The poor and the down and out in and around Collingwood, Melbourne knew where to go if they needed medical help in the late 1800s. The place was located on Wellington Street, Collingwood and was called Dr Singleton's Free Medical Mission Dispensary. Collingwood was one of the most densely populated suburbs in Melbourne at the time with a large working class population, the majority of who couldn't afford medical care.
Dr John Singleton. Courtesy: Royal Children's Hospital Archives
The dispensary had been opened in 1869 by Dr John Singleton where he provided free medical attention and spiritual guidance. In the first year alone, he treated around 3000 people. In 1876 a mission hall was established nearby for prayer meetings, Bible classes, Sunday school, the annual old folks' tea and working men's meetings.
Born in Dublin on 2 January 1808 to William and Mary Singleton, John was apprenticed to an apothecary and then a general medical practitioner. Afterwards he attended medical school in Dublin and Glasgow, graduating as a doctor in 1838.
By 1851 John and his wife Isabella and 10 children had moved to Melbourne. He was a strong evangelical Protestant and was motivated by his beliefs to help the less fortunate by providing free medical aid and visiting gaols. He was a total abstainer and worked at debunking the myth of alcohol's medicinal values and the related use of it as a cure for many ailments.
As well as the dispensary and mission hall John was active in establishing Model Lodging house for men in King Street and the Temporary home for Friendless and Fallen Women in Islington Street, Collingwood. This home gave training to women in cooking, washing, ironing, needlework and housekeeping. A night shelter was also set up by John for destitute women in the area and Widows Cottages for Aged Christian Women were built on the same site later. The Blue Bird Shelter in Berry Street for men was also opened by John.
The dispensary at 162 Wellington Street, Collingwood c. 1885. Photo: George H Lang
He was called 'perhaps the greatest single charity worker in Melbourne' and was among the clergy who visited Ned Kelly at the Melbourne Gaol after he had been captured at Glenrowan.
On 30th September, 1891 Melbourne lost a valuable person when John died at his home, Ormiston House in East Melbourne. He is buried in the Anglican section of the Melbourne General Cemetery in the Singleton family plot.
The dispensary continued its work into the 20th century with the organisation being handed over to the Charities Board of Victoria in 1936. In 1974 the name was changed to 'Singleton's Community Health Centre'. Today, visitors to the building will see a plaque at the front honouring Dr John Singleton's work.
Dr John Singleton's grave at the family plot in Melbourne General Cemetery. Photo: Find-a-grave
'Dr Singleton Dispensary, Collingwood', The Age, Wednesday 29 August 1934, Page 15
'Collingwood Free Dispensary', The Argus, Tuesday 7 September 1897, Page 7
'Dr John Singleton', The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne Archives and Collections, accessed online 6th November, 2021, Dr John Singleton - Archives
'Dr John Singleton - A tribute to influential Australian Christians', accessed 8th November, 2021, John Singleton – A tribute to influential Australian Christians (wordpress.com)