Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 27, September 1983



[Spelling: Danby or Damby ? – E]

When we come to think about hospitals probably our memories go back to around 1855 at the time of the Crimean War. At that stage Florence Nightingale set up a regular nursing service. A little later Louis Pasteur discovered the process of pasteurisation of equipment which went a long way towards eliminating the problems of infection of blood in humans.

Now coming back to the local scene it could not have been long past the time of the opening of the Goldfields when hospitals were built in Thames and Waihi but, strangely enough, although Paeroa was the entry port for the Ohinemuri Goldfields it seems that no district hospital was built here. Perhaps it was because, at that stage, Paeroa was still part of the Thames County and as the hospital responsibility was still a local body one, Thames County had enough on their plate with the establishment of a hospital in Thames.

It is rather horrifying to think of the problems which miners must have suffered in the accidents which most certainly took place in the mines. If a miner was hurt in a rock fall there would be the problem of shifting him from the mine to the surface, and then by horse or dray to the nearest hospital which would have been at Waihi. I have been able to find no one, as yet who has any recollection of a public hospital or a surgical hospital in Paeroa. Any service in Paeroa seems to have been only that given by mid-wives in Maternity cases.

Turning now to what I have been able to find from the Paeroa Borough files which commence only in 1915, there are no references to any earlier hospitals. The first document I came across was a copy of a trust deed wherein trustees accepted a sum of ₤550/0/10 raised by voluntary contribution, sale of gifts, and public entertainment for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a public hospital within the County of Ohinemuri for the reception relief, treatment and cure of disease and injury.

The Ohinemuri County, you will recall, had been established in 1885. The document makes most interesting reading for its form and content but the names of the signatories may be more interesting. They were: William Grey Nicholls, settler; Henry Christian Wick, settler; John Phillips, the younger settler; Asher Cassrels, settler; Thomas Nepean Edward Kenny, County Clerk. The signatures were appended in the presence of James McVeagh, Solicitor, Paeroa, on the 21st December 1897. Mr. Nicholls (later Sir W.G.) became a member of the Legislative Council; Asher Cassrels was associated with early trading and the Criterion Hotel and Mr. Wick, a considerable land owner lent his name to what is now Poland Street. In our earlier maps this is called Wick Terrace.

In 1913 there is a newspaper cutting which states that the Chamber of Commerce is pressing for nine acres to be set aside as a hospital reserve. Mr. F.E. Flatt, Secretary of the Star of Paeroa U.A.O.D. Lodge requested the Borough Council to call a public meeting at the end of 1918, following the flu' epidemic to consider the need for a hospital. A letter to the Chairman of the Thames Hospital and Charitable Aid Board dated 7/10/1919 concerns a "Nurse Pennell Memorial Fund" and indicates that approximately £250 has been collected and that public feeling was for a maternity hospital to be established.

Nurse Pennell must have been a magnificent woman and held in extremely high regard in the Paeroa community. She was a midwife and general nurse who at the time of the flu' epidemic had gone to Auckland to help with a major temporary hospital on the North Shore. She subsequently contracted the flu' herself and died. In January 1920 the fund had risen to £300 and a hospital fund of ₤900 had been gathered and the trustees stated that they were in possession of a suitable site. They thought that a government subsidy of 6 to 5 would produce £2,640/40 and permit the establishment of a 6 bed maternity home in Paeroa.

On the 2nd March 1920 a meeting was held in the Criterion Hall of Representatives of the Hospital Board, Chamber of Commerce and the Council, and it seems that at that meeting the Board agreed that a proposition was on. The District Health Officer at Auckland had written on the 9th of February 1920 advising that the Health Department was prepared to send a District Nurse to Paeroa and pay her salary.

Late in that year the Inspector General of Health wrote advising that the Minister had given his approval to the proposal to erect a Maternity Hospital in Paeroa. He noted that the available funds of £1450 together with subsidies would total ₤3190 and went on "The cost of a hospital such as is proposed will doubtless in these expensive times amount to much more than this sum" and "it is unwise at present to depend upon being able to raise money by loan for capital works".

