Sydney Architecture Images-The Inner West

Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital  


John Sulman


Hospital Road, Concord.




Federation Free Classical


brick, stone trim
Symmetrical pavilions with broad eaves, in a splendid setting.


Government hospital
On the southern bank of the Parramatta River travelling west towards the Olympic Games site at Homebush Bay is an imposing red brick building nestling behind the mangroves and spacious lawns. This is Rivendell Adolescent Unit (originally the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital). 

Recommended Reading: "The Walkers of Yaralla" by Patricia Skehan - published by P. Skehan Publishing, P O Box 301, Concord, NSW 2137 Available for sale from the Concord Heritage Society P O Box 152, Concord NSW 2137 
  Rivendell from Parramatta RiverPhoto of Thomas Walker - Boardroom RivendellRooftop view
  Leadlight PanelLeadlight panelJoanna Walker sign
As you drive through the gateway into the grounds of Rivendell Adolescent Unit it is easy to believe that little has changed since last century. 

In the 1840s, Thomas Walker (who migrated to Sydney from Scotland in 1822) began acquiring land in the Concord area and by the late 1860s his estate comprised 124 hectares and occupied a large portion of the present Municipality of Concord. It stretched from Napier Street in the south to Killoola Street in the north; west beyond the present railway line and east around Brays Bay and Majors Bay. 

In 1860, Thomas Walker married Jane Hart at Holy Trinity Church, Sydney. On 18th September, 1861, Jane gave birth to Eadith Campbell Walker. The Walkers moved to their country residence of Yaralla where Jane died in 1870.

The hospital was exclusively for patients who were convalescing and in need of rest, fresh air and peaceful surroundings. Patients were referred by many Sydney hospitals including St Vincents, Royal Prince Alfred and Sydney Hospitals. Most patients stayed for up to four weeks and running costs were met from interest on part of Thomas Walker's endowment. 

In the first year of operation, 608 patients were admitted. The poet Henry Lawson was a one-time patient and penned a poem "The Unknown Patient" which was published in "The Bulletin". See Page 6 for a copy of the poem.

The Dutch Water Gate (or boathouse) which is a well-known landmark on the river's edge was the first building entered by many who arrived by ferry from Sydney and contained a waiting room and a smoking lounge.

Until 1979 the hospital was administered by the Perpetual Trustee Company but it was evident that funds were dwindling and provision of a free convalescent hospital was no longer feasible. The hospital was transferred to the NSW Health Department and now houses the Rivendell Child, Adolescent and Family Unit - a centre for the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed adolescents. It caters for inpatients (as well as outpatients) on a weekday basis many of whom attend the Rivendell School for Specific Purposes run by the NSW Department of Education and Training. The school is housed in the east wing of the building whilst the west wing is used as a residential unit. 

In 1999, the original "ward" buildings underwent extensive restoration and it is hoped that an Open Day may be held during the year 2000.

Thomas Walker brought his sister, Joanna, from Scotland to help raise his nine year old daughter. At Joanna's suggestion the family adopted Anne Masefield as a companion for Eadith and the two girls grew up together as sisters. Thomas Walker died at Yaralla on 2nd September, 1886 aged 82 and was buried with his wife at St John's Church, Ashfield

In a codicil to his Will, Thomas Walker expressed a wish that 100,000 pounds be set aside for the building and maintenance of a convalescent hospital on twelve hectares of the estate at Rocky Point. A competition was held for the design of the hospital and from 33 entries the design of John Kirkpatrick of Sydney was selected. This original decision was overturned and the firm of Sulman and Power was commissioned to design the hospital. The major partner of the firm, architect John Sulman, was to marry Anne Masefield in 1893. 

Construction began in 1891 and the original amount was quickly spent, so an additional 50,000 pounds was contributed by Joanna Walker, Eadith Walker and Anne Masefield. 

The building was made of brick and sandstone with elaborate carvings, marble fireplaces and fine masonry. Italian masons were brought to Australia specifically to work on the building. It was officially opened on 21st September 1893. 

In 1894 the Joanna Walker Memorial Children's Convalescent Hospital was opened in a separate building in the grounds. It was also designed by John Sulman and was built around a central glassed-in courtyard with a Doulton fountain in the centre. A feature of this building are the lead-light panels above the central windows with eight verses typical of Victorian times. 

Verses worked in leadlight around the courtyard in Joanna Walker Building: "The noblest mind The best contentment has"; "How sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong"; "Sweet flowers are springing no mortal can see"; "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal"; "The bravest are the tenderest"; "Fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind"; "Poor and content is rich and rich enough"; "He prayeth best who loveth best".

The Unknown Patient 

(Henry Lawson was recently an inmate of the Walker Hospital for Convalescents - "Founded by the late Thomas Walker of Yaralla in the Hope that Within Its Walls Sufferers should be Restored to Health". This is by way a song of gratitude. 

