In late August, I had the pleasure of an unexpected visit to the Rockhampton Mater Hospital’s historic Kenmore House.

During this visit, unlike the last time I was there (May 2017), the building was open. I was free to go inside, savour the grandeur, and take photographs (most of which I share in this post).

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Main entrance, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

This was not the first time I had been inside Kenmore House (or simply “Kenmore”). I used to come here on a weekly basis for many years during the 1990s. Kenmore was part of the Rockhampton Mater Misericordiae Hospital complex. But I wasn’t visiting the hospital.

My two children were taking piano lessons from Sister Julian, one of the Sisters of Mercy, who had her studio on the building’s first floor. At the time, Sister Julian was living at Kenmore where, in addition to her teaching duties, she was caring for a number of elderly nuns who resided at Kenmore.

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1992. Sister Julian, examiner Arthur do Rozario, and Sister Julian’s students. Photo source: Salecich Family collection.

 

In 2019, more than two decades later, Kenmore no longer houses any of the Sisters of Mercy. Built as a private residence, Kenmore was later remodelled to serve as a hospital. Today, Kenmore is the administrative hub of Rockhampton’s Mater Hospital, with offices and meeting rooms for managerial and administrative staff, and specialist medical consultants.

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Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital, Ward Street. Photo source: Private collection 2017.

 

An unexpected re-visit to Rockhampton Mater Hospital and Kenmore

It was Thursday 29 August. My husband Tony and I had travelled to Rockhampton to attend a luncheon celebrating the 100th birthday of a dear friend (that’s a story for another time). It was a blessing that we were there at all, given that just two weeks earlier Tony had a heart attack and underwent emergency angioplasty. (Tony had his first heart attack 10 years ago, so this episode was the result of restenosis of one of the coronary arteries.)

Although Tony recovered sufficiently to allow us to make the trip to Rockhampton (we live in Brisbane), he was not well. He had a persistent cough, was short of breath and had other worrying symptoms. Tony and I had just returned to our hotel room after walking several city blocks from the luncheon venue. A friend came by to check if Tony was all right. Like me, she was concerned about Tony’s symptoms. After making a number of enquiries as to what we should do (it was late afternoon by this time), I took Tony to the Mater Rockhampton Emergency Care Centre.

The outcome? After undergoing the usual battery of tests as an outpatient, Tony was admitted to the hospital for observation, overnight. It appeared that his symptoms were not heart-related, which was a great relief for me (and Tony).

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Thursday 29 August: My husband’s unexpected admission to Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

The following day, Friday 30 August, I returned to the hospital to pick up Tony. While I waited for him to be discharged, I took the opportunity to inspect the recently-renovated interior of Kenmore House. And I was not disappointed!

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Looking down the carpeted grand staircase to the central hall, Kenmore. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

NOTE: A list of references I used in preparing this story is found at the end of this post. References are numbered and displayed throughout the text in brackets [X].

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The story of Kenmore and its owners is an integral part of Rockhampton’s history.

Rockhampton’s heritage-listed Kenmore dates from 1894. It was constructed during a time when a number of grand two-storey mansions appeared in Rockhampton, built with wealth acquired in the Mount Morgan gold mining boom. 

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c. 1890. Grand two-storey houses on Quay Street, Rockhampton. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Messrs Moir and Cousins, of Rockhampton, built Kenmore for well-known local identity Mr John Ferguson. James Flint (1862-1894), architect, also of Rockhampton, designed the building. Mr Ferguson chose the site for his new residence: a picturesque 10-acre landscaped block high up on the Athelstane Range overlooking Rockhampton. [1]

The building cost ₤15,000 (equivalent to about $2.5 million today). Following Flint’s untimely death in 1894, Ferguson hired Messrs Eaton and Bates of Rockhampton to design the stately entrance gates. Ferguson named the building “Kenmore” after the village in Perthshire, Scotland, where he was born. [2]

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Entrance gates designed by Messrs Eaton and Bates, Kenmore, Rockhampton. Photo source: Private collection 2017.

 

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Decorative gate bearing the name of Ferguson’s mansion, “Kenmore”. Photo source: Private collection 2017.