An organisation called the Hauraki District Comforts Committee offered to donate ₤250 to the project provided returned Soldiers, their wives and dependants were admitted and treated at a reduced rate in a ward which was to be named the Hauraki Ward, presumably in acknowledgment of the fact that the Hauraki Regiment was based in Paeroa. In November 1921 there is a copy of a letter which the Mayor (Mr. Brenan) wrote to the Hospital Board advising that the sum available had now risen to ₤1450 and that property was available for the purpose of the proposed hospital.

All the sections were located in Block 2. Four had been purchased and were held by the Hospital Trustees, another four held by the Crown as a Hospital reserve, and a further four were vested in the Council as Municipal Reserve. The Mayor stated in his letter that the Council would also endeavour to close two streets and asked that, if possible, sections 3 to 8 of Block 3 be acquired from Mr. Cassrells. (Mr. Cassrells asked £420 for the six sections.) The streets to be closed were the lower portions of Russell Street and a portion of Fraser Street. There was also a small triangular piece of land owned by the Thames Valley Dairy Co. which could be acquired for £50 provided some other land was given to the Company. The request by the Mayor stated that the local desire was for a hospital containing 6 maternity beds and 2 emergency beds.

Government Departments and Parliamentarians obviously worked to the last minute each year for the 24th December 1920; there is a letter signed by the Minister of Health, which intimated that the project had his approval. Some moves were then made to get the land matters finalised and, as always seemed to happen, difficulties arose in all directions. In the long rung, special legislation had to be promoted to get the roads legally closed and the land made available to the Hospital Board. Then the original (1897) hospital trust funds were found to be stringently held and the trustees had to seek the consent of the Supreme Court to transfer the funds which they had collected to the Hospital Board. Eventually there was an acknowledgment that all was in order. The funds were transferred and the Board had actually levied a rate to raise the remainder of the capital sum despite some signs of opposition from Thames and Hauraki Plains areas.

Plans were approved early in 1925 and about mid-year, alternative tenders were called for a building to be erected in wood or in brick. In August 1925 the board sought the Minister's approval for the acceptance of the lowest tender for a wooden structure but the department, or the Minister, requested the Board to accept the lowest brick tender. This seemed to be the last straw for the Board. It did not take any further action and the matter then warmed up into a very strong issue at the local body elections in May 1926. The newly elected board seemed to be against proceeding as it felt that the costs would be too burdensome and the farming community, particularly, unable to stand the additional rates which would result. Also there was a proposal afoot for the amalgamation of the Waihi Hospital Board and the Thames Hospital Board which up to that time had been separate entities. Cr. Brenan of Paeroa who was also the Borough representative of the Hospital Board kept battling away at Board meetings, supported by Mr. W.C. Kennedy and Mr. Robinson but they were now opposed by Mr. W.J. Hall, Mr. E.L. Walton, Mr. J.M. Damby, Mr. W.J. Lange and the chairman Mr. W.E. Hale.

Mr. Marshall, who was at this time Mayor of Paeroa led a deputation to the Minister of Health late in 1926 and he seemed to feel that the matter was held up on the casting vote of the chairman. Most of 1927 went by without any major movement and late in that year Mr. Marshall was pressing Mr. A.M. Samuel MP to get the Minister to move in the matter, or alternatively, raise the subject in the house. Telegrams flowed back and forth including an interchange with the Right Hon. J.G. Coates, Prime Minister.

In early 1928 the Minister and Department "laid it on the line" with the board but the reluctant Board took considerable umbrage and still opposed taking any action. Immediately the Mayor wrote a fairly terse letter to the Director-General who in turn took strong exception to the "militant" tone which the Mayor indicated, in his subsequent reply, he felt fully justified in using.

In March 1928 the Health Department spelt it out in the clearest possible terms, that unless the Hospital Board got cracking the department would step in and do the job itself. This really raised the hackles of the Board at its March meeting. The report gives Mr. Hale as saying that the letter was late being received and he did not know quite how to take the letter. While the act referred to, certainly gave the Department wide powers the matter was too complicated and he thought the Board should seek legal advice regarding its position and the threat from the Director-General.

