Post 69, A Sanitarium and a Hospital in Sydney: Why?

These ideas are fragments from presentations that I made soon after writing (under the gentle supervision of Dr Tom Ludowici as one of the Hospital’s administrators) the centennial history of Sydney Adventist Hospital.

History at its beginning level involves the task of description. At 185 Fox Valley Road, Wahroonga, an elegant wooden building was opened as a sanitarium on the first day of 1903. During the next one hundred years various physical changes occurred as a range of activities related to healthcare took place at the site. On the first day of 2003, a commemorative program was initiated that in the course of that year helped those involved with Sydney Adventist Hospital reflect on the institution’s first century and better plan the early part of its second century. Such observations describe what occurred.

The historian in exploring the what may also address issues far beyond the planting, naming, development and mission of the institution. For example, What was occurring in the wider society and how did that influence the San until 1973 and the Hospital since that date? Obviously the recognition of nursing as a profession in Australia (during the 1920s) and this nation’s belated acknowledgement that women and men (during the 1930s) can be good nurses impacted the San, and the move to educate nurses in College of Advanced Education and university settings (during the 1970s) deeply influenced the Hospital. Change in modes of transport, industrial dilemmas, two global wars, the Great Depression, the relentless development of medical science, changing conditions in the developing world-all these things and many more influenced what was built and what was done here. So the historical task may be a quite pervasive process if it is to document a century of healthcare in these terms.

In its 277 pages, The San: 100 Years of Christian Caring, 1903-2003, describes what you might see on this site and who you might meet in the buildings and how this institution has reached out to Australia and the world. This lecture is being delivered the day before I leave for the United States, in part to present 108 classroom hours of essentially historical substance to undergraduate and graduate university students. The examination questions those students will face and the papers they write will demand much more than description. Analysis moves into the more subjective, even debatable area where what gives centre stage to why. Even though the centennial volume is of the coffee-table genre, its text and more than five hundred pictures give a reasonable introduction to the what. Here I will begin to explore the more demanding question, why; that is, to account for the existence, characteristics and activities of the San and the Hospital.

It is fruitful to seek to identify sources of influence so fundamental that without any one of them the San would not have been established. Three immediately stand out: a nation (the United States of America), Adventism (a religion) and a woman (Ellen White).

Authors like Martin Marty of the University of Chicago are apt to write a book as often as I write a major article. There is a vast literature produced by authors in several countries that looks at the political, social and religious history of the United States with its warts and its desirable features. This is a fascinating subject that must be dismissed here with passing mention. This I want to say: without the climate of openness to the Bible and its interpretation that was possible in even the eastern United States in the first half of the nineteenth century, Adventism may not have gained a foothold in a culture where it could grow and reproduce itself. We need to notice the powerful reaction in North American religion to the French Revolution, the energetic development of Bible societies, missionary impulses, reform movements and more, including the Second Great Awakening with its revivalism, evangelicalism and millennialism. It was from this ferment that Adventism developed a new impulse under William Miller and his associates between 1831 and 1844. In his impressive books published by Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, Bryan Ball demonstrates that where the Scriptures are studied there is likely to develop an awareness of the landmark ideas of Adventism, including the recovery of the seventh-day Sabbath and a wholistic view of human personhood. But it was in Maine, New York and Michigan that Adventism took root, not in London, Manchester and Oxford.

The Sanitarium never bore a denominational name: that designation waited until the important rebuilding program gave the institution a new identity during 1973. But it was distinctively Adventist in both its conception and its nurture. So if Sabbatarian Adventism had not developed from the Great Disappointment of 1844, found a name for itself (Seventh-day Adventist) in 1860, developed its primary structure by 1863, begun its spread to other nations (1864, with a volunteer, 1874 with an official missionary to Europe, 1885 with an eleven-strong “first fleet” to Australia) there would have been no Sanitarium in Wahroonga. Of course we Adventists need to recognize the long history of involvement by Christians in creating hospitals, especially in Europe, to fully understand the relationship between the salvation of the soul and the salving of body. But the San and the Hospital can only be understood as part of a worldwide initiative that has created the mission of sanitaria, hospitals, clinics, medical launches, aeroplanes and such in places as diverse as Los Angeles and Atoifi, Maluti and Sydney.

