Volume 13 (2020)


by Richard Wilkins

Doctors were attracted to early goldfields for a variety of reasons. For many, it was an opportunity to start a practice on a level playing field away from the competition of established doctors in the cities. Some would also sense there was money to be made by indulging in mining ventures themselves. And a few would be attempting to escape from an unfortunate past as a drunkard, drug-addicted, incompetent, criminal or hopelessly insolvent doctor. On more remote fields, quacks with no medical training could turn up, purveying dangerous or useless treatments and fleecing desperate miners out of exorbitant amounts of money.

Fortunately, all of the doctors on the early Thames Goldfield were reasonably experienced with authentic medical qualifications. In all, I discovered that nineteen had spent some time practicing in Thames between 1867 and 1880, which is a far greater number than the commonly quoted six, namely Drs Weekes, Lethbridge, Sam, Fox, Perston and Payne. Biographical notes on each of the nineteen are given in the Appendix.

I did not extend my research into later years as by the 1880s Thames and its hospital was becoming more mainstream and the pioneering days were virtually over. Unfortunately, by 1927 many of the early records of the hospital had been destroyed or lost including the History of the Hospital, which ‘went west’ in the Flood of 1917 (Weston). Fortuitously, the local newspapers from 1869 onwards reported at length on the meetings of the Hospital Committee (active until April 1886) and the Hospital Trustees after that, and these provide a valuable resource. Some items on early hospital and medical matters can also be found in Althea Barker’s blog and Kae Lewis’s book, Goldrush To The Thames 1867-69. Much more information on doctors and the hospital after 1900 has been collected in True Tales of Thames Hospital and Treasury Journal articles: Honouring The Doctors and Dr George LaPraik M.B., Mast. Surg.


Nineteenth century medical education in the United Kingdom was a complete mishmash with some 19 universities giving a range of qualifications (Licentiate, Member, Fellow, Doctor of Medicine) with very little clinical training. A graduate with lowly letters after their name who then trained under first rate doctors might end up much better qualified than one with the opposite experience. And just to confuse things, a person without medical qualifications who assisted a top doctor, might become totally proficient in surgery, setting limbs, midwifery, postmortems etc. and pass themselves off as a doctor.

In New Zealand, the first attempt to register medical practitioners was in 1868. As information in UK registries of medical graduates was difficult to verify, each applicant had to submit their actual medical diplomas to a board. Interestingly, anyone practicing as a doctor before 1857 was grandfathered onto the register even if they lacked qualifications. Unlike modern registration processes, there was no real mechanism to 'strike off' a doctor for malpractice, incompetence, unethical behaviour or minor criminal activity. A doctor dismissed from a hospital or official positions could just keep practicing and if their local reputation plummeted they simply moved to where they were unknown. (Wright-StClair exhaustively covers every aspect of early medical practice in New Zealand). Incidentally, it was still legal for a doctor on the UK Medical Registry alone to practice in NZ; as there were over 20,000 names to choose from, it was easy to fake an identity.

It is interesting, to look at the 1868 distribution of the 42 medical practitioners in the upper North Island. Almost one half (22) are in Auckland City with Thames having 3 (Lethbridge, Weekes, Merrett). In 1875 there were a total of 59 with, again, almost one half (28) in Auckland City and now there were 7 in Thames (Croft, Fisher, Fox, Kilgour, Lethbridge, Oliver, Sam).

Figure 1: Most early doctors were attracted to big population centres.
Click to enlarge the photo.


The Medical Practitioner Register does not give a completely accurate picture of who actually practiced in Thames, because it was a snapshot in time and contained outdated information. A large number of sources, too many to reference here, were consulted to identify the timelines of doctors. Summarising this is not easy, but an attempt is depicted in Figure 2. It is immediately obvious that many of the early doctors were only in Thames for a short time and also that only three had practices of longer than 20 years. Five doctors had obvious addiction problems (alcohol or chemical), three had significant money problems and five died while actually practicing in Thames.

Figure 2: Timelines of the 19 early Doctors – Time in Thames Highlighted
Click to enlarge the photo.


This is an intriguing question with no definitive answer. It is relevant to note that no Auckland doctor with an established practice moved to Thames. Indeed, in all, only three doctors with viable practices moved there; Kilgour came from Wellington and Perston from Whangarei, but the latter had money problems. Lethbridge and Payne left practices in Coromandel, presumably attracted to the much larger population of Thames.

