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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, 2001

JW Tatton

JW Tatton

John William Tatton was born in Cheshire, England, in 1821, and graduated in medicine at University College Hospital, London. In conjunction with a Dr Streatham he established the great Northern Hospital at King's Cross, London. Owing to ill health he was advised to leave England, and he came out to New Zealand as surgeon on the ship Camilla in 1858. He had two children, Cecilia, born in 1858 in the Bay of Biscay, and Arthur William, born in Nelson in February 1861. He beganpage 9
JW Tatton. (Copy Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum, C2643)

JW Tatton. (Copy Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum, C2643)

page 10to practise dentistry almost immediately after his arrival in Nelson, as the following notice from the Colonist in 1858 announces:

'Dr Tatton begs to announce that he has Opened a Store for the sale of pure and unadulterated drugs and Chemicals. (Direct from the Apothecaries Hall, from which he has made arrangements to receive a constant supply). Dr Tatton has commenced his operations in Practical Dentistry. Artificial teeth supplied, from one to a complete set, on reasonable terms. Stoppings and extractions also performed. Children's teeth regulated. Hours of attendance, 11 am to 4 pm Haven Road.

Having had many years' experience in practical dentistry he intends combining it with the above business. Artificial teeth from one to a complete set on reasonable terms. Stopping and extraction also carried out.'

Tatton had set himself up as a chemist and dentist in a building on Haven Road, near Saltwater Creek Bridge, where he had his druggist store and laboratory. Tatton was one of the first dentists in the country to light his rooms with coal gas, and to use it as a source of energy in manufacturing dentures and bridges. Tatton also succeeded in making his own nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, in the 1870s, well before it came into common usage.

From Johnston's High Hopes we know that JW Tatton was not only a very versatile dentist and chemist, but that he also involved himself in mining, undertook ore analysis and manufactured pigment from chromite. His eldest son, Arthur, also a dentist, continued in his father's attempts to establish a mining industry based on the Mineral Belt.

He was involved in the Dun Mountain Company and was an advocate for numerous schemes in the town's development. From McAloon's Nelson: a regional history we learn that, following the hanging of the Maungatapu murderers in October 1866, Alfred Saunders and John Tatton obtained the heads of the executed men and made plaster casts of them. The pseudo-science of phrenology, whereby it was maintained that personal characteristics could be discerned from the shape of a person's head, was in vogue among the literati of Nelson at that time.

JW Tatton and Son moved to the corner of Selwyn Place and Trafalgar Street and, in 1888, demolished their surgery and built themselves a fine new building, as noted in the Colonist of 29 November 1888:

page 11

'On account of the increase in business at the dentistry establishment of Messrs Tatton and Son, of Trafalgar Street, these gentlemen have decided to pull down their present building and erect a much larger one. The frontage to Trafalgar Street will be 37 feet, and to Selwyn Place 80 feet for the main building. The lower portion will consist of two large waiting rooms, surgery and workshops and a spacious hall'.

That building still stands today, and is one of the few buildings erected in that era to continue to grace Trafalgar Street.

JW Tatton died in 1891 and we read the following in his obituary in the Colonist:

There was scarcely a single mineral discovery, but the late Dr Tatton sought to make it profitable. His services were frequently sought for assays, and his means were always readily devoted to further such discoveries. He was well known throughout the Province, and he was well esteemed in the community'.

Two other dentists practising in Nelson during this early period were a Dr Sinclair, and W Wallis, a surgeon dentist practising in Bridge Street.

The Colonist of 16 June 1884 reported that an action was brought by Dr Sinclair against a Mr Crewdson in the Magistrates Court to recover the balance due for a set of artificial teeth. Mr Harley appeared for the plaintiff and Mr Fell for the defendant. The defendant had paid Dr Sinclair three pounds and, the charge for the set being 21 pounds, the plaintiff now claimed 18 pounds. The defendant said that he had permitted the cast of his mouth to be taken, and afterwards had tried the teeth, but had never agreed to give twenty guineas and, indeed, had insisted that he would not. The Doctor said that he never made a set without first agreeing as to the price.

His Worship, having heard all the evidence, said he was of the opinion that the defendant had clearly committed himself to the order and that, as there was nothing to show that the work was not well done, or that the price was extravagant, he would give judgement for the plaintiff, with costs of two pounds eleven shillings.

As to Mr Wallis, we note from the Nelson Examiner of 7 December 1859 that he was practising in Bridge Street, next to Aitken's Store:

page 12

'Mineral Teeth fitted, from one to a complete set, without the extraction of roots or any painful operation. Decayed teeth filled. Teeth scaled and extracted'.