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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XXV. — The Grey Hospital

page 191

Chapter XXV.
The Grey Hospital.

"Heaven doth with us as we with torches do;
Not light them for themselves; for if our virtues
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike
As if we had them not."

"It would take a volume to describe all the ramifications of witchcraft among the native tribes, and the evil it works both socially and politically. It was Sir George Grey's policy to have hospitals for the natives all over the country, and thus win the people from their witch-doctors and overthrow witchcraft. But unfortunately Sir George Grey did not remain long enough in the country to carry out this part of his policy. A beginning was made with the Grey Hospital, and there you have been, single-handed, doing battle with a great enemy, the forces which were to be at your disposal in the shape of smaller hospitals all over the country, have never been forthcoming. But you have held your ground. Witchcraft is now never practised publicly. The Grey Hospital is always crowded with natives from ail parts of the country; these take back to their friends the news of the cures which are effected. The eyes of the natives are becoming opened. They see the reality and the honesty and success of our way of treating diseases, and their faith in witchcraft is being terribly shaken.

"If the Grey Hospital single-handed, has done, so much good, and has brought about such a revolution in the minds of the natives regarding witchcraft, we can imagine what a good and glorious thing it would have been had good Sir George Grey been permitted page 192to dot similar institutions all over the country. My old chief, good, dear, Colonel Maclean, had every reason to shout out in his enthusiastic and cheery manner, "Grey is great, and Fitzgerald is his witch-doctor.'"*

The troops hitherto so actively engaged were idle. There remained no enemies against whom to employ them. It was advisable to find some task upon which they might enter. The Governor now recognised an opportunity for breaking the power of the Kafir witch doctors. To extirpate this class by force was impossible, because fresh pretenders rose to fill the places of those who died or were driven away. Sir George Grey saw that the only cure for the superstitions of the native races was knowledge. He believed that if he could train the young Kafir chiefs to an acquaintance with medical science, and give them some general education, the power of the Fetish would be destroyed.

He seized the opportunity which now presented itself. The army should conquer the witch doctors.

In years long past, when a student at Sandhurst, Grey had delighted in roaming over the country between the college and Windsor. In that district there is perhaps the most perfect Roman camp in England. Cæesar had, possibly, in person watched over its construction, and his legions had found a temporary home within its walls. The massive earthworks and regular lines which have survived in almost perfect form through nineteen centuries, testify at once to the skill and strength of its builders. Many a time, when standing in this still nearly perfect camp, the young soldier had gone back in fancy to the olden times and seen the place instinct with military life. He could hear the clang of the trumpet, and see the stately warriors of old Rome marshalled in their cohorts and legions. The ground trembled beneath the tread of the great host as it marched past him and went forth to do battle with the native tribes. More than once on such occasions, when these visions faded, and he stood an English lad, alone in the solitude once so full of life— he grieved that the only memorials left behind that army were the crumbling ramparts of their strongholds, the ashes of their dead, and a memory of strife and conquest. He dreamed that at some future day, in the course of the life upon which he page 193was entering, it might be possible that he would aid an English army in leaving behind it in some new land a nobler token of its presence.

Now in this distant wilderness the recollection of Cæsar's camp came back to him. The English legions had visited this part of the earth. Were they to leave nothing behind them but a fort or two and their dead? Ever on the watch for useful projects, he determined that at least one memorial worthy of the fame of an English army should be bequeathed to the land and its people.

Causing the plans of a great hospital to be prepared, he employed the military forces in its construction. The Kafirs quarried stones. The military waggons carted them to the site prepared. The sappers dug the trenches for foundations. The soldiers laid the stones in solid tiers.

No stranger sight was ever seen—no more beautiful thought ever conceived. Hands accustomed to the rifle and the sabre plied the chisel and the trowel. Organisation and discipline attained for service in war now became suddenly enlisted in a work of mercy. Many hands made light work. Encouraged by extra pay, amused and interested by such an uncommon application of military organisation, permeated with the kindling of a strange sympathy in the noble idea of the Governor, the whole army, officers and men, horse, foot and artillery, worked with a will. Not in silence, as the temple of Jerusalem reared itself, did the hospital rise up; but with laughter, with merry songs, with rough jokes, and with zealous toil the work progressed. It is strange that no artist has ever yet pourtrayed that marvellous scene. The military camp, the rising walls of the mighty building, the long trains of waggons carrying stones from the distant quarry and timber from the forest, the engineer officers studying the plans, the host of workers scattered in their various places of toil, each and all aiding in the common task, would make a picture of renown.