All the doctors who arrived in Thames wanted a new start of one sort or the other. Some were obviously attracted by the prospect of making money. Dr Trousseau described how 'imitating his new companions, he bought claim shares on the right, on the left, everywhere as the money arrived' (Unknown French Doctor). Others, such as Dr Fox probably had more altruistic motives as both he and his wife were active Quakers.

Another relevant point worth noting is that is nearly all those doctors that left Thames also left New Zealand. Perhaps a certain wanderlust characterised the Thames doctors. Certainly, this was the case with Henry Weekes who first came to New Zealand as a ships doctor in 1842 and, then, after land speculation, went back to England, then back to NZ, then California, then back to farming near Auckland, and after a brief time in Thames, back to England for more training, then to Spain and finally back to England.


Mid-nineteenth century medicine was very basic by modern standards. The tools of trade could be transported in one or two chests and, from the time they arrived in NZ, usually as ship’s doctors, these would suffice for the rest of the doctor’s career. The collection in Dr Huxtable’s estate would be typical (although it included some specialised equipment and lots of books). The key instruments would be those for surgery, especially amputations, midwifery, a stethoscope and arguably a stomach pump. Interestingly, the clinical thermometer was not introduced until 1890. In addition, a doctor would have certain key chemicals, for instance, laxatives, antidiarrheals, antimicrobial agents, stimulants, sedatives, emetics, chloroform. From basic items, he might formulate and dispense prescriptions himself, or via a medical dispenser or a chemist (many of these had dubious qualifications). As well as prescription medicines, chemists carried a wide range of substances, chemical and natural; these could be beneficial, dangerous or harmless; patent medicines were also popular with people who could not afford a doctor, and the contents likewise ranged from the dangerous to the useless.

Figure 3a: Early Doctors Instruments were rudimentary.
Source: New Zealand Herald 17 Feb 1886.
Click to enlarge the photo.

Figure 3b: Chemists stocked a wide range of patent medicines.
Source: New Zealand Herald 21 June 1876
Click to enlarge the photo.


On the early Thames Goldfield, conditions would be very similar to those in an Army Field Hospital. Operating from a tent or a basic building, treating predominantly males with cuts, broken limbs, various microbial diseases including syphilis, erysipelas (skin infection), tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhea and dysentery as well as occasional knife or gunshot wounds. More serious accidents became commonplace as mining operations intensified. These could not be treated by complicated and invasive surgery because sterile and aseptic techniques waere not appreciated, nor were there antibiotics, so the patient would probably die from infections. The only alternative was to amputate seriously damaged limbs, well away from the damage (very near the shoulder in the case of the arm). It was common to carry out these operations under rudimentary conditions, in the field or on a bed and only later was a proper operating room available in the Thames Hospital. Chloroform was the anaesthetic of choice and the hospital dispenser Sergeant Aitken the de facto anaesthetist. Some amputations were heroic, involving two limbs, but postoperative care was rudimentary, usually just 'stimulants and broth'. Needless to say, many patients did not survive.

The opening of the Thames Hospital in late 1868 put medical matters on a more organised footing and a house surgeon position was created. The competition for this position resulted in a lot infighting and controversy which never really abated over the next 10 years. The hospital committee meetings could be pretty fiery, with the attributes and transgressions of every doctor debated and dutifully reported in the local newspapers. In addition, doctors also applied to the committee for appointment as honorary surgeons which gave them preferred access to the hospital. Miners were supporters of the hospital with a weekly subscription of a few shillings. Doctors could also secure a captive clientele by being made honorary surgeons to various lodges and militia.

From the 1870s, Thames became a much more homogeneous town, with an increasing population of families but most of these were poor and a doctor’s visit, typically 10/6 in the day and £1/1/- at night, a prohibitive expense. Another restriction on a doctor’s income was that most women were attended by midwives and gave birth at home. This meant that, although in theory, most doctors would have had some experience in delivering babies as part of their medical training, they tended to only see the more complicated cases in Thames and, as we will see later, this could have unfortunate consequences.


This undoubtedly belonged to Dr Martin Payne who arrived from Coromandel in 1874 and only gave up practice around 1898. Dr Patrick Callan practiced for almost as long a period. Dr Kilgour was in Thames for a similar period but, although he held various medical roles at various times, he also engaged in other activities, for example Mayor, and in later years it would seem that he had largely ceased private practice.


