State Library and Tasmanian Archives Blog

Where the paupers went to die…

A part of a plan for a hospital. Text at top right reads: "Plan of general hospital Hobart town. Scale ten feet to one inch"
Plan of General Hospital Hobart Town (PWD266/1/422)

Hospital records are like the holy grail of archives. Because medical histories are so personal, they are carefully controlled. In the busy world of a hospital, not every slip of paper could be kept, particularly before computers. By the time 19th and early 20th century records reached the archives, many volumes had gone missing or been destroyed, and only intriguing clues have survived.

Some of the surviving records from the General Hospital in Hobart are the hospital’s registers of deaths (HSD145, 1864-1884) and orders for coffins ‘required for pauper interments’ (HSD146, 1864-1876). These records have now been digitised and added to the Tasmanian Names Index, under the record type ‘deaths’.

During the 19th century, doctors did house calls to the wealthy, so hospitals were places for the poor and working classes. Labourer, shoemaker, cook, gardener, servant, tinsmith…In Tasmania, in the later half of the 1800s, many of these people were ex-convicts.

George Graves was in a pauper’s grave at the age of 47. He had been transported for life, but had been granted a conditional pardon after 25 years, and left to fend for himself in the colony as an unskilled labourer.

Jane Rye (nee Tate) was a very well-behaved convict. She was transported from County Down, Ireland, in 1852, and brought her three children with her. Jane married Thomas Rye in 1855, and had five years with him before she was struck ill, and sent to the Cascades Invalid Depot. She died there at the age of 49, and a coffin was sent from the General Hospital for her burial.

Ellen Shea (nee Falconer) was a dressmaker from Guernsey, who had been transported, along with her younger sister, for stealing money. Ellen had been in prison ten times before her transportation, for stealing money and ‘quarreling’. She settled down and married in the colony, but died of dysentery at the age of 44. Like many of those who died at the hospital, she did not have a pauper burial, but was ‘buried by friends’.

John Humphries was not a convict. Born in Tasmania, he was only 13 years old when he died of blood poisoning(?). According to the inquest, he had been playing on a wall in Franklin Square with some other boys and fell off, injuring his knee. He was the first of five children born to William and Esther. William Humphries had been a labourer, sailor and, in 1865, a bailiff. But, in 1867, he did not have the money to bury his son. A pauper’s coffin was ordered by the hospital. Perhaps out of compassion to the family’s tragedy, the clergyman waived his fee for performing the funeral.

Explore more of these stories by searching the Tasmanian Names Index


  • Jessica is a Librarian for the State Library and Tasmanian Archives.

2 thoughts on “Where the paupers went to die…”

  1. Kaye Schofield says:

    Thank you Jess for this interesting blog. I am researching a death in the Hobart General Hospital in 1863 which I have located via the Tasmania Names index and trying to find out more about the hospital. Your blog starts with an image of a plan of General Hospital Hobart Town which I assume is the new hospital established in 1860 to replace the Colonial/Convict Hospital? Could you please guide me to the full image of this plan that I could download? I have not been able to find it through a catalogue search. Thank you, Kaye

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