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Settler Kaponga 1881–1914 — A Frontier Fragment of the Western World

Health Professionals

Health Professionals

Early in the new century Kaponga residents began campaigning for something more for their township than occasional surgery hours from page 273 visiting Eltham or Manaia doctors. A well-attended Settlers' Association meeting on 16 July 1902 resolved on a deputation to interview Dr Wake and suggest he become a ‘residential doctor’. ‘C.H. Wake, M.R.C.S., England, L.R.C.P., London’ had been advertising for some time that he had come from 11 years of practising in London and was available for consultation daily in Eltham and for an hour on Friday afternoons in Kaponga. Eltham's Dr Cedric A. Harrison, with the same qualifications as Wake, had been providing itinerant services to Kaponga since at least 1895.71 Kaponga residents must have felt that they deserved a resident doctor before Eltham had two of them. The question for Wake, and also for Harrison, who must have noted this move, would have been the financial viability of such a practice. It was in fact Harrison who decided it was time to move, and recruited Dr Maclagan as a partner, to reside in Kaponga. We have seen that another doctor, Noonan, had also judged Kaponga ripe for a viable practice, and arrived almost simultaneously. For almost two years the two men tested a market with room for only one practice. Looking back nearly 60 years later Maclagan wrote that ‘we soon found that there was not enough for us both, and we came to an amicable agreement whereby [Dr Noonan] was able to purchase Dr Good's practice in Manaia’.72

But in the meantime the community received a first-class service as the two men vied for their attention. They gave vigorous support to moves for telegraph extensions, so that their services could be on call in emergencies. When Dr Noonan gained Road Board permission to erect a lamppost outside his place Dr Maclagan immediately followed suit. Both developed generous programmes of visits around the district. Maclagan's, as advertised in the first issue of the Kaponga Mail in June 1904, included weekly visits to the stores at Awatuna, Te Kiri, Kapuni, Auroa and Awatuna East. As well he was available daily in his surgery, where Dr Harrison could also be consulted every Friday from 2 to 8pm. Awatuna East's ‘Our Own’ (28/11/ 04) reported that in visiting their district two or three times a week Dr Noonan was not only attending to medical needs but also brightening the settlers' lives by distributing magazines.

The partnership between Harrison and Maclagan seems to have been a short-term arrangement to get Maclagan established. Probably Maclagan went out on his own about the time Noonan left. Sometime in 1906 he became surgeon to the Oddfellows' Lodge formed in Kaponga late in 1903. As such he had to provide medical services to lodge members on a per capita contract basis unrelated to the number of visits or consultations. ‘Private’ patients, on the other hand, paid according to the amount of attention they sought. A lodge appointment gave a doctor some regular guaranteed income but the profession had some reservations on the matter and the mixing of lodge and private patients could cause friction in the practice.73 On farewelling Maclagan in February 1911 the lodge secretary remarked on the good feeling between the lodge and its surgeon, and Maclagan in replying explained it by his having ‘always endeavoured to extend the same treatment page 274 to lodge and private patients alike’. At the same meeting the lodge welcomed Maclagan's successor, Dr Arthur Tovey, as its new surgeon. Apparently Maclagan was passing on quite a prosperous practice.

On moving to Manaia in 1905 Dr Noonan declined a farewell, ‘seeing that he had not altogether severed his connection with Kaponga’. No doubt many of his Roman Catholic patients were staying with him. He provides a good illustration of how a career was developed in his profession, making a series of shifts to ever-larger centres and no doubt more lucrative practices. A frontier district like Kaponga could expect to be served by young doctors gaining their first experience in their calling, with a view to moving on. Thus in 1915 Dr Tovey also sold his practice, to Dr W.F. Buist, and moved to England.

The doctors who served Kaponga conducted themselves at all times with the professional restraint and decorum of the code of the rising new higher professions. Associated with the rise of these professions in public recognition and status was a clear distinguishing of themselves and their systems of remuneration from business men and the profit motive, and the forming of professional institutions that sought state regulation to exclude quacks and charlatans.74 Even at the height of their competition Drs Noonan and Maclagan maintained a united professional front, avoiding overt competitive advertising or mutual criticism. But when we turn to Kaponga's dental services over these years we enter a different world: the hustling, bustling world of the competitive ‘Kickapoo’. From 1900 on Kaponga's settlers learnt of their dentist's visits from breezy adverts in the Star, such as