The moonlight breathes on Walker House and softens scrub and hill; The native trees are strangely stirred, the pines are very still; The nurse's lantern flits and flits, and pain and sorrow cease, For all the patients are asleep, and all is Rest and Peace. 

Not class nor creed nor race debars, and even Wealth is free - The suffering miser shares alike the Home with Poverty; The felon's past is never known when kindness "sends him through" - The stone says "many sufferers, but it means "sinners", too. 

Within a corner of the grounds, where patients seldom go, Well screened by firs and shrubbery a sandstone ledge runs low, And, pencilled by an unknown hand upon the yellow stone, Is "God Bless Thomas Walker" - four simple words alone. 

I know not who the writer was, and I may never know, It may have been but yesterday, maybe was long ago. 'Tis near the pathway that divides the women from the men - It may have been a tortured Christ or a suffering Magdalen. 

Perhaps some shy and shrinking soul, relieved awhile from care, Crept out of sight of "sterner stuff" to pay a tribute there. Or maybe an Impenitent, and many such there be. For hard men often drop a tear where none but God may see. 

But good or bad, or high or low - or were he anything (Or even traitor to his creed, and rebel to his king) - I trust the unknown patient went with softened care and pain, With health and honesty restored, to fight the world again. 

There is a stately home of Rest where all the scene is fair, And in the sun the ripples run along the river there; 'Twas builded in the noonday dream of one of kindly wealth, "In the Hope that Many Sufferers Should be Restored to Health". 

Published in "The Bulletin" 
Thomas Walker (philanthropist)

Thomas Walker (1804 - September 2, 1886) was an early politician and banker; he and his daughter Dame Eadith Campbell Walker (c. 1865 - October 8, 1937) were important Australian philanthropists.

Thomas Walker was born at Leith, Scotland, in 1804, and came to Sydney as a young man. About the year 1822 he joined the firm of W. Walker and Company, general merchants, the senior partner of which was his uncle. Some years later he acquired this business in partnership with a cousin, and carried it on successfully. He was made a magistrate in 1835, in 1837 visited Port Phillip, and in 1838 published anonymously an account of his experiences under the title, A Month in the Bush of Australia.

In 1843 he was elected one of the representatives of Port Phillip in the first elected New South Wales legislative council, and in January 1845 he was one of the six members of the council who signed a petition praying that Port Phillip should be made into a separate colony. Walker, however, gave up taking an active part in politics, though he kept his interest in them and published some pamphlets on the land question. His financial affairs prospered, and he invested widely. His special interest was the Bank of New South Wales, of which he was president for many years before his death. The statement that he was one of the original founders of the bank is not correct, but his uncle was one of the early shareholders. He died in 1886 leaving a large fortune. He was survived by a daughter.

Walker was a conscientious, benevolent man who went about doing good. He took a personal interest in his benefactions, and at one period employed an agent, searching out and relieving cases of distress. In 1882, just before taking a trip to Europe, he distributed £10,000 among benevolent institutions, and under his will £100,000 was set aside to found the Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital. In its first 20 years nearly 18,000 convalescent patients, all non-paying, received the benefit of this hospital. In the early 1900s, author Henry Lawson was several times a patient there, treated for his alcoholism. After the death of his daughter, Eadith Campbell Walker, 51 years later, two-thirds of the income from £300,000 of his estate was set aside for the upkeep of this hospital, £100,000 was used to found the Dame Eadith Walker convalescent home for men, and one-third of the income from another sum of £300,000 was set aside for its maintenance. The remaining two-thirds of the income was appropriated for the upkeep of the Thomas Walker convalescent hospital and the Yaralla cottages built by his daughter, Dame Eadith Campbell Walker, who devoted her life to philanthropy, making the poor and distressed her special concern. She supplemented her father's endowment of his hospital, gave liberally to other hospitals, and worked on many committees.

When the 1914-18 war came she took a special interest in returned soldiers suffering from tuberculosis, and had 32 of them at "The Camp" in her grounds at Yaralla from 1917 to 1920. From April 1917 to December 1922 she lent another home at Leura for the same purpose, and paid the entire cost of maintenance. It was afterwards made a children's home. She built cottages for elderly men at Yaralla, and provided an endowment fund for their upkeep. She died on 8 October 1937, leaving an estate of £265,000. After providing for many legacies to relations, friends and employees, one-third of the residue of the estate went to the Returned Soldiers' and Sailors' Imperial League of Australia, and the real estate to the Red Cross Society. Miss Walker was created C.B.E. in 1917 and D.B.E. in 1928. 


Serle, Percival (1949). "Walker, Thomas" Dictionary of Australian Biography, Sydney: Angus and Robertson.