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The 1876 Toxward designs for a new hospital in Newtown did not include any designated ward space for sick children.  From 1881, when the hospital opened, any child admitted was placed in one of the four adult wards.  Within a few years the need for a children’s ward was recognised and plans were revealed in 1886, a year in which thirty six children under the age of ten years were admitted.

NZ Mail 24 September, 1886 

“The proposed new wing for the Wellington Hospital, plans for which have been prepared, will afford much needed accommodation.  It will consist of two stories in brick, its position being at the end of the corridor facing Newtown at right angles with and south-west of the present building.  The ground floor will be allocated to a children’s ward, 25ft by 23ft, opening into the main passage, with lavatories and bathroom attached; a matron’s room, 16ft by 12ft; a nurses’ dining room, 23ft by 16ft; a lecture and out-patients’ room, 23ft by 16ft; and a surgery and dispensary, 14ft by 11ft.  The second story will be set aside for the nurses’ bedrooms, access to which will be gained by a staircase leading from an outside porch in the centre of the wing, and dividing the dining and lecture-rooms.”

 The new facility was situated at the western end of the hospital.  It was officially opened on Thursday, 28 June, 1888.  The cost of construction was around £3,500.  Money to furnish the wards had been raised by a Ladies’ Committee, convened by the Mayoress and presided over by Lady Jervois, the Governor’s wife.

NZ Mail 29 June, 1888  (special correspondent)
            I paid a special visit to the newly-fitted children’s ward at the Wellington Hospital on Monday last.  It was a glorious morning, with a brilliant sun overhead, the air crisp and invigorating; life felt worth living with a sense of perfect health.  A brisk walk and the entrance to the Hospital Grounds was reached.  A couple of patients sunned themselves on a comfortable seat near the path.  A little further on a white and wan youngster was taking an airing in an invalid chair propelled along by one even younger still.  As the invalid paused beside the fountain its half-musical, half-monotonous splash seemed to give a cheerful relief from the studied dullness of the patient’s wards.  A few steps brought me face to face with the Medical Superintendent, who, when learning the purport of my visit, very kindly offered to act as my personal guide.
        The children’s wards – for there are two of them – looked so bright and cheerful in the early morning light that one was tempted to forget that it was a portion of a building devoted to pain and suffering.  It brought to my mind my first visit to a boarding school – the rows of cots, methodically correct, except that boarding schools never had half the care bestowed upon them as these wards have.  Both wards are the same size, although there is a slight difference in the shape.  The one at the far end of the block is the girls’ ward.  Six little iron cots, with spring mattresses, snowy white sheets, and cheerful counterpanes, cosy sleep-inviting pillows, upon which are neatly folded a white flannel undergarment and a striped flannel nightgown with turnover collar and cunningly attached wristbands.  On the pillows of each cot lay a gaily-dressed doll, which in days to come the tiny sufferers will fondle with infantile maternal care.  One special doll on one special cot attracted my attention.  It was a doll of more than ordinary fascination.  Its rosy cheeks, its wealth of golden hair, its bluest of blue eyes staring so widely at its strange habitation, will be a great contrast to its future owners, whose lack-lustre eyes, pallid lips, and thin wan hands will caress that doll through long days of pain and suffering.  This doll had its wooden hands crossed over its lap as it perched in a sitting position, and on that lap was a tiny feeding bottle – a facsimile of one used by living dolls of a bigger growth.  I thought of some mother’s love and tenderness who had placed such an attractive present to gladden the eyes of a future patient.  At the head of each cot is hung a gay folded fan suspended by a bright coloured ribbon.  Round the room here and there were toys that children delighted in – the prancing horse with the improbable spots, the woolley dog with its innocent bark, the tinkling toy dulcimer, the miniature wheel-of-life, the doll’s house, the box of bricks, and last, but not least, the collection of children’s books, easy, amusing and instructive stories, plenty of illustrations, and above all firmly bound.  On the walls are hung a goodly array of chromos decked in most gorgeous colours.  On a sideboard were vases of many hues, which I hope will be kept plentifully supplied with flowers from those to whom nature is prodigal.  The decorations of the ward are in good taste; the walls are of warm neutral tints; the floor has a cheerful covering, with here and there neat cosy-looking semi-Oriental rugs.  Each cot has a separate locker by its side where the children’s possessions may be kept to themselves.  The boys’ ward is similar in details to the girls’, minus the dolls.
                  There is one fault with the wards which struck me on my entrance, but that fault is unavoidable now.  The block of building is so constructed that the wards have not the advantage of the morning sun shining directly into them.  All physicians are aware what an important factor sunlight is in the curing of many diseases……
It is to be regretted, however, that the original designers did not make better provision in this respect.  The system of ventilation, too, is not so perfect as it might be.  It is no doubt sufficient for the requirements……..
                  This visit to the children’s ward was one of special pleasure to me.  It showed that the Wellington ladies who have so energetically taken the matter into their own hands, have worked with a spirit prompted by true maternal feelings.  Throughout each ward there are numerous evidences of woman’s tender care and forethought, recalling the truth of the lines to woman –“When pain and anguish wring the brow,  a minist’ring angel thou.”  