This was undoubtedly Dr Trousseau. Thanks to his father, he had a training in medicine, especially the physician aspects, far in advance of his Thames colleagues. Moreover, he was amongst the earliest in the world to appreciate the germ theory of disease transmission and put this knowledge to good use in Hawaii. Dr Oliver also proved to be a first-class doctor in Hawaii.

Click to enlarge the photo.

Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 4: Two doctors who moved to Hawaii, Dr Trousseau, c.1880 (left) and Dr Oliver (right, with son) c. 1895 (Bishop Museum)

Another loss that went virtually unheralded, was Ellen Fox who returned to England when her husband died in 1876. She and her sister, in 1867 in London, had opened a hugely successful children’s hospital that has since expanded into the Queen Elizabeth Hospital For Children. Could she had done something similar in Thames? (Swain)

Figure 5: Dr and Mrs Fox were Quakers who emigrated to New Zealand shortly after their marriage in 1869 in the hope that Ellen’s health would improve. Source: Lush Journals.
Click to enlarge the photo.


This arguably goes to Dr Robert Fleetwood Andrews and it is a sad story. He had a distinguished career in the British Army before retiring on half-pay as a Surgeon Major. At age 50 in 1879 he came to Thames and so impressed the locals with his military record that they immediately touted him as the next house surgeon, in place of Dr Payne who was in the midst of one of his frequent popularity slumps. Unfortunately, Dr Andrews completely botched a delivery which a competent doctor could have carried out with instruments. The mother and child died. An inquiry severely criticised him, and he never recovered. Although Dr Andrews would have had to carry out ten normal deliveries as part of qualifying as an Army Surgeon, it was probable this was the first complicated delivery in his career.


Anything controversial in the medical area was aired in the local newspapers with complete candour, full details and total disregard for defamation or privacy. There was ongoing minor bickering between certain doctors with both Kilgour and Payne, complaining to the Hospital committee at various times, and 'blowing their own trumpets' over the superior nature of their qualifications and experience. And the local population and anonymous writers (suspiciously well medically informed) joined in with acrimonious letters. Most of the matters under debate were however, minor. In 1872 James Mackay took a vexatious action against Dr Fox, claiming he had been negligent in treating his wife’s broken wrist (Mrs Mackay had squabbled with Mrs Fox some months before) but the complaint was thrown out of court.

A curious saga occurred over some months in 1874 concerning Maurice Power and a claim of negligence on the part of Dr Lethbridge who had treated his arm which later had to be amputated. The missing arm was sought as evidence and reluctantly produced by Dr Payne from where it was buried in his garden. Despite various inquiries, great public interest and claim and counter claim no definitive conclusions were made over negligence though an outside review recommended that some improvements be made in the hospital. Dr Croft was one doctor who ran into problems after he left Thames. His medical pedigree had been questioned in the 1850s in Christchurch where he had not really practiced, and although nothing serious in emerged in his Thames years, after he moved to Patea his behaviour became distinctly odd resulting, amongst other things, his removal as the hospital doctor because of his neglect of patients.


Without doubt this was Dr Martin Payne. At different times, he picked fights with many of the other doctors, often conducting a vitriolic correspondence through the newspapers. He also had problems off and on with the Hospital Committee and would sometimes be in favour and other times out of favour. The somewhat unusual thing about his behaviour was the feuds seemed to wax and wane, so he could champion Dr Huxtable to the detriment of Dr Callan in 1880 and then have a great falling out with Huxtable (partly over the Native Medical Officer position) and later get quite collegial with Callan. Even his friends on the Hospital Committee sacked him from the House Surgeon position in 1886 when his behavior became intolerable. Reading between the lines, a lot of his actions seemed aimed at preserving a comfortable income from his practice and in later years he criticised the hospital both for providing too many “free consultations” to his detriment and also for letting hospital doctors, who were by this time salaried employees, also conduct private practices. Possibly, some of his curmudgeonly behaviour could be explained by his partial deafness.

Figure 6. Dr Martin Payne (centre) at first championed Dr Huxtable (left) over Dr Callan (right) but his allegiances reversed in the late 1880s. Sources: WikiTree, MacDonald, Weston.
Click to enlarge the photo.


