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Author: Tara Oldfield
Between 1910 and 1928, the staff of the Hospital for the Insane in Kew, as it was then known, promised one another that whenever they went away on holidays, they would send a postcard back.
The postcard oath!
“Whereas we, the undersigned members of the Clerical Staff of the abovementioned institution, hereby order and direct that our successors in the Clerical Staff at this Hospital, shall when on Annual or other special leave, other than Sick Leave, forward to the Secretary or his representative who is in charge of the Record Album, a picture postcard or photo of the place of his sojourn, when on such leave.”
Dated 20 August 1913.
Kew Asylum postcard album
The Kew Asylum postcard album, now in our collection, contains 79 postcards mostly depicting locations within Victoria, sometimes interstate and overseas - the latter sent by staff members on active service with the First AIF. Individual items within the album are postmarked between the years 1910 and 1928.
Many say things along the lines of “kind regards to all at Kew”, “having a grand time” and even “regards to the boss.” You get the sense these postcards were sent more as an obligation than as a real means of keeping in touch and relaying exciting holidays to colleagues.
However some go into a little more detail and reveal what long weekends and summer holidays looked like back in the early 1900s – not so different to today with beachside travels, long walks and day trips often mentioned. For instance a postcard from H J Martin in 1914 discussed a trip to Tasmania:
“Arrived in Tas on Saturday and went to Deloraine from Launceston on same night. Have been having a good time driving, riding, walking, etc.”
Ballarat seemed one of the most popular destinations with nine postcards hailing from the region, Colac and Queenscliffe were also popular. Sydney, Brisbane and Tasmania featured amongst the out-of-state trips. Many complained their holidays were ruined by unexpected rain or taking ill. This postcard reveals nervousness about smallpox in Sydney 1913. There were 2,000 cases of small pox in Sydney between 1913 and 1917:
“Am enjoying my visit in good health. My vaccination has not taken very well, may have to be again done. Folk here (Sydney) appear to make comparatively little of S. Pox. Sydney is a good place for a holiday, but I prefer Melb for residence. Hope office wheels are well oiled and running smoothly. Yours sincerely, WmcBall.”
Others noted the joys of being stress-free and phone-less:
“Having a pleasant holiday far from the worries of city life. No telephone, war rumours, tempestuous superior officers or the like to worry one.”
Perhaps there's something there to be learned for travelers today who remain glued to the news and their iphones?
All of the postcards in the collection feature stunning photographs and drawings of the scenery of each writer’s holiday. Watercolour sunsets and blue skies are strewn throughout, as are photos of the natural environment and buildings. Here are just some of our favourites:
Many postcards came from what was called the “Rose Series” – all images were by Victorian photographer George Rose and stamped with the official Rose logo on the back. The business was called the Rose Stenograph Company, founded in 1880. Postcards and decorative cards from the Rose Series featured scenes from across Victoria and interstate.
Just for fun…
This cheeky one was without any correspondence. The artwork is hopefully not reflective of an unsuccessful proposal!
Order the album
The postcard album from Kew Asylum is available to order and view in the North Melbourne Reading Room. Simply type "Postcards Kew" into the search bar, and click on
DATE: 1910 to 1928
AGENCY: Kew (Asylum 1871-1905; Hospital for the Insane 1905-1934; Mental Hospital 1934-c.1970s; Mental/Psychiatric Hospital c.1970s-1988
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