Despite the opening of two extra adult wards in 1894 (wards 5 and 6), the hospital was increasingly overcrowded with patients and there was an acute shortage of accommodation for nurses and other staff.  Proposals by Dr Ewart to deal with this problem impacted on the children’s ward.  In 1900 he recommended that the children be moved to one of the ‘Hill Wards’, originally built as temporary structures to the east of the main hospital in 1893 to house patients with typhoid.  By 1895, the typhoid epidemic was over and one of the Hill Wards, often referred to as the 'Tin Shed' was used as an out-patient department.  This in turn would become the new children’s ward.

The Tin Shed is in the foreground left in this 1932 photo.  Behind are the Seddon wards and shelters and to the right, the Victoria Wards

That move was not popular, nor were there enough beds for the numbers of children admitted in the early 1900s.  As an example, during a four month period early in 1905, of fifty eight children under the age of thirteen years admitted for surgery (mainly Ts and As), ten had to be accommodated in adult wards.

 In 1905 there was some public agitation for a separate children’s hospital situated away from the main hospital.  Kelburn and the Hutt Valley were mooted as possible sites.  It was proposed that the children’s hospital be modelled on the one at Grebe in Sydney.  However, sufficient support was not forthcoming.  

 By 1909 the children’s ward was in a bad state of repair and the need for a new children’s hospital on the Newtown site was deemed urgent by the Hospital Trustees.  Plans for this venture, initially estimated to cost £7,000, were approved in December 1909.

Subsequent building costs were revised upward to around £11,000.

A major campaign was launched by the Mayoress, Mrs T M Wilford to raise funds for the building of the new hospital.  
The public quickly got in behind this, and major donations were received from various businesses and philanthropists.  In particular, Mr Hugh Ward offered to stage a matinee of his vaudeville show at the Opera House, the proceeds to go to the children’s hospital fund.  This led to some controversy with objections being lodged by one of the local clergy on the grounds that the show was of suspect moral value.  This only increased the enthusiasm of the public to attend the matinee. 
In just over one month, £7,269 was raised from all public sources and with Government subsidy, the total fund would reach £16,000.  Some of the surplus would be used to install in the new wards the unique Royal Doulton tile panels.
On 22/2/1911, the contract for construction was awarded to Messrs. Watts Bros., for the sum of £11,599.  

Evening Post 12/3/1912


“The new Hospital for Children is built of faced brick, with the upper story rough cast in white. Two main wings project in front, enclosing between them a playing court for the children, 70ft by 50ft. The front entrance is reached by crossing this asphalted playground. There is a central corridor, across which is the operating theatre. At each end of the central block are the main wings containing beds for fifty patients. There is a ward over the main entrance to hold twenty two beds, so that the total capacity of the hospital is for seventy-two patients. A feature of the hospital is "the sun room" — a semi-octagonal chamber, at the end of each wing, facing north, so placed that it gets all the sunshine available.                                                    
This illustrates the great tendency of modem curative methods to take full advantage of sun and fresh air. The wards themselves are arranged on similar lines of brightness and sunlight. Each has a subdivision consisting of a light glass partition, so that in each wing there are two rooms, one 51ft by 24ft and the other 32ft by 24ft. Illustrated picture panels of nursery stories will adorn the walls of the ward. The panels are of Doulton ware, and of marvelously pleasing workmanship. On the sunny side of each ward is a verandah wide enough to use as a sleeping place, lightly glassed in as a shelter from wind while it is being used for dormitory purposes. The sanitary arrangements are elaborate and complete. Each ward has its own kitchen, and both gas and electricity are to be used for cooking. Coal fires have been installed only in the wards. All the ward windows have fanlights, which can be opened to let in fresh air, but exclude dust and flies by gauze screens. The institution is fitted out with electric light, each ward having, in addition to the usual lights, wall plug points between each bed from which portable hand lamps can be taken, enabling any parent to be attended to at night without lighting up the whole ward and disturbing other patients. The kitchens are fitted with electric cooking and water boiling appliances, enabling this work to be done without fumes or smell. The main marble distribution board, fitted in the entrance hall, is of massive construction, and the fittings on it are all nickel-plated and show to advantage under the load light doors. It was designed by Mr. J. Kirkwood. The electric work was carried out by Kirk wood's Electric Lighting Company of New Zealand, Limited, Mr. C. Cook electrician in charge. The architects for the building were Messrs. Atkins and Bacon, and the contractors Messrs. Watts Bros.” 

