Significant Tasmanian Women icon

Pioneer of the 'ladies' practice' in Hobart

Christine Walch was a descendant of several early Hobart families:

  • her maternal great-grandparents were Henry and Sarah Hopkins who established the Congregational Church in Tasmania;
  • her maternal grandfather the Rev. George Clarke was the first Vice-Chancellor of the University,
  • two of her aunts, Poppy and Minnie Clarke, were principal and vice-principal of the Girls' High School; and
  • her father Arthur Walch was a member of the well-known family which established one of Hobart's first bookshops.

Christine attended her aunts' school, and in 1910 was among the highest achievers in the Senior Public Exam, being placed third in the State and winning a University Scholarship for Arts. Christine completed her Bachelor of Arts in 1913.

During the First World War Christine worked at the local hospitals while also studying for an Honours degree in English (1916) and a Master of Arts (1918). Christine's intended fiancé was killed in action at Gaza in 1918.

Christine enrolled in first year Medicine at the University of Tasmania in 1920, and completed her studies at the University of Sydney with her brother Jim. There were 19 women in Christine's year. Christine graduated in 1925 and became increasingly interested in women's medicine after she started work at the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney.

In 1927 Christine returned to Hobart, and set up practice in Macquarie Street in a house purchased by her father. Her brother Jim, now a pathologist, was also a tenant. Her practice grew quickly - her interest and expertise in obstetrics meant that women patients sought her out. Christine held a range of honorary positions at the Queen Alexandra Maternity Hospital; the Clarendon Children's Home, the Mothercraft Home, and the Salvation Army Girls' Home. She established antenatal clinics at the Queen Alexandra Hospital, and introduced women to pre- and post-natal exercise programs.

Christine also lectured to the Child Welfare Sisters at the Mothercraft Home and trainee nurses at the Royal Hobart Hospital and always urged them to see their patients as individuals. Christine was present at all deliveries and remained proud of her record of only two maternal deaths, and a low infant mortality rate during her career.

In the mid 1930's Dr Fanny Robertson joined her in what became known as the ladies' practice. Christine decided to retire in 1954 and the ladies' practice was bought by Dr Val Davenport, who subsequently relocated the practice to Barrack Street.

Christine remained active in her retirement. She was elected to the University Council; was involved with Jane Franklin Hall a residential college for women attending the University; and the Women Graduates' Association. Christine was interested in Tasmanian history and was for many years a member of The Itinerants, a group of 20 women who prepared discussion papers for their monthly meetings. Christine wrote an article on her great-grandfather Henry Hopkins for the Australian Dictionary of Biography. She died in 1981 aged 87.

This entry was compiled using a paper prepared by Dr Alison Alexander for the Winter 2003 Papers & Proceedings of the Health & Medicine Museum Australia (Tasmanian Chapter).

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