 

Members of the Ferguson family resided at Kenmore until 1904 and after that Ferguson’s brother-in-law David Wiley and family made it their home. Following Ferguson’s death in 1906, Kenmore was sold to wealthy pastoralist Stuart MacDonald. The MacDonald family lived there until 1915. [3]

In 1915, Kenmore changed hands again. The Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy purchased the building and about four acres of land for ₤4,250 (less than one-third of the building’s original cost). They planned to use the building as a hospital. [4]

After disposing of Kenmore, the MacDonald family built a new home, but a smaller and considerably less ostentatious one, next door. [5]

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Rockhampton, the Right Reverend Joseph Shiel, officially opened and blessed the Rockhampton Mater Misericordiae Hospital on 14 November 1915. [6]. It was the second Sisters of Mercy hospital in Queensland: Brisbane’s Mater Hospital opened in 1906.

Read on to learn more about Kenmore’s first and third owners.

John Ferguson, Kenmore’s first owner

John Ferguson (1830-1906) came to Rockhampton from Sydney around 1862. He established himself as a leading building contractor in Rockhampton. For example, he built the first meatworks and cottages at Lakes Creek. In 1884 Ferguson purchased a large share in the Mount Morgan gold mine, which he later sold making him a wealthy man. [7]

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c. 1905. Lakes Creek Meat Works, Rockhampton. Photo source: State Library of Queensland. Public domain.

 

Ferguson became a well-known and respected public figure in Rockhampton. As a businessman, member of many community bodies and lay leader of the Congregational Church, he gained the title “Honest John” Ferguson. [8]

Ferguson, the politician

From 1878 to 1890, Ferguson was a member of the Rockhampton Municipal Council. He was Mayor of Rockhampton in 1880, 1881 and 1883. [9] In fact, it was during Ferguson’s reign as mayor, in 1881, that the first Fitzroy Bridge at Rockhampton was completed and opened for traffic.

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1881. Opening of the Fitzroy Bridge, Rockhampton, Queensland. Photo source: State Library of Victoria. Public domain.

 

At the official opening of Rockhampton’s Fitzroy Bridge on New Year’s Day 1881, about 400 people took part in a procession from the courthouse to the southern approach to the bridge. There the bridge’s engineer, Mr Frederick Byerley, and the Mayor of Rockhampton, Alderman John Ferguson, addressed those gathered, reminding them that the project had been completed without loss of a single life. The Mayor went on to describe the bridge as one of the finest structures in the colonies and certainly the finest outside any of the capital cities.

At the same time as he was involved in local politics, Ferguson was elected to the Queensland Parliament. From 1881-88 he represented Rockhampton in Queensland’s lower house, the Legislative Assembly. Although not an accomplished speaker or well-read, as Rockhampton’s representative Ferguson was a great advocate for the city. From 1894 to 1906 (he died while in office), Ferguson was a member of Queensland’s upper house, the Legislative Council. [10]

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c. 1897. East Street, Rockhampton. Photo source: Queensland State Archives. Public domain.

 

Ferguson and the Central Queensland Separation Movement

Ferguson had Kenmore built not only as his family home, but also as a suitable residence for the governor of a new colony. (Perhaps Ferguson saw himself as governor!) Ferguson was president of the Central Queensland Territorial Separation League, launched in Rockhampton in 1890. It was the region’s second attempt to separate Central and Northern Queensland from Brisbane and Queensland’s south. The first attempt was made in the 1860s. According to Rockhampton historian Lorna McDonald, since European colonisation there have been four such attempts at separation (1860s, 1890s, 1920s, 1950s-1960s). All have failed. [11]

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c. 1901. The Hon. John Ferguson, Member of the Legislative Council (MLC), Queensland. Photo source: Australian National Archives. Public domain.

 

A supporter of Federation, Ferguson was elected to the Senate of the first Australian Federal Parliament (1901). He served as a senator for Queensland from 1901 to 1903, when he was forced to resign due to ongoing ill health. [12]

John Ferguson achieved much in his 76 years. Although a wealthy man in the latter part of his life, he never lost sight of his humble beginnings. He died in Sydney on 30 March 1906 and was buried in the Waverley cemetery according to the rites of the Congregational Church. [13]

The Rockhampton congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, Kenmore’s third owner

When the Sisters of Mercy bought Kenmore in 1915, there was just one trained nurse (Sister Mary Mercy) in the Rockhampton congregation. So, at first, the new hospital was staffed entirely by secular nurses. The Sisters employed Miss Adelaide Wilson, of Melbourne, as matron and appointed Sister Alphonsus as the nun in charge (“Superior”). A year or so after the opening of the hospital Sister Mary Mercy was appointed matron and the Sisters established a nurse training school. [14]

The Rockhampton Mater Hospital admitted its first patients towards the end of November 1915. From the outset the hospital was open to all persons, irrespective of denomination (or none), patients having the right to request the services of any doctor they desired. [15]

This is how the Sisters of Mercy turned Kenmore, a large two-storey residence, into an attractive, workable hospital.

