Some  years ago I had to spend a few weeks in a major Sydney hospital. I didn’t actually feel sick, and since I was editing a book at the time I took along my  notebooks and computer. There was no restriction  at all on visitors. In fact, my husband Rob would arrive in the morning and stay until late  evening.

I was amazed to discover  how different things were in the past, especially during the Great Depression, when one imagines  the sick needed all the support they could get. There was no wandering into a ward any old time, and the number of visitors was strictly  controlled,  even when a patient  was on the road to recovery. Fees were introduced  at many hospitals.

Sydney Hospital had introduced visitor’s tickets  by the 1880s.  In theory it was to avoid congestion, but there appears to have been  a degree  of snobbery involved. The Macquarie Street entrance was considered a bit too select for the great unwashed. They were  pushed around to the Domain entry behind the hospital, where the  tickets were issued.

Sydney Hospital

Sydney Hospital

In October 1889  a member of parliament, Mr Carroll, was outraged when he was stopped at the front gate by a nurse and told to go around the back and get a ticket.  As the Daily Telegraph commented gleefully;

‘This was too much for the dignity of a member of parliament, and Mr Carroll promptly refused to have anything to do with a back door entrance.’ 

He was even more upset when another member noted that some people were given special dispensation and ushered in from Macquarie Street.

The tickets  below are not dated, but probably date from the 1930s.

Visitors' passes, sixpence to visit the sick.
Admit two

Adelaide Hospital’s ticketing system also  caused dissention.  In 1929 a gentleman  from Goodwood Park fired off a letter to the editor of his local paper;

I went on Sunday afternoon to an unfortunate inmate of the Hospital – on a visiting day. At the gate I was asked for a ticket, and, not having one and not knowing of the necessity for one, I was refused admittance……I was told to apply to the ward nurse for one, but I could only do that by telephoning from the outside!

Has anyone ever heard of such an insane and inhuman regulation? Nobody goes to a hospital for amusement or pleasure. Most people abhor seeing all the sickness and suffering. They go to while away a weary hour for the sufferer. But authority says you must not. Why don’t they charge an amusement tax? It might swell the dwindling revenue.

Of course, people did manage to get around the rules, much to the writer’s pleasure.  On their way out, visitors passed their tickets through the railings to other waiting in the rain to visit sick friends and relatives.  Mr Elkan signed off with a witty barb for the authorities;

Those who made this regulation will not require an admission card to enter the place  at which I wished them  on  that Sunday afternoon.

Adelaide Hospital, where tickets were issued for visiting  the sick.
The old Adelaide Hospital

In  June 1939 there was an attempt to reduce the visitors fee at the Royal Hobart Hospital from  6d to 3d.  Nearly a thousand pounds had been collected  in one month and board member Mr  J. Hughes thought a reduction was in order. However, he met with opposition from the chairman, Dr Carruthers.

Dr Bruce Carruthers, who supported a higher fee for visiting the sick.
Dr Bruce Carruthers

Dr Carruthers was loathe to encourage  more visitors. Two people per patient were already admitted free and he felt that was quite enough. He added;

Are you going to satisfy the morbid curiosity of persons who want to see what a hospital is like?’

Mr Hughes replied, quite reasonably;

It is not morbid curiosity, they come to see sick friends.’

To my amusement, Dr Carruthers said that patients often told him that their visitors were people they didn’t  even want to see.  Yes, well…..there might be something in that.


Visiting the sick, and the patients heartily sick of it all.
Bring back the sixpenny charge!

Of course these days there are  often  too many patients. Those people by your bedside may not be bearing fruit and flowers, but merely wanting to take your place.

Too many sick people!


  1. Another very interesting story Pauline. I remember when my little sister was born in 1961 my younger sister and myself were not allowed to visit our mother and little sister. Only our Dad and Grandmother (Mum’s mother) were allowed in. The story went that it was because of Golden Staff.

    • Pauline

      Apparently those visiting fees were still in place in many hospitals until the 1950s. The Golden Staff story seems a bit odd, why would it be any different for you and your sister? I know visitors are often severely curtailed during flu epidemics, which does makes sense.

  2. An entertaining and interesting post as always. Hospitals though are still a serious subject, and despite you doing so well, that photo at the top of this post still makes my blood run cold. Having needed hospitals myself several times in the past, I’m eternally grateful that they are there for our benefit. I’d never heard about the 6d entrance fee, but hopefully helped to cover the cost of treatment to those unable to pay, especially in the Depression. I had to smile at the non-admittance through the front gate of the Member of Parliament – a great way to deal with self-important stuffed shirts I’m sure. And I did agree with the sentiments of not always wanting to see some particular visitors when feeling unwell, especially if like me, your brain goes wooly too! When I gave birth to my eldest son in 1967, new mothers stayed in hospital for 10 days and evening visiting time was for one hour only, with a maximum of 2 visitors. I seem to recall there was a concession of a short visiting period on Sunday afternoons too. If a third turned up, one of the earlier arrivals had to leave. ‘Sister’ in her starched cap and cuffs was very unbending.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Marcia. I don’t think things really relaxed until the late sixties. And it did have its benefits. Having babies was the only time people like my mother had a proper rest. All so very different now.

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