Number 1 Operating Theatre

An operating theatre was part of the central building of the 1856 era Adelaide Hospital. The main block consisted of a consulting or casualty room and operating theatre. An account of a visit the Hospital in 1866 describes the ‘general operating room’ as comfortable and well suited for its secondary function as a place of worship. In the early decades, on Sundays, the operating room served as the hospital chapel.

“The Advertiser” newspaper, Friday 1st August 1890, gave more details in the article titled ‘Adelaide Hospital New Operating Theatre’.  “- the anaesthetic chamber door opens directly onto the theatre’,  - the surgeons room, opening onto the theatre”.

“The Advertiser” newspaper, Friday 1st August 1890, gave more details in the article titled ‘Adelaide Hospital New Operating Theatre’. “- the anaesthetic chamber door opens directly onto the theatre’, – the surgeons room, opening onto the theatre”.

By late in 1890, the main building had been completed, with the pantry and lavatory accommodation added and a covered walkway provided from the wards to the new theatre block.

Postcard View, Operating Theatre building built 1890

Postcard View, Operating Theatre building built 1890

Adelaide newspaper reports of the new operating theatre were positive, this description written just before it was opened February 1891, is quoted;   “the fittings of the building, though plain, are of the most solid and substantial character. The theatre itself is cemented, floor tiled, and ample light provided all round. Rows of seats are raised in two semicircles for students and medical visitors, and every appliance is to be found for operating to the best advantage-”

“The Advertiser” newspaper, Friday 1st August 1890, gave eloquent details in the article titled ‘Adelaide Hospital New Operating Theatre’,  “- the anaesthetic chamber door opens directly onto the theatre, – the surgeons room, opening onto the theatre”.

The model of the operating table, designed by Mr John Wood, Surgical Mechanic

The model of the operating table, designed by Mr John Wood, Surgical Mechanic

The article also describes “the most important piece of furniture in the new theatre will be the operating table, which is being manufactured according to a design of the instrument-keeper of the institution. It includes ingenious mechanical devices for disposing the body of the patient in the attitude most suitable for the operation. The instruments will be kept ready to hand in the surgeon’s room.    The operating table, which was designed and erected by the theatre attendant, John Wood, is the best of its kind. Connected with the theatre are surgeons’, students’, waiting and anaesthetic rooms, provided with all necessary appliances and fittings. In addition to the theatre itself and the adjoining rooms there are two very large and lofty wards with tiled floors, and walls tiled from floor to ceiling, containing six beds each, for receiving patients after operation until they are fit to remove to the general wards. At the back of these are two small separation wards, tiled in the same way, with one bed each for special cases requiring isolation. There is a nurses’ room centrally situated, so that all four wards can be overlooked without entering any of them. The building itself is very lofty, with hollow walls and a thick layer of seaweed between the roof and ceilings for reducing the temperature of the building. The ventilation of the entire block is very complete. It may be fairly stated that the building is one of the most complete operating blocks in the world”

Mr John Wood, the theatre attendant was appointed in 1888. Mr Wood was employed as Surgical Mechanic and Custodian of Surgical stores, he worked in this position for thirty eight years. His son Harold was first his assistant and then his successor, also employed at the Hospital for many decades of service.

1906 Number 1 Operating Theatre, Nurse Sargeant and Mr John Wood

1906 Number 1 Operating Theatre, Nurse Sargeant and Mr John Wood. The photograph is an original 1906 copy, pasted into the autograph album of Nurse Lucy Daw. Refer to Biography page.

Medical students were expected to know quite a good deal about the names of surgical instruments and their uses. For a small fee, Mr Wood tutored the students in this practice.

A Manual for the Practice of Surgery. Thomas Bryant, F.R.C.S.  printed 1879, poor condition, brown hardcover, embossed pattern cover, spine torn off with only library label ‘ 617 BRY Vol 1’  adhered to bottom portion. Ink signature on first page, “J. Wood”. Text with fine detailed illustrations,  Produced by J. & A. Churchill, New Burlington street, London 1879.

A Manual for the Practice of Surgery. Thomas Bryant, F.R.C.S. printed 1879, hardcover. Ink signature on first page, “J. Wood”. Text with fine detailed illustrations, Produced by J. & A. Churchill, New Burlington street, London 1879.

It is believed that the theatre block of 1891 was the first in Australia to have adjoining post-operative wards, known now as Recovery wards. The two six-bed wards were called Charity and Mercy, usually referred to as the Theatre Wards.

Mercy Ward, newly opened circa 1892.

Mercy Ward, photograph dated circa 1892. The three nurses are Susan Basham at the table, Nurse Good between the beds and Nurse Hind at the window. Other features include two young bed patients, the canaries in the birdcage and abundant potted plants and vases of flowers. The lighting is gas plumbed; the walls are tiled to the cornice with a very high ceiling height.

From 1898, alterations and improvements for the theatre were gradually identified. It was not until 1903 that finance for alterations, such as a sterilizing plant, were available and the work approved. The funds for improvements were supplied by the Commissioners of the Adelaide Hospital, not from the South Australian Government. By 1904 the theatre arrangements were again regarded as being in line with the best surgical practice.

circa 1900, the hexagonal walls of the theatre at left of the main hospital buildings

circa 1900, the hexagonal walls of the theatre at left of the main hospital buildings

The block which became known as Number One Theatre remained in use until the McEwin Building with its modern theatres was opened in 1946.

References:

National Library of Australia nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26758290

A History of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, J.Estcourt Hughes, 1967.

Heritage Office accession numbers: 629, 5126,

Heritage Office photo catalogue-1.12, 1.146, 1.235, 2.12.

Posted in Adelaide Hospital 1860 to 1900, Histories