The initial staffing of the Newtown Hospital
The new hospital was considerably larger than the Thorndon institution, with a total of 104 general beds plus eight additional beds in a separate building for fever patients. An increase in staff numbers was inevitable though initially these increases were modest.
Key full-time staff who transferred from Thorndon were:
Dr G G Gillon, Resident Surgeon – appointed 1879, salary £350 pa
Mrs Baillie, Matron – appointed 21/12/1880, salary £100 pa
Mr E C Hodgson, Dispenser & House Steward – appointed 21/12/1880, salary £125 pa
The nursing staff at this early time were untrained and comprised:
Two head wardsmen, salary £75 pa
Two under wardsmen, salary £52 pa
One night wardsman, salary £52.16.0 pa
One head nurse, salary £66 pa
One night nurse, salary £52 pa
One fever nurse, salary £52 pa
The male and female attendants (wardsmen and nurses) were resident, living at the back of each ward.
Non-clinical staff comprised:
Head cook, salary £104 pa
Second cook, salary £52 pa
Porter, salary £52 pa
Carpenter, engineer, stoker, salary £80 pa (each)
Housemaid, salary £36 pa
What follows is a description of some of the key roles and the people who were appointed to them. There are interesting stories to tell about a few of the individuals and these can be viewed by clicking on the relevant links. A more detailed account of successive hospital Matrons is given in a separate section.
Before proceeding further however it is appropriate to mention an extraordinary controversy that occurred in 1885, as it affected many of the staff.
It was alleged by a small group of female patients that the Resident Surgeon, Dr Maurice Chilton was drunk whilst on duty. He was summarily dismissed despite professing his innocence. He requested that an inquiry be held to test the validity of the allegations but this request was denied. A number of the honorary visiting medical staff subsequently testified that Dr Chilton’s abuse of alcohol was indeed true.
The Matron, Miss Kate Marsden added to the controversy by making derogatory statements about Dr Chilton and about some of the nursing staff.
There was a significant response by other members of staff in support of Dr Chilton. A group of nurses wrote to the Hospital Committee protesting at statements made by the Matron about Dr Chilton and about them and they requested that she be replaced. Additionally, a number of the male staff wrote in support of Dr Chilton.
On 18 August 1885 the Chairman of the Hospital Committee wrote to Dr Levinge (temporary Medical Officer), as follows:
“Dear Sir – I have to request that you will at once dismiss the following nurses: - A E Finch, H Gillard, A W Godfrey, R Hancock, M A Smythe, M Hope, A Paynter, A Worthington, L Weston and the dispenser, M E Sheedy; also that you will give one month’s notice to leave to the following male members of the staff:- C E Dudley (to leave immediately, receiving a month’s pay in advance), A J Salvigny, A Thompson, John Reynolds, A Brown, H Hermansen, J Petersen, J Downes, J Wyman.” These individuals were dismissed because they had put their signatures to the letters referred to above.
Not surprisingly there was considerable criticism of the hospital management by both members of Government and by the public at large. A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held and a number of hospital management reforms resulted.
In due course a few of the dismissed staff returned to the hospital, notably Miss A W Godfrey (see section on Matrons) and Mr Herman Hermansen (see below).
Dispenser and House Steward
An earlier inquiry into the running of the hospital, held in 1882 recommended that these two jobs would be better separated, though when Mr Hodgson resigned at the end of 1882 the dual role continued for two more years, first by Mr G W Smith and then by Mr Robert Painter.
Margaret Sheedy was appointed Dispenser in June 1884, a role she occupied until September 1885 (when she was dismissed). She was replaced by Mr Good @ £2 / week. In August 1886 the Management Committee decided to do without a designated Dispenser, and that the RMO should take on that responsibility.
However, Laura Heath was appointed Dispenser in 1887 and remained in that role until 1893. She was followed by Mr Edwin Hope (1893 – 1898) and Mr William S Wallace in 1899. Those occupying the position over the next ten years were C E A Coldicutt, Sydney A Smith and Bertram E White. They all went on the study medicine. Claude Coldicutt, MB ChB (Edin) 1907, MD (Edin) 1909, DPH (Camb) 1910 practised in Auckland; Sydney Smith became a renowned forensic pathologist; and Bertram Wright practised in Wellington.
Below is a photograph of the dispensary taken in 1906, showing Dispenser Sydney Smith.
photograph courtesy NZ Graphic
The duties of the house steward were to ensure that all non-clinical aspects of the hospital ran smoothly, including ordering and accounting for food and supplies, and the maintenance of the hospital infrastructure. By the mid-20th century the role was termed house manager, and in more current times chief operating officer.
Charles Dudley filled the role 1884 – August 1885 (when he was dismissed – see above). He was followed by William J Rountree (1885 – 1893), Lopez S Wilkes (1893 - 1896), William J Rountree (1896 - 1899), P J Davies (1900 - 1901), Louis H Fox (1901 - 1919), and Walter E Labone (1919 – at least 1944).
Herman Hermansen acted as dresser from 1885 until 1903. The tasks that he performed were many and varied, as described in the linked bio. This was a unique role and he was never replaced.
The evolution of the nursing staff is touched on in the section relating to Matrons, and in a section dealing with the training of nurses at the hospital. Suffice to say here that Wellington Hospital pioneered in New Zealand the development of a formally trained nursing staff.