Sunday, 19 March 2017

Sometimes it takes more than one source to find an answer

Thanks to NSW Births Deaths & Marriages and the skill of transcription agents such as Laurie Turtle, I have the birthplace of my great-grandfather's half-sister as "Off Cowles Road, Middle Harbour, Mosman". Mosman is a beautiful harbour-side suburb just north of Sydney. Her birth was registered as Arita Lillian Barrett, but she was known as Rita, and her death transcription lists this name.

Because I am extra fussy, I wanted an actual physical address for this event, and it took a number of sources to get there. Cowles Road is 1.3 km long, and "Off Cowles Road" includes about 20 side streets, so I knew I had to get really specific. I emailed Mosman Library, asking if they knew of any hospitals that were operating in 1904, but no luck there.

My next online search was the City of Sydney Library's Sands Directories, a searchable list of Sydney, suburban and country households and businesses from 1858 to 1933. These are like the White Pages and Yellow Pages combined, but without phone numbers. I could look through them all day, every day. They're fascinating. Most properties were known by their house name rather than number, so that was interesting, but wouldn't help me find the property on a current map.

To most effectively search within the Sands Directory I needed a name, and the person named as Present at Birth was Mrs Cleland (nurse).

The only Cleland in the suburb of Mosman in 1904 was D Cleland, who was listed under "Glover Street - South side", and his name is the last name before the Bardwell Road intersection. Glover Street does come off Cowles Road, and Bardwell Road intersects Glover Street, so it looked like the hospital was on the southern side of Glover Street.

Sands Directory, 1904

Where Bardwell Road intersects with the southern side of Glover Street there are two properties to choose from, one on each side of Bardwell Road. There are 55 houses along the south side of Glover Street now (2017) compared to 1904, when there were only 15. The house I wanted (according to Sands) was the last one before Bardwell Road. On a current map the house on that corner is number 32a. 

Google Maps 2017

Thanks to Google street view I can see that the Glover Street facade of the house looks like it was originally one big home converted into two, which was probably the case if the house had been large enough to be a private hospital.

Google street view image 2009
The NSW Government's land and mapping agency, SixMaps, provides a crisper aerial view than Google Maps, which is better for reproducing here. 

Aerial view from SixMaps NSW 2017
Without delving into land deeds and title searches (I'm saving that for another blog post), I thought I would look on some real estate websites to see photos taken inside the property, and found that 32 and 32a Glover Street was apparently built in 1920, some 16 years after Rita was born. This will require some more investigation, as I'm guessing that this date might only be an estimate. So while I was disappointed not to see the actual room Rita was born in (which I realise is quite unlikely), I was happy to have a more specific location than "Off Cowles Road".

PS Further checking on Trove revealed that Nurse Cleland's six-roomed weatherboard house was destroyed by fire in October 1919, so a build date of 1920 could be accurate after all!


  1. Persistence pays off - great sleuthing Janelle.

  2. Hi Janelle, love your persistence! Let me offer a further thought to your investigation - the notion that children were born in hospital (or medical facilities) is a very recent one. Back in the 1800's and early 1900's, most births took place at home, assisted by mothers/grandmothers or professional midwives. As such, the residence of the midwife is likely to be her home, but not necessarily where the babies were born...

    1. True, lots/most babies were born at home. Luckily in this instance I have Rita's birth cert transcription which says the location.