Photo of Tara Oldfield

Author: Tara Oldfield

Senior Communications Advisor

New records added to the collection in the last month include records from the Royal Melbourne Hospital – making this the second record transfer of Royal Melbourne records to PROV in the last year. We add these to our extensive collection of health and welfare records for researchers to explore. 

These records were all previously in the custody of the Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives and span the operational history of the hospital, from c. 1844 to 2020. There are also a small number of records created by Fairfield Hospital and North Western Health Care Network. The transfer includes administrative records, meeting minutes, correspondence, reports, manuals, and some patient records. Of particular interest are diaries of nurses Cone and Lawson, and reports of the surgical teams in Vietnam. 

Please note the proceeding text describes records related to illness and death and may be upsetting for some readers.

Diary of Nurse Susie Cone 

In 1918, many Australian soldiers returning from WWI had to be quarantined due to the Spanish flu. Nurse Cone was one of the military nurses on board the SS Wyreema which was on its way back to Australia. She, and many others from the ship, volunteered to work at a quarantine station in Western Australia upon their return. Fifteen of the twenty nurses who volunteered for the job of caring for soldiers in quarantine caught the Spanish flu and four died. 

According to NAA records, Susie was a single 30-year-old woman from Melbourne at the time her diary was written. She was five foot two with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Her NAA record is stamped with a Star, British war medal, and Victory medal.  

Cone’s 1918 diary was no bigger than a playing card. Her neat handwriting was small in grey lead and spanned only 31 pages. Early pages describe the Wyreema. 

small diary
Diary of Nurse Susie Cone, 1918, VPRS 19295 C1


“14th October. Got up at 6am rushed the bath. Went down Sydney did some shopping. Orders to embark at 1.30pm. Got down in taxis. Came aboard the Wyreema. Spent the afternoon exploring our new quarters. Edgecombe and I are in a cabin together. There are 46 sisters and a matron. Some hundreds of troops and officers on board. We drew out from the pier at about 4pm and anchored off Potts Point. I hear we are sailing at midnight.”

Cone describes the seasickness, weather, and activities on board including church services, reading and playing cards, as well as social dinners and concerts on the boat deck. She mentions Sister Rosa O’Kane taking a starring role in one of the plays on board. 

Late November in the diary, Cone says “we are still undecided what we are going to do. The Government don’t seem to know what to do with us,” as Armistice had been declared by the time the ship reached Cape Town. They eventually returned to Australia, docking at Fremantle on 10 December 1918. 

a ship
The Wyreema, State Library Victoria

“Tuesday 10th. Got into the port at Fremantle at daylight. Got up early and when the pilot came off he told us that we could not have shore leave at about 9.20am. The shore authorities signalled for 20 sisters to nurse Spanish flu. Matron called for volunteers. 26 of us spoke up and then we drew lots for places. Brady and I were amongst the 20. We left the old Wyreema at 4pm on Tuesday and are all feeling very lonely. Sat on the jetty here at Wood Point while the people at the station finished a row they were having. Arrived up here hungry and tired. Unpacked and had a look around. Brady and I went down onto the jetty and gazed longingly out at the old boat wishing to heaven we were back there again.”

She describes the next day, preparing a ward with Nurses Wilkinson, Hamilton and Bradshaw in anticipation for the arrival of troops off the Boonah. 

“Our tents and huts were soon full. Poor lads were in a terrible plight. With dirt all over them terribly sick, we had no drugs, no clean shirts or pyjamas to put on them. All we could do was wash them and get them as comfortable as possible. Three died the first day.”

The following days the troops were gravely ill. Cone called the place “hell” with more troops dying. By Saturday 14th she writes that O’Kane is off duty ill, with other nurses also feeling off colour. O’Kane deteriorates and more nurses fall ill as the days progress. 

“Sat 21st Poor old O’Kane died early this morning, one can hardly realise that she has gone. Everybody very depressed about it. We gave her a military funeral today at 4pm. It’s sad to see how we old Wyreemians have decreased. Only nine of us on duty now.”

a portrait of a woman in uniform
Rosa O'Kane, QLD State Archives

As the days went on, and more troops died, the nurses were ordered to stay away from the sick unless on duty. All Christmas festivities were off the table and tents moved further away from the wards. The diary ends, sadly and abruptly with the words “Tommy died”.  

The diary described above as well as another one from 1919 were donated to the Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives by the family of Susie Cone and were preserved there until transfer to PROV. 

