates that diphtheria was so widespread in this period that a dedicated diphtheria ward was created at the Melbourne Hospital - in the 1890s, many public hospitals established diphtheria wards, as much to isolate the disease as to treat it; patients were isolated for up to four weeks.
  • It provides an example of the uniform worn by nurses in this period - the uniform worn by Nurse Grant and Sister Duncan comprises a dress with puffed sleeves and a starched white apron with hemlines to the ground and a starched cap.
  • It gives an example of the type of clothing worn by a doctor in this period - Dr Owen is dressed in a suit with waistcoat, starched collar and tie; the suit, which distinguishes him from the uniformed nurses, signifies both his professional status and authority.
  • It suggests that the wearing of hats in public was the convention in this period - it was considered immodest for men and women of all classes to appear without a hat in public; the photograph's outdoor setting and its status as an official record would have required that Dr Owen wear a hat; nurses wore caps at all times while in uniform.
  • It provides examples of the type of sleepwear worn by children in this period - both the boys and girls are dressed in smocks or nightshirts, which were usually buttoned at the back, while some of the children wear nightcaps.
  • It suggests that the Australian population was predominately Anglo-Celtic in this period - the children and hospital staff in this photograph all have Anglo-Celtic names reflecting a population that was described in the first edition of 'Year Book Australia' (1908) as 'fundamentally British'; most migrants came from Britain and Ireland in this period.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Archibald James Campbell
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Archibald James Campbell
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements