For many years the general hospital at Ulverstone , on the north west coast of Tasmania, was located on the corner of Victoria and Patrick Street. It was  not far from my grandmother’s flat in Victoria Street.


Ulverstone Hospital

Ulverstone General Hospital

In the early hours of July 14 1954 Nurse N. Pearce discovered a fire at the back of the hospital switchboard. She raised the alarm and Matron  June Woolley rang the fire brigade. Meanwhile Mr  Owen Dyson, who lived across the street, arrived to help. Before the brigade arrived he and Matron Woolley managed to prevent the fire getting a strong hold of the  roof timbers. Thankfully the fire was extinguished without injury to staff or patients, but the hospital was left without power; a disastrous situation.

AN UPDATE – Since publishing this story Mr Dyson’s granddaughter  Judy Rose has told me that some of the foam in the extinguisher got into his eye that day and that he lost the sight in it.

Here is a photo of the burnt out wall, where the switchboard ignited, destroying all the wiring.


Where the switchboard fire burnt a hole in the wall of the Ulverstone Hospital.

Quite a hole!

For the next few days staff battled on using an open fire to boil water and cook. Candles and kerosene lamps were used for lighting. The following newspaper photo is very bad quality, but shows one of the ancillary staff,  Miss Edna Edwards, trimming a row of lamps.

There were only eight patients at the time of the fire. Initially the plan was to transfer them to the Levenbank Maternity Hospital, but instead  it was decided they were well enough to recuperate at home.  The only exception was Mrs Susie Beale. This woman had been a bed-bound patient  for an incredible 15 years. Surely this wasn’t  a normal situation in a general hospital? She had formed special bonds with her carers due to her unfailing spirit and forbearance.

It was decided that moving her was not an option. and she remained in what had become her home.  In the following photo taken after the fire  she is pictured with from left, Sister Thomas, Matron Woolley and Sister Mulligan. How frail she looks.


The Ulverstone Hospital's long term patient, Mrs Beale.

Mrs Beale, a patient sufferer.


Susan ‘Susie’  Ada Smith, was born on December 6 1878.


Named for her mother, Susie  grew up in  the small rural town of Barrington. She  was 26 when she married William Thomas Beale in 1904  at St, John’s Anglican Church in Devonport.

St John's Curch, then known as The Mission Church/

Source – Devonport Historical Society

William was a builder and contractor. The couple lived in Devonport and Queenstown before settling in Ulverstone. I was interested to discover that back in 1927, Susie Beale was the heroine in a fire that broke out in a Devonport dentist’s workshop. She raised the alarm, then ran a quarter of a mile to warn Mr Dicker, whose shop was next door to  Mr Wall the  dentist.  It was her prompt action that saved adjoining properties, as well as the dental surgery and waiting room.

I have not managed to discover what accident or illness led to her long hospital stay. The Beales had no children and   at some point  after she was admitted William relocated to Launceston. On February 16 1948 he died suddenly while playing draughts in the city’s Princes Square, aged 69.

William had made a will in June 1945.  It included an annuity of just over one hundred pounds for Susie. Presumably  this sum  helped  pay for her hospital care.  There were  two other small and mysterious  annuities to members of his wife’s family, his sister in law Asenath Smith and her youngest daughter Marie Patricia (towards her education and maintenance) Hmm, maybe it’s best not to delve too far into this. 😎

Otherwise he left his entire estate valued at £4,000 to the woman he had lived with for many years. She was a widow, Mrs Evaline Burns. The property included a block of flats at 21-25 Leslie Street South Launceston, where he and Mrs Burns had resided together.

Well, fair enough some people  (DEFINITELY NOT ME )   might say. His wife was  a permanent invalid and he had  established a new life for himself.  However, there was a clause in his will that seemed extremely harsh. When Asenath Smith  or her daughter died  the money was to  be shared by the  survivor. Oddly enough, if they  both died  his wife Susie was specifically excluded from receiving any extra income;

AND I DECLARE That  in no event shall my wife be entitled to any benefit or share under this my will apart from the said annual sum of ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR POUNDS payable to her as thereinbefore mentioned.

Three weeks later Mrs Beale placed the following notice in the local paper.  I’m not sure what to make of it really.