You can now view digitised copies of the Cone diaries or order the physical records for viewing in our North Melbourne reading room.  

Diary of Nursing Student Betty Constance Lawson

Betty Lawson was one of Australia’s most highly decorated nurses. Born in 1915 in Epping NSW, she trained as a nurse at the Royal Melbourne in 1934 with continued study in midwifery in 1937. 

Her diary is dated 29.4.34. It’s a thick book handwritten in dark ink. It was written during her nurses training at the Royal Melbourne and, like Susie Cone’s diary, was donated to the Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives by the family. 

two diaries
Betty Constance Lawson's diary alongside Nurse Cone's, VPRS 19296 C1

The diary provides detailed accounts of what it was like to be a nurse in training in the 1930s.

“Monday 18th May. Our first day in the wards. What a day! I was made extra in ward 9, a female surgical ward. I rushed hither and tither madly all day and at night was so tired I could hardly stand up. Every bone and muscle of my body ached. My feet were like lobsters. That is not the worst however. What worried me more was the fact that almost everything I did or said seemed to be wrong. Still I got over it. Though for the first week I was very miserable and felt very sorry for myself.”

In following entries, she describes a Sister being unimpressed with her work, though she tries hard to do better. But by the 14th of July she says “Lyle told me as a secret that Dr Penington said I had improved.” Her days as a nurse are busy and she often feels bad to leave after a shift wondering how the remaining nurses will get through.   

Entries about Lawson’s personal life are also scattered throughout the pages. She describes visiting her father’s grave, appointments, shopping trips and dances at the Town Hall.  

a photo of a nurse in uniform
Betty Constance Lawson, Royal Women's Hospital Biographical Compendium


Nurse Betty Lawson went on to sail the Wanganella bringing home wounded soldiers during WWII. She also worked in Repatriation Hospitals and attained Captain rank. After the war she held many senior nursing positions including 22 years at the Royal Melbourne. She received the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1967 and an MBE from the Queen in 1978.

You can now order Betty Lawson’s diary and view it in the North Melbourne reading room. You can find more information about Betty in the Royal Women's Hospital Biographical Compendium.

Reports of the Royal Melbourne Hospital Surgical Teams in Vietnam

The file marked “Reports from Australian surgical teams in Vietnam 1964-1970” begins with an 8-page document titled Project Long Xuyen. 

“During 1964, the Australian Government decided to increase its non-military aid to South Vietnam. The decision followed requests from the South Vietnamese Government which were supported by the United States authorities. The Government felt that one way in which a substantial contribution could be made to the welfare of the Vietnamese was through direct medical aid.” 

Reports of the Royal Melbourne Hospital Surgical Teams in Vietnam, 1964-1970, VPRS 19290, C1

A team was put together by October 1964 to attend a French built hospital in Long Xuyen. The first team to arrive was comprised of a team leader, second surgeon, anaesthetist, registrar, radiographer, two theatre sisters and one ward sister.

“Their first sight of the hospital impressed them. The series of buildings had an imposing front of administrative offices, pharmacy and examination rooms. Behind this was a large square where wards and other buildings were neatly spaced – and freshly painted. Inside the hospital, the impression was not so favourable.”

The document describes how the team overcame a lack of appropriate beds and language barriers. 

“The theatres were constantly busy with a wide range of operations. About 20 percent were for bodily injuries and most of them were the result of gunshot or grenade wounds.”

The team assisted with the implementation of a blood bank among other initiatives to service the growing needs of the area. They praised the existing staff. The hospital’s senior administrator and physician, Dr Thinh, was described as sparing no effort to help make the venture a success. Surgeon Dr Ban was devoted to solving the hospital’s surgical problems. Obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Nhi saw up to 160 patients a day. 

The document continues on with details of the program’s success. 

Unfortunately, other papers in the file do not paint quite such a pretty picture. A letter from one of the doctors who visited Vietnam in 1970 says that while the team is functioning quite well, a lack of punctuality and zeal is slowly creeping in. He goes onto complain about a paediatrician who was “totally unsatisfactory. He was a chronic alcoholic and possibly depressed as well. He functioned poorly and was an embarrassment on many occasions.” When warnings didn’t improve the man’s work ethic, he was shipped back to Melbourne. He described another three unsatisfactory paediatricians who spent time there before explaining the pull out of the full paediatric team. He said it was badly done and not well communicated to the people at Long Xuyen. But he seemed more optimistic about the rest of the medical team still in place.

