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2010/79/1 Mortuary table, porcelain, made by R Fowler Ltd and ACI Stonite Ware (possibly Australian Consolidate Industries Ltd), Australia, used at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1940. Click to enlarge.

Mortuary table used at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn

This mortuary table was used at St Joseph's Hospital in the suburb of Auburn, Sydney, Australia from the 1940s to the 1960s. It was used for both teaching and medical purposes. It was also used to prepare bodies for transport to funeral homes.

The practice of post mortem, human dissection and embalming has been recorded as far back as 3,000 BC in Ancient Egypt. Autopsies and body preparation have been a part of nearly all cultures for religious, legal and educational purposes. Some cultures are resistant to the practice of post mortem as they believe it is disrespectful and impinges on funerary rites.

Mortuary practice is an important part of human culture. It is the final aspect of medical, pathological and cosmetic activity performed on the human body. The table is an essential component of the mortuary. Along with other mandatory aspects, such as cooled body storage, appropriate instruments, good lighting, adequate ventilation and personal protective equipment, the mortuary table must be maintained to the highest standard of repair and cleanliness. This example is made from porcelain - an easily decontaminated material - and is designed to allow liquid material to drain away easily.

The table's manufacture and design are coldly utilitarian, and yet have a soft aesthetic. The drainage channels and large sink leave little to the imagination; however, the porcelain that allows extreme ease of cleaning of body fluids and matter is also an attractive piece of craftsmanship. This is why the mortuary table has survived five decades: people who had worked with the table saw its beauty and value and saved it. The table began life as a part of human dissection apparatus, but went on to be a potting table in a suburban backyard. It fulfilled both roles superbly.

Damian McDonald
August 2010

Knight, Bernard, 'The Post-mortem Technician's Handbook: A Manual of Mortuary Practice', Blackwell Scientific Publications, UK, 1984

Sheaff, Michael T, Hopster, Deborah J, Sir Berry, C, 'Post Mortem Technique Handbook', Springer, New York, 2004

Waters, Brenda L, MD, 'Handbook of Autopsy Practice, Springer New York, 2009

'Mortuary Design and Hazards', BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and Association of Clinical Pathologists, downloaded from jcp.bmjjournals.com. on August 5, 2010

'Requirements for the Facilities and Operation of Mortuaries', The National Pathology Accreditation Advisory Council, Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2009




Object No.


Object Statement

Mortuary table, porcelain, made by R Fowler Ltd and ACI Stonite Ware (possibly Australian Consolidate Industries Ltd), Australia, used at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1940

Physical Description

The table is made from solid porcelain. The object comprises the table or 'slab' on which the body is placed; three legs - one at the head (superior) end, and two at the foot (inferior) which also support the drainage sink. Two porcelain plugs fit inside the outside edge of the table above the sink.


Printed on side of basin 'Fowler Ware / K865'.Printed on the side of the table top 'ACI Stonite'



750 mm


780 mm



The legs and basin were made by Fowler Australia, c. 1940. The table top was made by ACI Stonite (possibly this refers to Australian Consolidate Industries Ltd)

The company R. Fowler Limited was established in Ultimo, Sydney, in 1837 when Enoch Fowler (1807-1879) came to Australia from Ireland, relocating to Glebe in 1847, and Camperdown between 1858-1863. Robert (1839-1906) joined the company, and took over in 1873, changing the name to R.Fowler Sydney in 1880. His son, Robert opened further sites at Marrickville and Bankstown, the company becoming R. Fowler Limited in 1919. There have been numerous developments in subsequent decades, and the company still operates in 2010.

Australian Consolidated Industries Ltd was formed in 1939 when Australian Glass Manufacturers Co Ltd changed it's name to reflect a greater diversity of products.
(Guide to Australian Businesses http://www.gabr.net.au/biogs/ABE0013b.htm)

The table is made from porcelain which is a ceramic product that has been baked at high temperatures to achieve vitreous qualities and low porosity. Because of the matter that is dealt with on a mortuary table, porcelain is a excellent material - it is very strong, and cleans very easily.

Most mortuary tables are now manufactured in stainless steel.



This mortuary table was used in the mortuary at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn, from the 1940s and 1950s. The mortuary at St Joseph's was little used after the 1950s, as post-mortems were being done in specialist centres by then. The mortuary was converted to a laundry in the 1990s and one of the graduate nurses of St Joseph's, Lorna Higgs, rescued the table and it was installed as a potting table in her backyard at Yagoona. When she died, her daughter, Pauline Higgs, also a graduate nurse of St Joseph's, was renovating the house at Yagoona and asked if the donor would be interesting in taking the table. Ms Cosgrove did rescue the table; and is also a graduate nurse of St Joseph's. Provenance has been kept from installation at St Joseph's up until this time.

To save the table from damage, and to have the object's importance recognised, Ms Cosgrove donated the mortuary table the Powerhouse Museum in 2010.


Credit Line

Gift of Patricia Cosgrove, 2010

Acquisition Date

30 November 2010

Cite this Object


Mortuary table used at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 24 February 2021, <https://ma.as/409757>


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