They used several of the larger rooms, including the drawing, dining and morning rooms (all on the ground floor), as wards, providing accommodation for about 40 patients. They turned the large ballroom into a convalescent area and the billiard room into a chapel (these rooms were also on the ground floor). The Sisters had one of the large bedrooms on the first floor set up as an operating theatre. The building also included a convent (for the nuns) and nurses’ quarters on the first floor. [16]

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“Catherine McAuley”, founder of the Sisters of Mercy. This life-size statue stands in Kenmore’s main vestibule. It was a gift from the Mater Hospital North Sydney. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

The Sisters added several minor extensions to Kenmore over the next 20 years, but the first major addition to the Rockhampton Mater Hospital came in 1940, with the construction of a maternity block. The Bishop of Rockhampton, Right Reverend Ronald Hayes opened and blessed the new building on 17 March 1940. In his opening address he described the facility as “the most up-to-date maternity hospital in Australia”. That same year, nurses’ quarters were built and rooms added for the nuns. [17]

In 1965, when the Rockhampton Mater Hospital celebrated its golden jubilee, Kenmore was still used as the main hospital building. According to a report at the time [18]: “Fifty years ago the Sisters of Mercy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockhampton acquired Kenmore Mansion, in Ward Street, with an intention of converting it in to a modern hospital. Passing of time has shown that this enterprise has been a fruitful one.”

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1965. Rockhampton Mater Hospital (“Kenmore”), with the addition of the 1940 maternity ward. Photo source: “The Morning Bulletin” (Rockhampton), microfiche copy, State Library of Queensland.

 

The Sisters of Mercy’s acquisition of Kenmore: “A fruitful enterprise”

Today the Rockhampton Mater Hospital is a huge complex. It is one of four hospitals governed by Mercy Health and Aged Care Central Queensland Limited, of which Mercy Partners (representing the Sisters of Mercy) is canonical sponsor and company member.

Between 1915 and 2010, 90 members of the Rockhampton congregation of the Sisters of Mercy worked at the hospital. Their names are listed on an honour board, located on the right side wall of Kenmore’s entrance porch. [19]

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Honour board, on right wall, main entrance porch, Kenmore. Photo source: Private collection 2017.

 

About Kenmore House, the building

From the outside, Kenmore is impressive. It’s a large two-storey building, a blend of early English and classical styles of architecture. It has a frontage of 27 metres and extends back about 41 metres. The building boasts a tower, 18 metres high. One enters the building by a short flight of marble steps under a portico of eight massive Ionic columns. Striking black-and-white tiles adorn the entrance floor. Two large marble lions sit either site of the entrance, facing the driveway. [20]

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Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2017.

 

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One of two lion statues outside the main entrance, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

As majestic as it appears on the outside, Kenmore is even more stunning inside. Ferguson spared no expense in its design and furnishings. The rooms are large, well-ventilated and well-lit with high ceilings (on the ground floor they are approximately 5 m high). Originally, the house was lit by gas; the electric light fittings today are in keeping with that history.

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View of the hospital carpark from inside the main vestibule, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

From the entrance porch one enters the main vestibule, which is approximately 3 metres wide by 6 metres long. Beautiful marble tiling is a feature of the floor here and throughout the ground floor. Two large statues, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of Catherine McAuley, adorn this space.

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Inside the main vestibule, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

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Period chairs and beautiful marble tiled floor, main vestibule, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

“Nothing of its kind is to be found in any [other] home”

The vestibule leads to the large central hall and, in turn, what was originally the ballroom. The central hall is undoubtedly the most remarkable feature of Kenmore. It’s 15.5 metres long by 6 metres wide and features a magnificent wide cedar staircase with hand-carved balusters and newels and carpeted treads leading to the first floor. At the time Kenmore was built, of the central hall it was written “nothing of the kind is to be found in any home in the division – nothing like it, perhaps, is to be found in the colony”. [21]

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Grand staircase, central hall, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

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Beautiful floor tiling is a feature of the central hall, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

The hall ceiling is supported by four columns which, like the pilasters and cornices throughout the building, are finished in polished Keen’s cement. The ceiling is of patent stamped zinc panels, with cornices. The walls are decorated with Japanese embossed lincrusta wallpaper, hand-painted and lacquered. Each door opening into the hall is made of specially-selected cedar, with deep mouldings and architraves, pediments and panelling. [22]

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Decorative cornices and Japanese embossed lincrusta wallpaper, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

The grand central staircase leads to the first floor and (today) offices and consulting rooms. When Kenmore was a private residence, the bedrooms were located here. Note the stained glass windows, a feature of the landing between the two floors.  