“The calibre of the people coming up here is important.”  

Other documents in the file include reports from Professor Sunderland, reports from the surgical team and reports from the team leader. 
You can order this surgical teams file and view in the North Melbourne reading room. 

The full list of newly transferred records is below:

Series no. Title Date
VPRS 12477 C2 Medical ward book, case notes 1882-1905
VPRS 12477 C3 Medical ward book, case notes 1858-1908
VPRS 19095 C2 Committee/board of management - minutes and agenda 1844-1995
VPRS 19096 C2 Finance and audit committees - minutes and papers 1920-1972
VPRS 19097 C2 Board of management, sub-committees - minutes 1900-1993
VPRS 19098 C1 Executive committee - minutes and papers 1972-1998
VPRS 19099 C2 Director of medical services/general manager papers 1955-1999
VPRS 19100 C1 Quality committee records 1992-2002
VPRS 19102 C1 Annual financial accounts and statements 2001-2019
VPRS 19104 C1 Legal contracts and agreements 1854-1997
VPRS 19105 C1 Mental heath program, executive planning management group - minutes, agenda, correspondence 1996-1998
VPRS 19106 C1 Board of postgraduate medical education - minutes, agendas and papers 1969-2009
VPRS 19108 C1 Nursing training records including graduate register, state registered nurses 1889-1993
VPRS 19109 C2 Nursing aide training and examination records, state enrolled nurses 1970-1983
VPRS 19111 C2 Pathological record books (autopsy registers) and post-mortem reports 1869-1920
VPRS 19113 C1 Policy, procedures and manuals 1915-2011
VPRS 19114 C1 Minutes and papers, human research ethics committee 1973-2003
VPRS 19115 C1 Hospital ethics/clinical ethics committee - minutes and papers 1990-2006
VPRS 19116 C1 Research foundation council meeting minutes, agendas and papers 1991-2002
VPRS 19117 C1  Honorary and senior medical staff, minutes and papers 1880-2016
VPRS 19118 C1 Senior medical staff council - minutes, papers and correspondence 1997-2016
VPRS 19120 C1 Senior medical staff divisions (medicine, surgery, investigational medicine), minutes and correspondence 1969-2015
VPRS 19121 C1 Senior Medical staff, sub-committees - minutes and papers 1956-1999
VPRS 19122 C1 Biomedical engineering department files 1959-2008
VPRS 19123 C1 Dietician training and graduation records 1937-1973
VPRS 19218 C1 Hospital Saturday and Sunday annual reports 1873-1897
VPRS 19219 C1 Law committee, minutes and index to minutes 1933-1993
VPRS 19220 C1  Legal opinions and advice 1937-1999
VPRS 19221 C1 Advisory board and advisory committee for medical appointments, minutes and index to minutes 1910-1972
VPRS 19222 C1 Clinical reports and index to reports 1930-1962
VPRS 19223 C1 Index to committee/board of management minutes 1908-1982
VPRS 19224 C1 Register of board of management members 1919-1995
VPRS 19225 C1 Index to finance committee minutes 1933-1972
VPRS 19226 C1 House committee minutes 1900-1972
VPRS 19227 C1 Index to house committee minutes 1913-1972
VPRS 19228 C1 Index to executive committee minutes 1972-1976
VPRS 19229 C1