We could toy with a host of names that had to do with the founding of the Sanitarium. What if Alfred and Emma Semmens had not ventured to the United States and brought a vision of the Kellogg Sanitarium idea to Australia and initiated it in Ashfield and Summer Hill? What if Edgar Caro with his newly-minted medical degree had not had the temerity to come to Summer Hill in 1898 and call the fledgling institution the Sydney Medical and Surgical Sanitarium? What if the Wessels family from South Africa had failed to lend expertise and money to the enterprise, if locals like Fred Sharpe had not been involved, if the wheel had come off the Radley family buggy that came from Castle Hill to Thornleigh so this site would be inspected? What if John Harvey Kellogg had not fostered ideas, methods and earned money that would boost the initiative, or what if Merritt Kellogg hadn’t drawn the plans and supervised the construction of the Fox Valley enterprise? What if William White and Arthur Daniells had failed to foster the idea as presidents of the then infant Australian Union Conference? So the list might go on and on—the San was a venture of many minds and willing hands.

But the San was mothered uniquely by Ellen Gould White (1827-1915). This influence goes beyond her symbiotic relationship with Sabbatarian Adventism from 1844 onward. It was during 1863 that teasing ideas began to coalesce as a tangible impulse toward health reform. Ellen White began to write down her insights. By 1866 the very experimental Western Health Reform Institute was planted. It would grow with Kellogg’s leadership from the 1870s to become for nineteenth-century Adventism the flagship institution that Loma Linda is for twenty-first century Adventism.

When the Sydney Medical and Surgical Sanitarium opened on 1 January 1903 with speeches by its designer and builder Dr. Merritt G. Kellogg, medical superintendent Dr. Daniel H. Kress and business manager John A. Burden,[1] Ellen White was beginning her third calendar year of residence at Elmshaven in California. However, White’s influence was decisive in the founding and development of what is currently the largest, single-campus private hospital in the Australian state of New South Wales.

White ministered from 1891-1900 within the territory of what is now the South Pacific Division of Seventh-day Adventists, fostering the development of numerous health-related initiatives, but after a century only the Sydney “San” and the international Sanitarium Health Food Company remain. Ten key ideas deriving from her major health vision of 1863[2] shaped the Battle Creek Sanitarium where Australian staff trained during the 1890s for service back in their homeland. In expanded form these concepts provided the essential philosophy of the antipodean institution.

Supportive as she was of preliminary ventures from 1896 in the Sydney suburbs of Ashfield and Summer Hill, on 21 July 1899 White told the 46 delegates at the Australasian Union Conference session[3] that “the grand and ennobling work we have to do for the Master” required a purpose-built institution. Almost spontaneously, immediate fund-raising began; White pledged (and borrowed to pay) 100 of the 905 pounds raised the same day. Thereafter she actively stimulated the search for land in a non-urban setting yet close to the significant population of the country’s first city. She inspected the 80-acre Wahroonga site with others during October 1899, fostered the gathering of funds (8,453 pounds was spent on the building, its furniture and equipment by opening day), and vacationed on the property in January 1900. Her letters until 1907 demonstrated a sustained interest in the Sanitarium.

The institution, extensively rebuilt and renamed Sydney Adventist Hospital in 1973, has changed from a rural “health home” with orchards, vegetable gardens, poultry and a dairy, to embrace scientific medicine. White’s writings fostered this transformation as well as a continuing emphasis on the values of wholistic healthcare. The outreach of the hospital’s nurse education program continues to enrich Adventist mission in many parts of the world, and has been enhanced since 1973 by the visits of surgical teams to the Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.

Further perspectives on its first hundred years are available in a 277-page illustrated volume printed by Signs Publishing Company, Warburton.[4]

 Arthur N. Patrick, posted 15 August 2012








[1] Australasian Good Health, Vol. 6, No. 2 (1 February 1903).

[2] See Roger W. Coon, The Great Visions of Ellen G. White (Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1992), 90-107.

[3] Union Conference Record, Special Numbers 1-10 (10 July 1899 to 31 July 1899).

[4] Arthur N. Patrick, The San: 100 Years of Christian Caring, 1903-2003 (Wahroonga: Sydney Adventist Hospital Limited, 2003).