By Lyn Collingwood, Bulletin 10/2023, December
The 20th site nominated in 2021 for a Blue Plaque is Hartford at 244 Glebe Point Road. It was built in 1898 by Edwin Randolph Magnus, a graduate of Philadelphia Dental College and named after his birthplace in Connecticut. Hartford contained multiple public rooms, five bedrooms and servants’ quarters and within its extensive gardens were a conservatory, a bush house and a croquet court.
Some of the land has been lost but the grounds today are still very large and well kept. The house has been excellently preserved. On a brick gatepost is the nameplate Hartford.
Following the passing of the 1901 Dentists Act and the founding of Australia’s first dental school by the University of Sydney, E. Randolph Magnus (his preferred name) with his younger brother Frank organised a committee to establish a dental hospital providing free oral care to those who could not afford it. They received donations of two dental chairs and a vulcaniser plus promises of money, but Magnus had to battle opponents of the scheme: the idea of treating patients for nothing was controversial.
Some saw the hospital as a threat to dentists in private practice. Others, however, supported the enterprise as of particular benefit to the poor who couldn’t afford to pick and choose their foods, while some hoped it would increase numbers in the armed forces – volunteers were rejected because their teeth were bad and with bad teeth, they couldn’t eat battlefield food.
The United Dental Hospital was officially opened in 1902. Edwin, Frank and Frank’s son Everett were its chief honorary surgeons. In the first two years they treated over 12,000 people, mostly for extractions and fillings. In 1912 the enterprise relocated to Chalmers Street where it remains as the Sydney Dental Hospital. The philanthropic Magnus and his splendid home are both worthy of recognition.