Secretary's/manager's memo books and diaries

VPRS 19232 C1 Clinical units reviews and reports 1984-2003
VPRS 19235 C1 Quality of care reports 2000-2019
VPRS 19236 C1  Annual general meetings minutes 1856-2016
VPRS 19237 C1 By-laws and rules 1875-2007
VPRS 19238 C1 Corporate strategic planning, minutes and agenda 1911-c2020
VPRS 19239 C1 Administrative instructions and memoranda including index 1936-1975
VPRS 19240 C1 Review of north western mental health program, reports and publications 1992-2013
VPRS 19241 C1 Annual reports 1848-2021
VPRS 19242 C1 Filing system classification and index to secretary's manager's office and central registry 1959-1996
VPRS 19243 C1 Media releases  1997-2005
VPRS 19244 C1 Staff newsletters 1951-2019
VPRS 19245 C1 Bequest books 1858-1991
VPRS 19246 C1 Life governors record cards c1885-1985
VPRS 19247 C1 Life governors register c1845-1951
VPRS 19248 C1 Hospital donations for beds and medical equipment, record cards c1926-1976
VPRS 19249 C1 The Royal Melbourne Hospital appeal executive committee, minutes and papers c1940-1974
VPRS 19250 C1 The Royal Melbourne Hospital foundation philanthropy reports 2012-2020
VPRS 19251 C1 Research annual reports 1984-2011
VPRS 19252 C1 Proceedings of conferences 1961-1992
VPRS 19253 C1 Speeches and presentations c1920-2002
VPRS 19254 C1 Building committee records 1913-2009
VPRS 19255 C1 Clinical school/board of studies, minutes and papers 1948-2003
VPRS 19256 C1 Nursing examination papers, state registered nurses 1942-1982
VPRS 19257 C1 Curriculum records, state registered nurses 1973-2003
VPRS 19258 C1 Honorary/senior medical staff office, records of the secretary 1888-1997
VPRS 19259 C1 Index to honorary/senior medical staff minutes 1930-1985
VPRS 19260 C1 Senior medical staff reports 1974-2000
VPRS 19261 C1 Honorary life governors record cards 1885-1987
VPRS 19262 C1 Research foundation, establishment and incorporation records 1990-1995
VPRS 19263 C1 Research week symposium programs 1979-2018
VPRS 19264 C1 Annual reports, clinical and administrative departments 1933-1993
VPRS 19265 C1 Rules, standing orders and handbooks for intern/resident medical officers and staff 1926-2004
VPRS 19266 C1 Records of the president of board of management 1915-1946
VPRS 19267 C1 Operational efficiency review reports 1992-1994
VPRS 19268 C1 Vascular consultative panel proceedings 1963-1966
VPRS 19269 C1 Medical and clinical manuals 1878-1983
VPRS 19270 C1 Physiotherapy board of studies meetings, minutes and agendas 1997-2000
VPRS 19271 C1 Medical superintendent's reports 1891-1923
VPRS 19272 C1 Medical superintendent correspondence files 1930-1997
VPRS 19273 C1 Medical superintendent/chief medica officer, clinical memoranda and instructions 1963-1990
VPRS 19274 C1 Medical superintendent conferences and meeting minutes 1930-1977
VPRS 19275 C1 Lady superintendent's reports 1908-1972
VPRS 19276 C1 Newsletters, nursing division 1917-2022
VPRS 19277 C1 Nursing division, correspondence files 1922-2019
VPRS 19278 C1 Graduate nurses association meeting minutes 1917-1963
VPRS 19279 C1 Admission and discharge register 1857-1860
VPRS 19280 C1 Operation and anaesthetist register 1928-1930
VPRS 19281 C1 Procedure review committee, minutes and papers 1986-1997
VPRS 19282 C1 Ethics committee on medical research, minutes and papers 1975-1996
VPRS 19283 C1 Independent/institutional ethics committee network meeting minutes 1989-1990
VPRS 19284 C1 Medical research funds advisory committee, minutes and papers 1982-1993
VPRS 19285 C1 Board of medical research, project proposal files 1975-1978
VPRS 19286 C1 Institutional biosafety committee, project files 1986-1996
VPRS 19287 C1 Lady superintendent's reports, Caulfield Convalescence Hospital 1926-1948
VPRS 19288 C1 Metropolitan hospital association and Victorian hospital association, minutes and correspondence 1945-1957
VPRS 19289 C1 Records of the cental linen service and group laundry 1937-1995
VPRS 19290 C1 Reports of the Royal Melbourne Hospital surgical teams in Vietnam 1964-1970
VPRS 19291 C1 Operational and functional reports and plans 1907-2013
VPRS 19292 C1 Victorian infectious diseases reference laboratory annual reports 2000-2004
VPRS 19293 C1 Records of the Royal Melbourne Hospital auxiliaries 1922-2008
VPRS 19294 C1 Correspondence files, chief executive office 1923-1971
VPRS 19295 C1 Diary of Nurse Susie Cone 1918-1919
VPRS 19296 C1 Diary of nursing student Betty Constance Lawson  1934-1937
VPRS 19297 C1 Almoner [social work] committee, minutes 1931-1945
VPRS 19298 C1 Records of the chief executive office 1903-2020
VPRS 19299 C1 Fellowship and scholarship applications papers 1947-2001
VPRS 19306 C1 Medical superintendent's reports 1961-1978


Records in the previous Royal Melbourne Hospital transfer were listed in the December blog post, with a recent Bendigo health transfer listed in January

Visit the Royal Melbourne Hospital agency page to see everything in our collection from the hospital. 

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples