Uncomplicated Obstetrics

For many years, Wellington Hospital Board did not provide normal maternity services, as there was adequate accommodation in other Wellington institutions (such as St Helens Hospital which was opened in 1908, and the Willis Street Obstetric Hospital opened by Dr Louis Levy in 1921). However, there had been early moves to establish a maternity ward - in 1912, it was proposed to convert the "Tin Shed" (previously the Fever Ward) into a Maternity Ward, but the proposal was rejected by the Health Department on the grounds that the building was structurally unsound.

Hospital Board Minutes dated 14 Jan 1913 record that the post of Honorary Obstetrician should be advertised, and Dr Hamilton Gilmer was appointed.

With increasing population, the Board eventually came under pressure to provide for normal maternity services, and in 1939 the Board leased the Knights Road Private Hospital from Dr Dudley. In 1945, with the end of WW2, there was a reduction in the number of service patients requiring hospital treatment, and the ground floor ward in the "Military Annexe" (Newtown) was converted into a maternity hospital (Ward 21). A Maternity Annexe was erected alongside Ward 21 in 1947. The Board provided the accommodation, nursing staff and necessary support services, but had no responsibilty for the medical services offered to women with uncomplicated pregnancies. They, the women, were able to choose who attended them during their confinements, and in many instances this was their GP. This situation has continued to date, though increasingly, midwives have taken over the traditional role of managing normal deliveries.

With the erection of the Women's Hospital in 1978, (later renamed the Grace Neill Block), the service was resited there.

Complicated Obstetrics

In 1888, puerperal sepsis was a significant problem, and Dr F Truby King, Medical Superintendent established a Puerperal Fever Ward, a wooden building to the south of Ward 4. A more substantial structure made of corrugated iron (the "Tin Shed"), was erected alongside the Puerperal Fever Ward in 1892, as the Fever Ward. It is unclear when the Puerperal Fever ward was demolished, but it was no longer in existence by 1910. There were 5 patients hospitalised with puerperal septicaemia in 1916.

In the early 20th century, prior to 1932, any complicated pregnancies requiring hospitalisation were housed in one of the general wards or one of the small side rooms. In 1932, it was decided to set aside the small wards adjacent to Ward 6 for this purpose, and Dr Louis Levy was appointed in charge of the first Obstetrical Department. Dr Levy remained as Honorary Obstetrician until 1940, when he was appointed Visiting (salaried) Obstetrician.

Dr Thomas Corkill, though never holding an appointment in Obstetrics at the Hospital (he was Honorary Physician to the Children's Hospital 1922-1934), was well-respected for his obstetrical private practice, which he focussed on after 1934.

Dr H Kenneth Pacey was appointed Honorary Assistant Obstetrician in 1935, and in 1940 was appointed Visiting Obstetrican. With Dr Levy's retirement in 1945, Dr Pacey became the senior obstetrician and Dr Ian Ewart was appointed in the assistant role. Dr Ewart was also on the staff of St Helens Hospital, and in 1946 became Superintendent of St Helens. Dr Ewart died in 1949, and his position on the visiting staff was filled by Dr Gordon Findlay. (At the beginning of WW2, Gordon Findlay had been appointed to the surgical staff of the Hospital, to cover for those posted overseas, and he had already established a large obstetrical private practice.)

In the late 1940s, Ward 22 (upper floor of the "Military Annexe") became available for complicated pregnancies.


Gynaecological surgery was for many years performed by general surgeons and the patients housed in general surgery wards. Also, Obstetricians such as Drs Levy, Corkill and Ewart were not permitted to undertake caesarean sections in the Hospital without a general surgeon being present. That rule was changed following several incidents in which Dr Pacey called the senior surgeon in the early hours of the morning to supervise him performing a caesarean section. Dr Pacey's appointment marked the arrival of a man who had been formally trained in surgical gynaecology and operative obstetrics. He introduced the technique of lower segment caesarian section.

After the war, Dr Pacey set about establishing gynaecology as a surgical entity at Wellington Hospital. The combined service of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was established in 1950. At this time, Dr J Edmett Giesen was appointed Visiting Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, joining Ken Pacey. Ward 2, and later Ward 25, had 8 - 10 beds for gynaecology patients. Ken Pacey retired from Wellington Hospital in 1965, and Ed Giesen retired in 1975.

Last updated 29 October 2016.