Many of the early residents of Thames were faced with insolvency and bankruptcy problems, due to a variety of reasons such as a reckless lifestyle, business problems or goldfield speculations gone wrong. Doctors were no exception and several of the early ones had money problems. Just establishing a viable practice was clearly challenging. Ellen Fox mentions the problems her husband had and, even in 1880, Dr Callan suffered a period of insolvency when Drs Payne and Huxtable tried to deny him patients. Earlier on Dr Trousseau, through speculation, 'lost what he had won. Tired, seeing no future for him in this country..', he left for Hawaii. Dr Oliver presumably had similar problems and soon followed Trousseau.


Several of the early doctors had chronic alcohol problems which were well known to the local population. As mentioned earlier, these were not grounds for deregistration and even in the extreme case of Dr Gilbert, who was jailed as a 'habitual drunkard', he was able to return to his practice at the end of his 3-month sentence. Alcohol abuse undoubtedly led to early deaths, though in the case of Dr Gilbert, it was not clear if the belladonna that ended his life was suicide or some risky attempt at hallucination. Dr Perston ended his life with a lethal dose of chloral hydrate, and Dr Huxtable, after he left Thames, succumbed to chloroform. Both these doctors were abusing these compounds.


It came as a surprise to discover that the darkest past by far was that of James Kilgour who was not only a doctor, but an early Mayor, a local politician and, for many years, a pillar of Thames Society. Much earlier, in 1839, Dr Kilgour had emigrated to Australia and after briefly practicing in Tasmania teamed up with a Dr Bernard to run Tarrone Station in Western Victoria. Bernard was very much a sleeping partner, away on British exploration and diplomacy missions while Kilgour was running the station. In 1842 Kilgour got into conflict with displaced Aboriginals, and this resulted in several being shot and then more poisoned after being provided with arsenic-laced flour. Even by the standards of the time, these actions were extreme and resulted in Kilgour and Bernard losing their license for the station. Kilgour returned to England but again reappeared in Victoria in the 1850s and set up a medical practice. His troubles were not at an end because in 1859, he was taken to court, accused of fathering a child with one of his servants. Although he got off this charge, his immoral behaviour led the Governor of Victoria to immediately cancel his warrant as a magistrate. After that, Kilgour moved to Nelson. Unbelievably, his involvement in the aboriginal massacre never surfaced in Thames, and it was only in the 1880s that some people became vaguely aware of the 1859 court case. To his credit, there were no new scandals and, although he had a rather high opinion of himself, it was no more than one would expect for a person indulging in politics. Perhaps naming a racehorse 'Amputation' gave a hint of the hard side of his character.

Figure 7: Dr Kilgour successfully covered up the dark event in his Australian past.
Click to enlarge the photo.


The early Thames doctors basically fell into three categories. In the first category were those who had personal problems of various sorts. These either died in Thames or did not last long in practice elsewhere. The second was a group who moved on after a brief time and established successful practices overseas; notably, Lethbridge, Weekes, Trousseau, Oliver, Sam and Fisher. On reflection, I think these doctors realized that they could not make a comfortable living in Thames. It must be appreciated that the population of Thames was predominantly poor with unemployment increasing in the 1870s exacerbated by a nationwide depression in the 1880s. The romantic notion of Thames being a wealthy town that is portrayed in many histories is largely a myth (Johnson). The third category of doctor, those with long careers in the town, were very much in the minority and would be competing for the wealthy fraction of the population. Dr Kilgour no doubt appealed to this clientele. Thus, Dr Payne probably did not want both Dr Callan and Huxtable competing with him in 1880. It would also explain why the positions of hospital house surgeon, various honorary surgeon appointments, public vaccinator, native medical officer, coroner, etc. were very much sought after.

From the 1880s, the government bought in rafts of legislation which increasingly controlled hospitals, doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, midwives etc and the 'frontier' nature of medicine on the Thames Goldfields gave way to the professional approach we know today.