It was necessary to have a clear interpretation and to ascertain what would happen if the Board refused to build. He moved in that direction. This was seconded by Mr. Hall, Mr. Brenan asked if it was a fact that the Board intended to refuse to build the Hospital. He (Mr. Brenan) was not exactly clear what the chairman meant by his resolution. Mr. Walton contended that Mr. Brenan was only playing the Chairman. This was emphatically denied by Mr. Brenan who said that, to him, the matter was far too important to be played with. Mr. Kennedy said that he had made it his business to ask the Minister of Health, when he was at Te Aroha, what would happen if the Board refused to erect the hospital. The Minister replied that on one occasion only had the Department previously threatened a board and on another single occasion the Department had erected an institution.

The Board could rest assured that the department had wide powers. Protagonists in the argument continued at great length. Counter claim followed counter claim regarding costs and rates and what the Minister could do. Mr. Lange said that the letter should be torn up and sent back to the Director-General. The Chairman remarked that it was no use talking in that strain. Continuing Mr. Lange said that he considered that the Director-General had a "confounded cheek", to forward such a demand. The board members were elected by the ratepayers and as they were representing them it was the members' duty to protect the rate-payers and be in a position to thoroughly understand their requirements. He felt very strongly on the matter and agreed with some earlier statements by Mr. Danby.

The legal opinion which the board agreed to seek was to have been available at its April meeting but by the 26th June, the board had still done nothing and at this stage the Mayor, Mr. Marshall, again wrote to the Minister appealing to him to act in the matter. A letter from the Mayor to Mr. Samuel on August 28th seemed to imply a terrific amount of local interest in the forth coming general election and the possibility of hospital affairs being a rather hot issue in Paeroa. A new Minister of Health, the HonA.J. Stallworthy had been appointed and created some consternation by withholding some subsidies from the board, thus giving the impression that the department had "gone cold" on the hospital project also. However, some telegrams soon sorted this out and the Mayor received an assurance from the new Minister that the department would press on.

The Minister visited Thames on the 5th February 1929 and met the board and this must have at last done the trick as tenders were called very shortly afterwards. The successful tenderer was Mr. E.W. Lee, who at that stage was resident at Tuakau, and it was this job which caused him to shift to Paeroa where he remained in business. The hospital was to be in brick and the erection must have proceeded at a very brisk pace for as early as the 9th July the Council was agreeing to assist with the laying out of the grounds. The building comprised three two-bed wards and one single bedroom plus staff living quarters and the usual service rooms.

Cordial relations had been re-established with the Board and the Mayor was invited to lunch with the Minister and the Board at the Paeroa Hotel prior to the official opening of the Hospital at 2 p.m. on 3rd April 1930. The residents of the Karangahake presented a chiming clock to mark the occasion.

The Hospital Board's Balance Sheet at the 31st March 1931 showed that the values of the Paeroa hospital grounds and buildings were as follows:

Land £2199

Buildings 6193

Equipment 563

Total: ₤8955

In the hospital there are two wards and two brass plaques indicating the Pennell Ward (or the Mary Pennell Ward) and the Hauraki ward. It is interesting to note that Mr. W.C. Kennedy presented a bank book with a lodgement of Two Guineas in it as a gift for the first child born in the Paeroa Hospital. Mrs. Brenan, wife of the chairman of the Board, presented a layette and Mr. J.W. Danby, Deputy chairman presented a silver mug also for the first child born in the hospital. The child was Rose Hannah Hopping, daughter of Mr and Mrs. W.G. Hopping of Netherton. This same Rose Hannah Hopping is now Mrs. Phil Pennell and so the wheel turns full circle. The campaign for funds to erect a hospital to honour the memory of Nurse Pennell had its culmination with the birth of the first child who was later to become Mrs. Pennell.

Since the erection of the original hospital there have been several alterations and additions to it and from a brief scanning of our records I see the following:- In 1954 plans were approved for £15,000 addition, Further alterations and additions to the delivery block were made in 1963 by Lee Bros. at a contract price of £16,444. Alterations to the entrance were carried out in 1965 for £1480 and at the same time the drive way was altered.

I have not been able to obtain the names of all the Matrons of the hospital but from brief local enquiry the following names are well remembered:- Sister Maslin (1930-41); twin sisters, the Misses Moore, (1941-50), who later opened the rest home at Thorntons Bay; Sister Toussaint (1950-71).