THANKS – Mrs S.A. Beale of Ulverstone, widow of William T. Beale, of Launceston, sincerely thanks all relatives and friends for expressions of sympathy in her recent bereavement. She especially thanks the matron and nursing staff of Ulverstone Hospital , also Mrs E Burns of Launceston, for unfailing kindness to her late husband through the years.   (Advocate, Mar. 4 1948)

Goodness me. If I have misrepresented William in any way I’m sure someone will let me know. It was definitely not my intention,

At Christmas the following year the hospital staff decorated the wards with tinsel, balloons, cotton wool snow,  paper chains and masses of summer  flowers. Some blooms were from the gardens of Dr Ferris and Dr Walker. It warmed my heart to read that Mrs Beale was in the minds and hearts of everyone;

Special attention had been given to the corner of a sheltered verandah where a patient, Mrs Susie A, Beale, loved by the staff and visitors alike for her patience and fortitude, has lain for the past 10 years.   (Advocate, Dec. 28 1949)

The glassed in verandah at Ulverstone Hospital

The glassed-in verandah, where Susie Beale spent so many years.

The joy of flowers was provided  to Susie Beale by Ulverstone residents on many occasions. The Rev. Atkins of Holy Trinity Church  was an orchid grower and exhibitor at horticultural shows.  When he planted a  ‘green slipper ‘  orchid he told Mrs Beale  that the first delicate bloom would be for her  and in June 1951 he fulfilled that promise.

One of the most moving tributes to  the hospital’s permanent inmate was from a nurse who had cared for her. Peg Delaney married Neil Hays in August 1954 at Ulverstone’s Anglican church. After the ceremony the couple and their attendants drove over to the hospital to share some of that special day  with Mrs Beale.

As the Advocate pointed out when reporting the visit, this sweet lady may have been bedridden, but she took a great interest in local people and their lives.  At every meeting of the hospital board her name was listed among those making donations. She also contributed to her church and charities such as the Red Cross and the Mothers’ Union.

In December 1954 the Ulverstone Hospital celebrated Mrs Beale’s birthday and  made it possible for her to hold  an afternoon tea party.

Christmas lilies, arranged in posy-bunches with deep red carnations and pink sweet peas, and frilled in pale green crepe paper, with cute little paper and evergreen rosettes here and there, were used by Dutch nurse Elizabeth Brinkman, to decorate cream ends of the bed occupied by Mrs Susie Beale at the General Hospital, Ulverstone. Decorations were in honour of her birthday on Monday, when she entertained at afternoon tea, more than 20 guests, also the Matron, Miss June Woolley, sisters and nurses, who had entered with zest into preparations.  For 15 years gentle Mrs Beale, loved by all who know her, has been bedridden at the hospital. The pleasant, glassed in verandah where she is accommodated was a bower of lovely flowers brought by visitors. Window ledges were gay with birthday cards and dainty gifts were presented.

And there were cakes!

Mrs Beale received three decorative birthday cakes. The cake cut at her party was made and decorated by a niece, Miss June Rosevear of Rosevears. A second cake was a gift  from Mrs E.C. Wilson, Burnie. and the third came from Sister Malarkey of Smithton Convent, formerly of Ulverstone. Mr  R.W. Viney, who was accompanied by Mrs Viney, proposed the loyal toast. The toast to the hostess  [and deserved centre of attention ]  was made by The Reverend Atkins.     (Advocate, Dec. 8 1954)

The birthday celebrations were the perfect demonstration of  how completely and warmly she was  embraced by her community.

NOTE – A few months after the switchboard fire  I was rushed to the Ulverstone Hospital in the middle of the night from our South Road farm. Aged four, I was delirious from the complications of measles.  It’s odd to think that Mrs Beale was there at that time. I was discharged a week later, but Mrs Beale remained  until her death.  She passed away  in 1956 aged 78 and was buried in the Ulverstone General Cemetery.  I don’t think she has a headstone, but if she did there would be no more fitting  inscription than,  ‘a patient sufferer at rest’.


UPDATE – After reading this story a lovely Ulverstone resident, Maureen ‘Maudie’  Bryan,  went to the cemetery and placed a flower in Susie’s memory.  She has since made a temporary headboard for the plot and  also posted all the relevant details  about Susie on the Internet’s Find a Grave site.






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