Below is a photograph of inside one of the two main wards, taken before occupation.

The new hospital, named in honour of King Edward VII, was opened on 13 March, 1912


Coincident with the opening of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for Children, was the appointment of honorary physicians and surgeons to the Children’s Hospital.  In advertising for the physician role, the Hospital Board requested that “Lady Practitioners” apply.  

Drs Agnes Bennett (left) and Daisy Platts-Mills (right) were appointed honorary physicians.


and Drs Henry M’Lean and Charles Begg were the initial honorary surgeons.

Inside Children's Medical ward once fully occupied.  Royal Dalton tiles visible on walls

In 1915 the Hospital Board agreed to appoint two sisters on the staff of the Children’s Hospital, one for the medical ward and one for the surgical ward.  The medical ward appointee would undergo a period of training at Karitane Hospital.  Initially, just the two ground floor wards were used.

 The two smaller wards on the first floor were vacant until 1916 when they were used temporarily to accommodate Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat patients (pending the completion of their new ward and department in 1917).  Later, the upstairs wards were used for children with orthopaedic disorders.  The operating theatre had been intended for the children’s surgery but during WW1 it was used for military patients who were housed in the Victoria wards.  Subsequently, the theatre was used for a mixture of adults and children with varying conditions.

The Children's Hospital in the 1920s

 The Children’s Hospital remained disconnected from the main hospital until 1924 when a connecting corridor was erected over the access road to the Victoria wards, and a lift installed.

 As part of the Centenary Hospital, initially planned in 1936, provision was made to include two 40-bed children’s wards.  This project faltered.

Christmas celebrations inside Children's medical ward

In 1938, concerns were expressed about risks of cross-infection and a need to create isolation cubicles in the children’s wards.  Plans were also made to create a sunroom and a school room, and to make additions to the operating theatre area.  There were delays because of the war, but in 1941 patients from Children’s Medical were transferred to Ward 5 so that the roof of Children’s Medical could be removed.  This allowed the erection of a school room and a sun deck on the roof.  These were completed in 1943.

New sun deck completed (on right)

Overcrowding in the children’s wards had become a major problem in the 1940’s.  The average daily occupancy in 1943 was:                   

Ch. Medical                  38—61 (peak 72) - normal bed numbers 22

Ch. Surgical                 29—47 (peak 58) - normal bed numbers 22

Ch. Orthopaediatrics    14—36                 - normal bed numbers 20

There were no single bed wards or cubicles and the service rooms were inadequate. Remodelling finally got underway in 1949, including installation of a new milk kitchen based on the Great Ormond St model.

 Additions and alterations to the Children’s Theatre began in 1951.  During the reconstruction work in 1949—1953, patients were temporarily housed in old wards 2 and 4.

 With the additions and alterations finally complete, the problem of overcrowding remained.  This was compounded by the conversion in 1963 of the solarium into an area for Psychiatric out-patients and offices. This state of affairs would remain until the Psychiatric building opened in 1973.

For a number of years Victoria Hospital was used for overflow paediatric patients, but in 1970, a portion of the first floor area of the Children’s Hospital was converted into an extra children’s ward—Ward 19, and soon after, Victoria Hospital was demolished.

Prior to 1972, premature babies were housed in the Premature Room in the Maternity Annex.  In that year, alterations resulted in the first NNU which remained in use until the Women’s Hospital opened in 1982.