Difficulties were met and overcome. Step by step the building progressed. At length the last stone was laid, the last nail driven, and complete and beautiful, the hospital opened its doors to receive patients and to impart instruction. The venture was successful beyond hope. Thousands upon thousands of sufferers have been there received and healed. Numbers of native youths have been page 194taught there the simple rules of medical skill, and the falsehood of the pretenders to witchcraft.

It has ever been a powerful lever to civilise the barbarians. It is now surrounded by a magnificent park and pleasure grounds. Prompted by gratitude and affection, a grateful government has within the last ten years, enacted that the building shall be known as the "Grey Hospital," while to the spacious park in which it stands, Her Majesty has been pleased to give her own loved name.

While in New Zealand Sir George had made the acquaintance of Dr. Fitzgerald. The Governor had been struck by the completeness of organising power developed by this gentleman. To him he determined to commit the care of this first institution, and the commencement of this great experiment. His intention was to erect hospitals in different parts of South Africa.

To Dr. Fitzgerald, then, Sir George Grey wrote, inviting him to South Africa to undertake the charge of the hospital at King Williamstown. The Doctor readily assented, and to this day, for upwards of thirty years, his presence and his singular adaptability for the position thus offered and accepted, have been an unmitigated blessing to the whole land.

Some natives, who were kindly shown over the Grey Hospital by Dr. Fitzgerald, were very much struck with the fact that natives were treated there exactly the same as Europeans, had the same wards, the same clothes, beds, food, etc. When these natives, who came from a distant territory, were told that it was all the doing of a good Governor, Sir George Grey, who had intended to build similar institutions throughout the land, their chief, Makaula, was very much impressed, and returned again to his informant to ask whether it would not be possible to induce Sir George to return to carry on the work in which he was most anxious to join, adding that he should like to lift the Grey Hospital bodily and plant it in his own country.

Mr. Chalmers concludes a very interesting letter (to Dr. Fitzgerald) by saying that when future historians trace out and record how the great power of the chiefs was overthrown, and how the people came to be entirely under British control and management, and how also it came about that the witch-doctors, who used to possess such tremendous and dreadful powers, became page 195harmless amongst their own people, and how witchcraft was abolished, they will have to record that all this was brought about by the wise and far-sighted policy of Sir George Grey, and his name will be handed down to posterity as the best Governor the Colony and country has ever had.

Dr. Fitzgerald having received many flattering notices of a pamphlet he published on hospital management, and being much complimented on his management of the institution, wrote to Sir George Grey that he felt all the praise was really given to him (Sir George Grey), the originator of the work. "We together have witnessed wonderful times during the cattle killing. How wonderfully our good God humbled this proud nation at your feet. To Him be the first honour, and glory to you, dear Sir George, next. I am your child and faithful servant, nothing more." General Gordon used often to go and chat with him, and thought very highly of the hospital.

Dr. Fitzgerald continues: "You know it was my strong affection for you which made me throw up my position in Wellington to follow you here, and when you left I would have gone back to New Zealand if I could. The Irish heart does not forget kindness, and such kindness and honour as you showed me." In 1886 he writes that by the end of the year, "about one hundred and eleven thousand patients will have passed through this institution since it was established, and about two hundred blind people have been sent back to their friends with restored sight." He goes on to explain that this does not show the amount of work that had been done every clay, as of course patients would only have their names entered once, though they might continue coming for weeks.

"This year (1886), besides the indoor cases, over 5,000 fresh dispensing cases from all parts of the colony and the frontiers have received medical aid here. It is surprising what long distances they travel by waggon and on foot to seek medical aid here. This is very gratifying."

He says, "Why don't you write 'My Government of South Africa?' What an interesting and useful book it would be with the Wonderful Prophecy. All the institutions you established here are working so well. The magistrates amongst the tribes, and in Basutoland Colonel Clerk appears by his wonderful tact and page 196patience to be bringing back the chiefs to a state of tranquillity. You would do good amongst both Dutch and English, and allay a feeling of want of confidence between both races, your name is so revered. I pray God to inspire you to do what is His holy will. He gave me a friend and kind patron in you. We have worked together in wonderful times here, and if we have passed through severe trials we have had our consolations.—Ever, my dear Sir George, your grateful and affectionate servant,

"J. P. Fitzgerald."

By the end of 1890 over 130,000 cases had been treated in the Grey Hospital.

* W. B. Chalmers to Dr. Fitzgerald. Nov. 3rd, 1886.