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First floor foyer, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

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Stained glass windows, at the landing, grand staircase, Kenmore, Rockhampton Mater Hospital. Photo source: Private collection 2019.

 

Kenmore House, Rockhampton Mater Hospital, was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 21 October 1992.

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When you are next in Rockhampton, a visit (unexpected or otherwise) to this splendid building is a must. Kenmore has been much-loved and looked after by its successive owners since 1894. Arguably, it’s as spectacular today as it was 125 years ago!

 

REFERENCES

Click here for details of references used in preparing this story.

 

  1. KENMORE MANSION. (1894). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Thursday 30 August, page 5. Online: Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
  2. Ibid.
  3. KENMORE HOUSE, MATER MISERICORDIAE HOSPITAL. Queensland Heritage Register (website). Queensland Heritage Council. Online: Accessed on September 2, 2019.
  4. CENTRAL QUEENSLAND. CATHOLIC HOSPITAL FOR ROCKHAMPTON. (1915). Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 15 July, page 42. Online: Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
  5. MATER HOSPITAL GOLDEN JUBILEE. (1965). The Morning Bulletin, Saturday 4 December, page 3.
  6. The Sisters of Mercy’s New Hospital in Rockhampton: KENMORE MANSION. (1915). Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 18 November, page 7. Online: Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
  7. Carment, David. (1981). JOHN FERGUSON (1830-1906). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Published first in hardcopy, 1981. Online: Accessed on September 2, 2019.
  8. KENMORE HOUSE, MATER MISERICORDIAE HOSPITAL. Queensland Heritage Register (website). Queensland Heritage Council. Online: Accessed on September 2, 2019.
  9. Carment, David. (1981). JOHN FERGUSON (1830-1906). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Published first in hardcopy, 1981. Online: Accessed on September 2, 2019.
  10. Ibid.
  11. McDonald, Lorna & Rockhampton (Qld.) Council (1981). Rockhampton: a history of city and district. University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia; New York.
  12. Carment, David. (1981). JOHN FERGUSON (1830-1906). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP). National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Published first in hardcopy, 1981. Online: Accessed on September 2, 2019.
  13. Ibid.
  14. MATER HOSPITAL GOLDEN JUBILEE. (1965). The Morning Bulletin, Saturday 4 December, page 3.
  15. The Sisters of Mercy’s New Hospital in Rockhampton: KENMORE MANSION. (1915). Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1942), Thursday 18 November, page 7. Online: Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
  16. MATER HOSPITAL GOLDEN JUBILEE. (1965). The Morning Bulletin, Saturday 4 December, page 3.
  17. NEW WING OPENED AT MATER HOSPITAL. (1940). Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941), Monday 18 March, page 2. Online: Retrieved on December 3, 2019.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Rockhampton Mater honours the Sisters of Mercy. (2010). Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia & Papua New Guinea (website). Online: Accessed on December 4, 2019.
  20. KENMORE MANSION. (1894). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), Thursday 30 August, page 5. Online: Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.


 

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An unexpected visit: Rockhampton Mater Hospital and Kenmore House via @jsalecich
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6 Comments on An unexpected visit: Rockhampton Mater Hospital and Kenmore House

  1. Thank you so much Judith for sharing those magnificient photos and history of Kenmore House . Just loved them
    kindest regards
    Kevin

  2. Hi Judy just wanted to say I made your Aunt Dulcie’s bung in cake it was very nice I made the orange so thanks for sharing I to had an Auntie Dulcie an old family friend at the time as I thought but later in life I found out she was really my auntie mum was a single lady at the time so my dad was not spoken about my Auntie Dulcie was a wonderful lady I remember her with love. I just wanted to say to you and all Mothers Happy Mothers Day

    • Dear Lynnette. That’s terrific! I’m so pleased you tried the recipe and are happy with the result. And you had an Auntie Dulcie too! Thanks for sharing this with me. Happy Mother’s Day to you too! Love, Judy. xx

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