 A major hospital rebuilding plan developed in the late 1960’s early 1970’s included provision for totally new wards for children and associated services.  These were to occupy levels E & F in each of two ward blocks (2 & 4) facing Riddiford Street.  However, a radical downsizing exercise followed with the consequence that blocks 2 & 4 were never built (nor were ward blocks 1 & 3 behind).

Some strengthening and upgrading of the old children’s wards was undertaken in 1976.

In 1982, it was proposed that two floors in the planned Women’s Hospital be used for paediatrics, but this was not supported by the staff.  In 1982—1983 the Minister of Health ordered that a feasibility study be undertaken to determine if paediatric wards could be housed in old wards 11, 12 & 14 (formerly wards 21 & 22).  The result was negative.

By 1984, approval was obtained from the Ministry of Health to plan a new Children’s Hospital.  By then, the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for Children had been in operation for 72 years and was grossly inadequate.

Children's Hospital in March, 1985

The new hospital would contain two wards, an out-patient area, offices and teaching facilities, and the Academic Department of Paediatrics and Child Health would be embedded within it.

The new Children’s Hospital was officially opened on 27 October, 1988.  


The photo above shows the new hospital in relation to the rest of the hospital
It is the red-roofed building in the centre of the photo.

 In the ensuing years, paediatric services have grown, staff numbers increased and the Children’s Hospital is no longer adequate.

Once again, there has been a major hospital rebuilding programme, the initial plans for which would have seen a totally new Paediatric Facility included in the new Regional Hospital.  However, cost constraints saw the decision taken to retain the existing Children’s Hospital.  By 2008, there were plans to house paediatric wards and services in a renovated Grace Neill Block, but these plans were not proceeded with.

Ron Easthope -  Hon. Archivist, Wellington Hospital


- the story continues below, authored by Bill Day

In September 2016 Bill Day, the Chair of Wellington Hospitals Foundation (Capital and Coasts Hospitals official Charity) approached Wellington property developer and philanthropist, Mark Dunajtschik with an idea of Mr Dunajtschik supporting a new children's hospital to the value of $50 million. After considerable discreet discussions the government and Capital Coast District Health Board agreed to warmly accept Mr Dunajtschik proposal.  On 14 July 2017 the then Prime minister Mr Bill English publicly announced that Mr Dunajtschik would not only donate a new hospital but he would build it and then donate the hospital to the public of Wellington region. This was a unique form of philanthropy. 

At the media announcement Mr Dunajtschik explained why Wellington Hospitals Foundation proposal appealed to him in his quote

       “My philosophy is people that are born with a healthy body and mind can look after themselves and those unfortunate to be        born with, or suffering ill health need our help.“ 
                  - Mark Dunajtschik

In addition to Mr Dunajtschik's proposal the Wellington Hospital Foundation agreed to raise $6million from the community to equip and fit out the new hospital. This request to the Foundation was later increased to $10million. 
The budgeted costs for the new 60 bed stand-alone children's hospital was as follows:
1. Mr Dunajtschik donation                                   $50 million

2. Wellington Hospitals Foundation                      $10 million

3. Capital & Coast & Government                         $24 million

4. Govt (Drainage and demolitions)                       $21 million
The total being                                                       $105 million

John Tait - Chief Medical Officer at the time said that "building a new Regional Children's Hospital has given us the opportunity to fully review and introduce a new model of care for our young patients"
The new stand-alone hospital, joined to the main Regional Hospital by a "sky walk",  is 7,500 sq.mtrs over three floors. There is to be one floor for surgical patients and one floor for medical patients. The ground floor will encompass day patients and many of the other paediatric services that are currently spread around the hospital campus.  Statistics reveal that there are 87,000 children's visits to Wellington Regional Children's Hospital each year (many of these are follow-up visits). Doctors and Nurses are very excited at this change for children's health. In 1912 the community assisted in funding the very first children's hospital in New Zealand and here we are again over 100 years later the community are ensuring a new fit for purpose children's hospital for our young citizens of our region.
Weta Workshop have also created some wonderful and magical designs for the insides of the new hospital and it is Wellington Hospitals Foundation plan to ensure the hospital is equipped with the most modern equipment.

The new Wellington is planned to open in approximately June 2021.

Last updated 31 January 2020.