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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Severe Epidemics of the Past

Severe Epidemics of the Past

The need for an organisation in Gisborne to care for the sick and aid the indigent led to the formation, in 1875, of a Ladies' Benevolent Society. An epidemic of one or more maladies marred each summer. Fortunate were those children who escaped some form of “hot-weather” sickness. The death rate was very high. Even adults were not immune from a complaint which became known outside the district as “Gisborne fever.”

A cottage hospital for men—the Poverty Bay Hospital—was opened in Aberdeen Road in July, 1876, as it had been found that two elderly residents who were paralysed had nobody to attend to them. The building had formed portion of the old immigration barracks. Public donations (£200) met the cost of furnishings. Dr. Hugh Pollen (the sponsor) gave his services free, and Mrs. Mary Mitchell was appointed matron at a salary of £2 8/- per month. The institution was conducted first of all by the Ladies' Benevolent Society and then, for a time, by a Hospital Committee, on which the society was represented. Dr. Nesbitt, R.M., was president and Mrs. J. Bourke lady president.

In October, 1878, the hospital came under the control of a Management Committee composed of the mayor of Gisborne, the chairman of Cook County, Dr. Pollen, and seven members elected by subscribers to a Hospital Society, each subscriber being allowed one vote for each 10/6 of his subscription, with a maximum of four votes. The administration of charitable relief was delegated to the Benevolent Society. On account of Dr. Pollen's action in vetoing a proposal that a female patient might be accommodated “by having the outbuilding used as a woodshed put in order,” a general hospital, with accommodation for 18 male and 7 female patients, besides several private wards, was built, at a cost of £475, mainly from the old timber in some of the adjacent cottages. It was opened in January, 1880. An isolation ward was added in 1883, following upon an epidemic of scarlet fever, during which a patient, who had been admitted by the wardsman by mistake, had to be treated in an outhouse.

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No domestic was accepted as a patient if she was unable to pay, unless a guarantee of payment was received from her employer. A charge of 20/- per week in advance was made to cover the cost of board for any relative, or friend, who stayed at the hospital to assist in nursing a patient. The wardsman was held liable for the fees (except in an urgent case) if he admitted a patient without a proper order. The sale of annual tickets entitling the holder to free treatment in case of injury or sickness was not favoured, as it was felt that some residents might wait, before buying a ticket, until they became in need of treatment. A night nurse was appointed at a salary of 10/- per week on condition that, if her services were required outside the hospital, the remuneration for such service was paid into the hospital funds.

Established in 1885, the Cook Hospital and Charitable Aid Board was composed of members of Gisborne Borough Council and those of Cook County Council, with C. A. de Lautour as first chairman. Control of charitable relief was left in the hands of the Benevolent Society. In March, 1886, contributors of 5/- or upwards to the hospital funds elected as first Hospital Trustees: W. H. Tucker, C. A. de Lautour, G. Scott, E. K. Brown, R. Watson and J. W. Nolan. Six of the ten patients at that time were down with fever. Among those who died was Dack, one of Gisborne's first Chinese market gardeners. [In September, 1875, Robert Cooper had imported to the district its first Celestial, who rejoiced in the name of Ah Ki.]

The matron was reappointed at a salary of £60 per annum. Some members and the doctor had favoured the appointment of an outsider who had high nursing qualifications, but one member considered that the institution was “too young to have a trained nurse,” and another held that “trained nurses were always a failure and the cause of trouble.” Tenders accepted for supplies reflect the low prices ruling on account of the depression. Beef, mutton, pork, sausages, etc., were obtained at 2d. per lb all round, and bread at 2½d. per 2lb. loaf. The Trustees were very perturbed to find that the cost of drugs for a single month had been £23. Captain Tucker said that it was a terrible sum for so short a period. “It is ruinous,” commented Mr. E. P. Joyce.

An Old Men's Home was established in Roebuck Road in May, 1891. It consisted of some old cottages. Previously, indigent residents had been granted a weekly allowance. Mrs. Armour (the first custodian) was paid as under: 1 to 3 inmates, at 15/- each per week; 4 to 6, at 10/-; 7 to 9, at 8/6; and 10 to 12, at 7/6. In 1903 a new home was built, but funds did not permit rooms to be added for indigent elderly women. The fine Memorial Home at Mangapapa was opened on 18 February, 1926. It was conducted by Mr. and Mrs. R. C. Vigis (who had entered the board's employ in October, 1901) until December, 1936. Mr. and Mrs. S. W. Garley were their successors (1937–40). In January, 1941, Mr. and Mrs. F. J. Butler became the custodians. There was an average of 40 men and 12 women in the home in 1948.

A report compiled by Dr. Valentine (District Health Officer) showed that, between 1 January, 1894, and 19 May, 1901, 284 cases of typhoid and 127 of diphtheria had been notified in Gisborne. Of the typhoia cases 208 had arisen in the town, and 105 of the diphtheria cases had had a like origin. During the seven-year period deaths had occurred in Gisborne, Kaiti and Whataupoko as under: Typhoid, 24; diphtheria, 19; diarrhœa, 49; and phthisis, 23.

