A Brief History of Rivendell (Thomas Walker Convalescent Hospital)
Thomas Walker migrated from Scotland in 1822, at the age of 18, to work for his uncle’s company, Jones & Walker. When the senior partners retired he assumed control and the company prospered, expanding into pastoral leases, politics and banking. In the 1840s he began acquiring land in the Concord area and by the late 1860s his estate comprised 124 hectares taking in prime river sites around Brays Bay and Majors Bay. In 1860 he married Jane Hart in 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.
Thomas Walker brought his sister, Joanna, from Scotland to help raise his 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 and was buried at Ashfield.
In a codicil to his Will, Thomas Walker expressed a wish that £100,000 be set aside for the building and maintenance of a convalescent hospital on 12 hectares of the estate at Rocky Point.
The building was eventually designed by John Sulman of the firm of Sulman & Power (who was to marry Anne Masefield in 1893). Construction began in 1891 and an additional amount of £50,000 was contributed by Joanna & Eadith Walker and Anne Masefield.
The building was made of brick and sandstone with elaborate carvings, marble fireplaces and fine masonry and was officially opened on 21st September 1893 as a free convalescent hospital. Patients were referred by many Sydney Hospitals including St Vincents, Royal Prince Alfred and Sydney Hospitals. In the first year of operation, 608 patients were admitted. The poet Henry Lawson was at one time a patient and penned a poem entitled “The Unknown Patient” published in The Bulletin. Over 70,000 patients convalesced at the hospital, including servicemen from the 1914-18 and 1939-45 World Wars.
In 1894, the Joanna Walker Memorial Childrens’ Convalescent Hospital was opened in a separate building in the grounds. It was also designed by John Sulman. It was built around a central glassed-in courtyard featuring a Doulton fountain in the centre. A feature of the building are the leadlight panels with enscribed with eight verses.
Until 1979, the hospital was administered by the Perpetual Trustee Company but 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 Adolescent Unit including Rivendell School. In 1999, the buildings underwent extensive restoration.
Rivendell is the name from the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien and was chosen because in The Hobbit Rivendell is a place to rest and recuperate – a sanctuary for those on difficult journeys.