  1. Weston, F. (1927). Thames Diamond Jubilee Souvenir: 1867 -1927, Thames Star, Thames.
  2. Althea Barker’s blog.
  3. Lewis, Kae (2017). Goldrush to Thames, New Zealand, 1867 to 1869, Parawai Press, Thames.
  4. Honouring The Doctors The Treasury Website.
  5. Dr George LaPraik M.B., Mast. Surg. The Treasury Journal, Volume 7 (2014).
  6. True Tales of Thames Hospital, 150 Year 1868 -2018, Coromandel Heritage Trust, Thames. See the Table of Contents.
  7. 'Historia Nunc Vivat' by Wright-St Clair, (R.E.). Medical Practitioners in New Zealand 1840 to 1930, Source: Auckland Public Library.
  8. For example John Pearson offered consultations in Thames in the month of October 1871 claiming he had an 'MD' degree, and had been 'Superintendent-Surgeon' of the 'H.M.S. Sir Robert Peel'. Thames Guardian and Mining Record 27 October 1871.Later, he was a well-known back street abortionist in N.S.W., Australia before ended his career in NZ in 1911 as a derelict old man with multiple convictions but still claiming a 'MD'. New Zealand Truth 11 February 1911.
  9. Armand Trousseau (1801 - 1867). Unknown French Doctor recounting meeting Trousseau in 1872.
  10. Swain, VAJ. British Medical Journal. Vol 4 (1967) pp 733-735.
  11. MacDonald J. E. (1926) Thames Reminiscences (Auckland: Observer Printing Works).
  12. Lush, V, (1868 -82) The Thames Journals Early New Zealand Books The University of Auckland.
  13. Johnson, M.A.B. (2014), Thesis, Beneath the Golden Facade: A History of the Early Years on the Thames Goldfield. Masters Thesis, University of Waikato.



In brackets are the dates of the time they spent in Thames.

(Brief biographies of these, and other early NZ doctors can be found in Wright-StClair but his notes contain some errors and omissions)

Robert Fleetwood Andrews (May 1879 - Dec 1879)

Dr Andrews was born in 1830 in Ireland and qualified L.F.P.S. in Glasgow in 1853. He had a long and distinguished career in the British Army before retiring as a Surgeon-Major on half-pay in 1873. He arrived in New Zealand as surgeon on the City of London and was instrumental in the safe evacuation of the passengers when it was shipwrecked off Foxton in October 1878. He arrived in Thames in early 1879 and set up a private practice. His military record obviously impressed the locals and within a few weeks he was being boosted for the hospital house-surgeon position ahead of Dr. Payne. This support evaporated following a botched delivery in June resulting in the death of mother and child and he never really recovered. Dr Andrews was denied honorary surgeon status at Thames Hospital and left at the end of the 1879. After a few months as Medical Officer at the Quarantine Station on Motuihi Island he left for England and died in Ramsgate in 1894.

Patrick Callan (1880 - 1902)

Dr Callan was born in Louth County, Ireland in 1842, qualifying LRCSI in 1869 after which he apparently practiced in Louth until the late 1870s. He arrived in Auckland on the Ben Nevis in January 1880 and commenced practice in Thames within a few months. Dr Callan immediately ran into problems with Dr Payne who publicly stated that he preferred to work with Dr Huxtable who had arrived first (largely through Payne’s 'instrumentality') and whose qualifications were far superior to those of Dr Callan. Predictably, by the end of 1881 Callan had money problems. However, by this time the mercurial Dr Payne had done a complete flip flop and was criticising Huxtable who responded with a vitriolic attack on Payne published in December 1881. From then on, the relationship between Callan and Payne thawed and Callan enjoyed a collegial 20 years, often taking charge of Payne’s practice during his periods of illness and travel. After his eldest son’s death in 1902, Dr Callan retired to Sydney where he died in 1903.

Robert Telfer Corbett (1869?- early 1870)

Dr Corbett was born in Glasgow in 1818, qualified in 1841 and worked in the Glasgow Royal Infirmary for many years. He emigrated to Auckland in 1866 intent on restoring his health. His practices in Auckland and later Thames were short-lived and after missing out on the House Surgeon position in February 1870 he resigned as health officer of the Port of Shortland in April 1870. He practiced in Tuakau until his death in October 1876.

