Originally thought to have been built by Alexander Waddle, a freed convict and hotelkeeper in 1832, the two storey Georgian house was subsequently established as St John’s Hospital in 1845. It was the location Dr W. R. Pugh first performed surgery under anaesthetic two years later in 1847. This was the first use of ether for surgery in Australia. Today a statue of Pugh can be seen on the steps of nearby Princes Square.

Pugh apparently studied medicine in Scotland and possibly Ireland before travelling as a ship’s doctor on the maiden voyage of the Derwent to New Holland (Australia) and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1835. He arrived in Hobart Town after a voyage of 4 months and one day. Due to lack of work, Pugh walked the 200km from Hobart Town to Launceston in just over a month. He then married and built a two-storey Georgian mansion on a plot of land, now known as ‘Nelumie’ at 159 St John St. He worked at St John’s Hospital until 1853 when he and his wife moved to Melbourne.

Established as a settlement in 1806, Launceston’s population had grown to 10,000 by 1847. Nearly half the population had been transported convicts: 15% were convicts, and a further 25% were convicts who had been freed, pardoned, or held tickets-of-leave. Launceston’s newspaper of the time The Examiner still operates today. Source: Anaesth Intensive Care 2017 | History Supplement: St John’s Hospital (Morton House) by R. P. Haridas et al.

The Weeping Elm tree shown above is on the Tasmanian Heritage Register and National Trusts of Australia Register of Significant Trees.


When I moved away from Launceston back in 2008 I really didn’t like the place, but now as I walk its streets with my camera I have a new found appreciation for its heritage and historic buildings. Today Morton House operates as offices (for lease), not quite as exciting as the first use of anaesthetic in surgery.