The first election of members of Cook Hospital Board by popular vote was held on 8 March, 1910, and resulted: Gisborne Borough—Rev. W. Lamb, W. D. Lysnar, R. Johnstone, and Dr. J. C. Collins; Cook County—C. Gray, F. J. Lysnar, D. Hepburn, W. H. Tucker and T. page 416 Holden; Waikohu County—W. D. S. MacDonald and G. W. Tiffen. Mr. Gray was appointed chairman. Mrs. Agnes Scott (one of the unsuccessful candidates) eventually became the first lady member, and held a seat at the time of her death (16/12/1931). The new board was faced with the formidable task of erecting a commodious general hospital. In the autumn of 1909 patients had had to be accommodated on the verandahs, in the corridors, and in marquees with wooden floors. Twenty-two of the 60 patients were down with typhoid fever.

An ideal site for the new Cook Hospital was acquired. It comprised about 23 acres, and the cost was, approximately, £100 per acre. The new institution was ready for occupation by the end of 1914. There were four main wards, each having accommodation for 24 patients, a children's ward for 12 or more patients, and several private wards. The total cost—including a nurses' home to accommodate 60 nurses, a superintendent's residence, an isolation block and a laundry block, together with the fittings—was £63,076. Additions up to 1948 have included: A new nurses' home, £29,160; boiler-house, £17,580; Cook Maternity Home, £8,216; chest (T.B.) block, £31,908; and polytechnic block, £50,297.


Poverty Bay's first resident doctor was, probably, Dr. Bowles King, who was drowned in Te Arai River in the early 1850's. Dr. W. B. Smith, who became a resident in 1859, died at Ormond on 27/9/1875.

In 1946–47 the number of in-patients treated at Cook Hospital was 2,892. The out-patients (including Army personnel for X-ray examination) totalled 5,309. Beds available in 1948 comprised: Main block, 173; chest block, 48; Isolation block, 28; chronic ward, 16; Cook Maternity Home, 13. There was accommodation for 129 nurses.

Gifts to Cook Hospital have included: £15,000 by Mr. C. J. Morris for a Convalescent Home; £5,000 by John Clark, senior, to enable radium treatment to be provided in suitable cases; £2,500 collected by W. G. Sherratt for a Soldiers' Memorial Home and diverted towards the cost of the Memorial Home; and a splendid site, with frontage to Waimata River, by Mrs. T. J. Adair.

Public unrest in connection with Cook Hospital in 1917 led to the dispatch of a petition bearing 6,000 names to the Government. H. W. Bishop, S.M., who conducted an inquiry, found, inter alia, “that there had been on the board an element determined to make difficulties,” “that one member had made himself very busy espousing the cause of individual nurses who had come under the ban of the matron,” and, in regard to the matron (Miss Tait), “that few women would have had the courage and the grit to have seen the trouble through.”

In 1947 the Government restricted the extent to which hospital boards could make levies on local bodies to .5d. in the £ on the rateable capital value. How appreciably this decision eased the burden on contributories to Cook Hospital Board is shown by the figures for 1946–47, with those for 1947–48 in parentheses for comparison: Cook County, £20,890 (£10,763); Gisborne Borough, £17,777 (£9,160); Waikohu County, £12,782 (£6,585); Uawa County, £4,950 (£2,550).


Chairmen of Cook Hospital Board: C. Gray, 1910–12; W. H. Tucker, 1912–14; H. Kenway, 1914–16; G. W. Humphreys, 1916–17; W. G. Sherratt, 1917–19; H. Kenway, 1919–22; T. B. Spence, 1922–23; W. G. Sherratt, 1923–29; M. T. Trafford, 1929–47; J. B. Williams, 1947–.

Superintendents: H. Pollen, 1876–96; F. Innes (relieving), 1885–86; J. Craig, 1896–1901; McGregor, 1901–02; D. Morrison, 1902–07; W. Carlyle Wilson, 1908–13; F. Kahlenberg, 1913–16; W. A. Bowie, 1916–18; J. Ross, 1918–26; R. J. B. Hall, 1926–.

Matrons: Mrs. M. Mitchell, 1876–81; Mrs. E. Chrisp, 1881–84; Mrs. Benfield, 1884–86 Miss Guilbride, 1886–87; Miss Swain, 1887–90; Miss C. Stewart, 1890–09; Miss Godfrey, 1909–15; Miss Tait, 1916–18; Miss Bicknell, 1918–20; Miss McArdle, 1920–21; Miss Walshe, 1921–23; Miss B. Nurse, 1923–25; Miss K. E. Benjamin, 1925–32; Miss G. M. Liepst, 1933–42; Miss J. I. Martin, 1942–.

Secretaries of Cook Hospital Board: H. M. Porter, 1910–16; E. Fenton, 1917–18; H. M. Wait, 1918–19; G. L. Evans, 1919–29; C. A. Harries, 1930–.