Archer Charles Croft (Oct 1871 - July 1873)

Dr Croft was born in 1825 in England and apparently qualified M.R.C.S. in 1846 although his contemporary, the Christchurch historian G.R. MacDonald commented that when Croft arrived in 1852 'anyone could practice'. Whatever is the case, he had been an assistant to the well-known surgeon Mr Kidgell of Pangbourne. Certainly, Croft initially busied himself with non-medical activities, principally the Croft and Ward Brewery until 1862 and Otago Goldfield speculations. He returned to medicine in the late 1860s as coroner and Registrar of BDM for Ashburton but resigned these posts and left Christchurch around 1870. He arrived in Thames around October 1871, was appointed an Honorary Surgeon to the hospital and was notably active in cricketing circles. No controversies arose during this time but in the middle of 1873, he moved to Patea where it was noted, 'His Medical Practice was 'at all times subservient to his enjoyment of life’. He was dismissed as surgeon to Patea Hospital in February 1880 for dereliction of duty. He had problems with diabetes and dropsy, and his behaviour on the judicial bench became increasingly eccentric. Dr Croft died in 1886.

George Fisher (1872-1873)

Born in 1846, qualified M.R.C.S. in 1867 he came to New Zealand in February 1872 as the ships doctor on the Caduceus and settled in Thames. Missed out to Croft for an Honorary Surgeons post in June 1872 but seemed to be active as a vaccinator. He appears to have left Thames in late 1873 after the death of his son, obtaining further English qualifications in 1874 and spending the rest of his career in Shere, Surrey where he established a reputation in public health. Note: Dr George and Mary Fisher are not to be confused with another couple of the same name who also lived in Thames.

Alexander Fox (1870 - 1876)

Dr Fox was born in 1837 into a Quaker Family. In his obituary it was stated that he was on the Dunstan Goldfields in the 1860s; although there was a 'Dr Alexander Fox', druggist there in 1862-64, I could not verify that this was the same Fox, nor could I confirm mentions of him being on the Victorian Goldfields. In any case, he completed his medical training (M.R.C.P.) in 1869 in England and emigrated with his newlywed wife Ellen (nee Phillips), who was very sick, to New Zealand later that year, setting up practice in Thames the end of the year. Ellen was a cousin of Martin Payne, a fellow Quaker. The sisters Mary and Ellen Phillips were already well known, if not famous, in London, for setting up in 1867 'A Dispensary for Women and Children' with the support of many prominent medical men. (This later became The Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children) (Swain). Dr Fox seemed to practice mainly as a physician, one noted incident being a case being bought in August 1872 by James Mackay for incompetence over treatment of his wife’s broken wrist. (Mrs Mackay could be 'difficult' and she had had a falling out with Ellen Fox). Somewhat unexpectedly, in June 1875, Dr Fox was thrust into the House Surgeons’ position because of reservations over Lethbridge, although it was commented he was an 'ocularist', not a surgeon. Tragically, a year later he died of a severe lung infection (possibly a complication of smoke inhalation when a large fire occurred in the town), despite the urgent efforts of Ellen to get Dr Philson down from Auckland to give expert medical assistance. (Note: In some Thames histories (e.g. Weston), Dr Fox is mistakenly referred to as 'Dr. Foy').

Robert Henry Thomas Gilbert (May 1878 - Oct 1879)

Dr Gilbert was born in England in 1840 and qualified M.R.C.S. in London in 1861. Possibly he served in the Royal Navy for some time before emigrating to Australia as surgeon on the Chariot of Fame in 1867; he was entered on the Victorian Register in September of that year. Initially, he appeared to be involved in some mining adventures before entering private practice in Ballarat. He moved to Melbourne around 1875 and entered into a partnership with a Mr Bottrell (who had been refused registration as he was essentially a 'quack') for two years before the dubious nature of this was exposed in a June 1875 article in the Australian Medical Journal entitled 'The Raid of the Quacks'. Dr Gilbert then disappeared off the scene but may have been in NZ for some time before he arrived in Thames in May 1878. He never prospered and in December 1878 was sentenced to 3mths in Mt Eden gaol for habitual drunkenness. In October 1879 he died from taking belladonna in what was described as an 'accident.'