Will visit as follows:
Eltham open daily
Kaponga every Friday
Stratford Office open all the time
Manaia, first and third Thursdays
Patea, second and fourth Tuesdays
Waverley, second and fourth Mondays. (Star, 2/1/02, 25/9/03)

Dr Samuel Benton Hunter was born at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, in 1859, and educated in the US, where he qualified at the Boston Dental College in 1881 and graduated in medicine from the University of Ohio in 1887. He came to New Zealand in 1899 as a travelling agent for the Kickapoo Medicine Company, but left to found his dental ‘business’, based on Stratford, in 1900. The general nature of this concern and its competitive, touting flavour can be gathered from these extracts from a Star (3/4/05) advert for the Hawera Dental Chambers of McBreartt and Hunter:

The Place for High-Class Dentistry at MODERATE FEES.

The Largest Staff, the Largest Practice in New Zealand. The only Firm employing Ten Qualified Dentists.

page 275

We are the only Firm administering gas by our own Patent Process.

Bad-fitting Plates of other Dentists remodelled on our own models at a small cost.

The advert concludes by listing the firm's other branches, offering daily service at Stratford, Eltham, Patea and Wanganui and weekly visits to Kaponga, Waverley and Manaia. Kaponga, along with the rest of the region, was enlivened by the doings of the pace-setting Kickapoo. In May 1903 Manaia's ‘Our Own’ (2/5/03) reported:

On Thursday Dr Hunter ‘The Kickapoo’ whizzed into town in great style with his new automobile. A few minutes after his arrival, a large group gathered round the machine, eagerly scanning same.

Before the year was out Star readers would learn of his motoring from Hawera to Patea in 1 hour 20 minutes, and of his having to run the machine into a ditch on Hastings Road when the driving chain broke.

From time to time other dentists set up in Kaponga. Wise's Directory lists Thomas Lonergan 1908–09, Charles Hodgkinson 1911 and Harry Reynolds 1913–14. Hunter was listed under his ‘Kickapoo’ nickname during 1908–09, as ‘Samuel B.’ in 1910, and as a partner with H.E. Clarke from 1911. It must have been to beat off this competition that he took on a partner. In 1910 he began advertising in the Star (e.g. 1/11/10) as ‘Hunter & Clarke’, advising:

We wish to impress it upon our patrons that Kaponga Surgery is open every day and under the management of a competent Dental Surgeon. Mr Hunter visits the branch every Friday. Teeth extracted by our own non-poisonous painless methods. Guaranteed absolutely painless.

He must have been an irritant to his professional competitors, who seem to have studiously kept the professional code. It was probably on their initiative that in January 1904 he was brought before the Magistrate's Court for what must have been some technical breach of the Dentists Act.75 He had no difficulty registering under the new, stricter, Dentists Act 1904, passed some nine months later.

Around the turn of the century there was a range of legislation tightening up the state supervision of health workers. Besides this new Dentists Act there were the Public Health Act 1900 which established the Department of Public Health; the Nurses Registration Act 1901; and the Midwives Act 1904. The overall effect of these measures was to bring health care firmly under state supervision, with the training, credentialling and registering of nurses now as carefully supervised as that of doctors and dentists. The legislation had to be carefully framed to allow life to go on unhindered in frontier districts such as Kaponga. Here nursing and midwifery were largely matters of domestic and neighbourly care based on folk wisdom and amateur experience.

page 276
Entries in Wise's Post Office Directories (indicated by X); plus Hawera Star data (S)
Blackstock, W.J.SXXX
Coffee Palace
Fowler, Mrs M.SX
Birchall, Miss A.X
Jacka, Mrs E.A.XX
Buckthought, Mrs MX
St Clair, Wm H.XXXXX
Drumm, ThosX
Young, Miss (S 1902)
Harris, MissX
Lonargon, A.X
Jones, C.X
Berridge, Miss N.X
Jane, MrsXX
Betts, Chas.XXXXXXXpage 277
Brotheridge, T.H.XXXXXXX
Harding, Philip (ex Dilly)SX
Crawford, C.S.XXX
Hyde, Chas.XX
Boot store
Emson, S. mgrX
O'Keefe, P.J. (S 1902)
Johnson, F. (Tailoress)XX
Lewis, SamlSX
King, Chas (ex Lewis)SXX
Clarke, J. HamletSX
Pearce, Miss M.XXXXXXX
Davies, N.C. & Sargeson, OXXXX
Fish, Miss C.X
NOTE: No new types were listed in Wise's for the years 1900–03.