Sydney Sydney Hospital


Contact point

Picture of Kate Napier
Kate Napier Director Heritage Environment & Planning 02 9769 9847

The Minister's Stonework Program has been working in partnership with NSW Health, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District over many years to address the asset management obligations at Sydney Hospital. A rolling program of façade repairs was undertaken from 2002 – 2009 and 2015 – 2020. Approximately 35% of the backlog façade repairs have been completed over the last 18 years.

A brief history

The three original wings of Sydney Hospital on Macquarie Street were built between 1811 and 1816 by convict labour. By the 1850s, the northern wing of the original hospital had been converted for use as the Parliament House, while the southern wing was occupied by the Royal Mint. They still retain much of their external form.

The central wing was the only section of the hospital still being used for its original purpose and had become overcrowded and insanitary. A competition was held to replace it, which was won by American born architect Thomas Rowe in 1879.

Sydney Hospital was built in two stages

The first stage of the new hospital began in 1880. Within four years, the building program was stopped following disputes over the budget. Only the first level of each of the four wings of the new hospital were completed by 1884.

The project was revived in 1892 under the guidance of the Government Architect, Walter Liberty Vernon. John Kirkpatrick was appointed as the architect to oversee the design and completion of the second stage of the project.

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Catch-up maintenance included:

  • removal of large, cracked and loose masonry at danger of falling
  • replacement of deteriorated sandstone
  • repointing of open stone joints, roof structure, roofing and rain water goods repair
  • installation of protective lead weathering to overhanging stone elements
  • repairs to structural verandah beams
  • repairs and repainting of timber joinery and cast iron verandah balustrades.
Sydney Hospital - project works

Sydney Hospital carvings

The façade of Sydney Hospital is decorated with carvings which are thought to depict historical figures associated with the development of the hospital and NSW politics.

These include the then premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, and the NSW Governor Lord Augustus Loftus; members of the medical fraternity including Sir Arthur Renwick and Florence Nightingale; and architects James Barnet, John Kirkpatrick and Thomas Rowe.

Many of Sydney’s grand sandstone buildings are adorned with sculpture depicting the human form, either a whole figure or a head or face. Carved in stone are statues of gods and angels, kings and queens, explorers and politicians, children and working men and women, all embellishing the façades and engaging with the street.

They symbolise a range of ideas about the society that produced them and have the potential to reveal stories about the people who commissioned or made them.

The theory of a hierarchical order in which the figures at the lower level represent mortals, the middle level, gods, and the upper level, angels has been considered, but it remains speculation. Hospital folklore handed down to staff and historical archives and literature relating to the history of the hospital have not revealed anything, and no references to the carvings, or their symbolism, have been located to date.

There is inconclusive evidence about whether the carvings were done in-situ or carved and then lifted into position.

Stylistically, the carvings represent two distinct phases of decoration but remain puzzled by the perceived symbolic intent of the carvings. The decoration on Sydney Hospital is the work of two different architects, Rowe and Kirkpatrick, and this is central to understanding the evolution of the designs of the carvings and the different style of carved ornament on the buildings.

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Sydney Hospital carvings