Clarence Hooper (1867-1868)

Dr Hooper was born in England around 1833 and qualified in 1859-60. He arrived in New Zealand soon after and in the early 1860s lived in Mangawhai but spent time in Auckland. After serving in the Waikato Militia he was a government agent in Auckland where he had money problems. In 1867 he was one of the first doctors, along with Lethbridge, on the Thames Goldfield. He left for Wanganui in October 1868 for more government service then, after more time in Auckland, set up practice in Wanganui in early 1870. In mid 1872 he faced bankruptcy and, more seriously, a charge of perjury for claiming an expensive watch was not his, but belonged to his brother-in-law, Joseph Tucker of Thames. Although this charge was dismissed, he left New Zealand and set up practice in Sydney. While there he wrote a rather gruesome letter to the Sydney Morning Herald describing in graphic detail how Mrs Brown, the paramour of a notorious bushranger. 'Frank Gardiner' had committed suicide in Thames in 1868. (Robert Macklin makes use of this account in his semi-fiction book 'Fire in the Blood.') Dr Hooper moved to Swansea, Tasmania where he died of erysipelas in 1874.

Charles William Huxtable (1880 -1883)

Dr Huxtable was born in Tasmania in 1851 and obtained his MB CM in Glasgow in 1877. In 1878 he was appointed surgeon to Kumara Hospital, but his appointment was not renewed the next year and in December 1879, after a short time in Auckland, he arrived in Thames and took over the practice of Dr. Andrews. Almost immediately, he was drawn into a controversy involving Dr Callan, who had arrived at the same time. Dr Payne stated bluntly and publicly that he preferred working with Dr Huxtable whose qualifications were far superior to those of Dr Callan. Unbelievably scarcely two years later there was a serious falling out between Huxtable and Payne, with the latter taking to print in Dec 1881 absolutely ripping into Payne for his 'physical and mental defects' and low qualifications. The sad thing about this saga was that all three were competent doctors and, even more bewildering, despite all this vitriol, Callan and Payne afterwards managed to work together as colleagues. Huxtable upgraded his qualification to M.D. Glasgow in August 1883. Earlier in the year, he had got into an unseemly bidding war with Payne for the position of Native Medical Officer, gazumping him by taking it on for only £50 a year. However, problems were mounting for Dr Huxtable, precipitated by his dismissal as the medical referee for an insurance company, and in December 1883 he left Thames to practice in Auckland. He was suffered 'ill health' and in May 1885 took a long overseas trip to recuperate and upskill in ophthalmology but he died shortly after his return in early 1886 from inhaling chloroform, a habit he had formed to treat insomnia.

James Kilgour (1869 - 1890)

Dr Kilgour was born in 1813 and received an M.D. from Edinburgh in 1838 with a thesis topic on Digestion. He arrived in Adelaide in 1839 as surgeon on the Lady Bute, and briefly had job as an Assistant District Surgeon in Tasmania before his appointment was rescinded due to an administrative error. After returning to England in the 1840s he again went to Australia in 1853 as surgeon on the Stenbonheath. This time he was in practice in Geelong where he did a notable operation restoring the function of a thumb by removing the damaged proximal phalanx. In 1859 he again left Australia and after a spell in London practiced in Picton (1859-1865) and Wellington (1865 -1869) before moving to Thames in August 1869. He never fully engaged with the Thames Hospital, actually complaining that his qualifications had been questioned and that Lethbridge ('inexperienced and young') and Weekes ('farmer') were initially out of their depth. A competent doctor and accoucheur, he largely confined himself to private practice and appointed posts. Bizarrely, he had a racehorse named 'Amputation'. He obviously fancied his intellectual powers, as in 1855 he wrote a dubious pamphlet advancing the theory that White Australian’s physiology was altered by the climate; later, in Wellington, he gave lectures on dreams. He had a tendency of 'blowing his own trumpet' as he would admit from time to time. Delving deeper reveals a very dark past for Dr Kilgour, which, if it had been discovered, would have almost certainly blighted his career in NZ. In 1840 Dr Kilgour along with Dr William Dallas Bernard obtained a license to run Tarrone Station in Western Victoria. Bernard was a renown British scholar and civil servant and an absentee owner when, in 1842, Kilgour led an armed band of settlers that chased and killed several aboriginals - and shortly afterwards more were poisoned with flour that had been laced with arsenic. Even in those times, their actions were extreme enough for their license to be abruptly cancelled; Tarrone is now on the Register of Massacre Sites. Again, in 1859, Kilgour was in trouble but a very different kind when his immoral behaviour was revealed in a paternity court case brought by his servant. Although the case was dismissed, the revelations led the Governor of Victoria to immediately terminate his position as a magistrate. Shortly afterwards Kilgour left Australia for New Zealand. In Thames he became a very political animal (Mayor of Thames etc.) with a lot of enemies but the full extent of his dark past in Australia never emerged. He retired to Parnell in 1890 and died in 1897. Even then, his obituary stated, 'He lost £60,000 worth of property in Australia owing to the unjust laws under which stations were at that time held.' Obviously, this is complete rubbish.

