Illness seems an unlikely topic for a tour but you’ll find these picturesque harbour locations, with their uncomfortable histories of incarceration and disease, beguiling.

First stop, The Mint. Despite its name, the elegant colonnaded building was originally the southern wing of the Rum Hospital, an institution with a reputation for filth, neglect, questionable medical treatment. Positioned on the high ground of Macquarie Street well away from the bustling colony and strategically adjacent to the Hyde Park Barracks, the Rum Hospital was built by private contractors in return for the monopoly to import rum into Sydney.

The Lucy Osburn-Nightingale Foundation Museum nestles close by on the site of the current Sydney Hospital. Housed in the colony’s first nursing school, built in 1869 to Florence Nightingale’s specifications in the style of Gothic Revival, this museum looks at nursing’s colonial, working class roots.

From here it’s an easy 10 minute walk to Circular Quay. Operating hourly, the Sydney Eco Hopper ferry services the Quarantine Station, otherwise use the Manly Ferry and transfer at the wharf for the 135 public bus. Positioned at the point of debarkation, the Visitors Centre and Museum provides a fitting welcome to the world of segregation and isolation of contagious disease. Tours are available or self-guide around this magnificent harbour location.

Next is the site of the 1830s Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum. Take a ferry to Huntleys Wharf from Circular Quay and walk 1km across Gladesville Reserve and into Crown Close to arrive at the museum of the Society for Preservation of the Artefacts of Surgery & Medicine (SPASM). Here you can explore the history of many aspects of medicine including psychiatry through over 8000 objects and stories, set right in the heart of Sydney’s earliest mental hospital.

The last stop on our trail is the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Museum. Discover more about how the nurses who trained in the Florence Nightingale Foundation Hospital revolutionised hospital care. Operating in a strict hierarchy, trained in science, with close attention to cleanliness and an emphasis on patient empathy, The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was the first hospital in Sydney fully staffed by Nightingale nurses. For those who want a more indepth look, the Museum has its own historical Walking Tour of the extensive hospital complex.

  • The Mint

    Step inside Australia’s oldest surviving public building, or visit the impressive Caroline Simpson Library ...

    10 Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW, 2000, Australia
  • Lucy Osburn-Nightingale Museum

    Originally called the Rum Hospital because convicts were paid to import rum for re-sale, Sydney ...

    Macquarie Street, Sydney Eye Hospital, Sydney, NSW, 2000, Australia
  • Quarantine Station

    The historic Quarantine Station is located in Manly on Sydney’s North Head, an area ...

    1 North Head Scenic Drive, Manly , NSW, 2095, Australia
  • SPASM Museum

    Come and visit us to learn about health care in the 19th and 20th centuries ...

    Gladesville Hospital, Victoria Road, Gladesville, NSW, 2111, Australia
  • Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Museum

    The Heritage Centre is made up of three branches, working together to collect, record and ...

    King George V Building, Missenden Road, Camperdown, NSW, 2050, Australia

Museums & Galleries of NSW helps small-medium museums, galleries and Aboriginal cultural centres create exciting experiences for visitors and, through this, thriving local NSW communities. We don't run museums, galleries and cultural centres but we care about those who do. We develop their skills, connect them with others in the industry, provide funding, point visitors their way, and give them access to ground-breaking exhibitions.

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