Charles Frederick Lethbridge (1867-1876)

Born in 1842, Dr Lethbridge qualified in England in 1865 and then came to New Zealand as a ship's doctor in early 1867. He took over Dr Wilson’s practice in Coromandel but spent time as one of the first doctors on the Thames Goldfield. In July 1869 he was apparently appointed to House Surgeon of Thames Hospital, but Weekes seemed to be sharing this position later in the year. Lethbridge was only unambiguously re-elected to this position in February 1870, when Weekes left to return to England, (ahead of Corbett, Fox, Perston and Merrett). After a controversy in 1874 he lost the house surgeons position to Fox. He was a well-respected doctor and, notably, as Medical Officer, he had to deal with a serious scarlet fever epidemic in 1876 with 120 cases and 11 deaths. He returned to London in 1876 and completed a Licentiate before moving to a practice in Australia. He died there in 1919.

George Augustus Merrett (1867 - 1874)

Augustus Merrett, born in 1830 in England, worked as a surgeon for a mining company in South America before he completed an M.D. in the University of Michigan in 1857 with a thesis on necrosis. He practiced in London for some years, during which time he was adjudged an insolvent debtor in 1858, which led to his partnership with his father being dissolved. In 1861, he wrote to The Lancet promoting the use of veratrum viride as a treatment that resided “between brandy and the lancet”. He was again adjudged bankrupt in 1862. He arrived in Auckland from India about 1864 and was soon educating local doctors on the proper use of chloroform. Unfortunately, a drinking problem plagued him for the rest of his career. He arrived in Thames in September 1867, along with a chemist, as the first doctor on the Goldfield. He was very well thought of by colleagues and patients, but his drinking intensified, and he died in May 1874 of typhoid fever.

Francis O’Flaherty (1877 - 1879)

Dr O’Flaherty was born in Ireland in 1849 and qualified L.R.C.S.I. in 1873. He suffered from chronic tuberculosis and travelled to New Zealand for his health, arriving in Auckland on the 'Sam Mendel' and travelling to Thames in November 1876. In spite of poor health and an alcohol problem, he built up a reasonable practice and often worked with Dr Perston. The House Surgeon position became vacant with the death of Dr Perston in 1878, and a race appeared to be developing between Drs Payne and O’Flaherty for the job, but Payne did not put his name forward. O’Flaherty was elected unopposed, even though it was clear his health was not good. Over the next year he was often indisposed, finally dying of pulmonary TB in May 1879 aged 30.

Richard Oliver (1869 -1870?)

Born in Carlyle, England in 1839, Richard Oliver qualified in 1861 then came to New Zealand and in 1864 was appointed an assistant surgeon in the Waikato Militia. After practicing in Opotiki for a few years, he arrived in Thames in early 1969. Although a competent doctor he absconded from Thames around August 1870 after financial problems and bankruptcy. His subsequent NZ movements are uncertain, although he practiced in Kawakawa in 1871 (where he outed a 'Dr Watson' who was not qualified). Sometime in late 1872, Dr Oliver followed Trousseau to Hawaii. He was advertising as in practice there by late October 1872, and he and Trousseau attended patients together, including King Lunalilo in 1874. In many ways his career from thereon mirrored that of Trousseau although he confined himself to medicine. He was enormously respected in Hawaii, especially for his leprosy work. After a brief marriage to Emma Daniels in 1876, he remarried to Hoopii Napahi and they had one son, Richard Napahi. Dr Oliver died in 1902 shortly after retiring from the Leper Colony at Molokai, leaving extensive diaries and medical notes which have been since lost.

Martin Henry Payne (1874 -1899)

Born in 1842, he qualified M.R.C.S. in 1870 and practiced for a few years in England before arriving in Coromandel in October 1871. He briefly visited England for his health before returning to Coromandel in 1873 as the ship's doctor on the 'Warwick', during which time he performed a craniotomy. In April 1874, he moved to Thames, taking over Dr Fox’s practice in his absence. For the next 25 years he practiced in Thames, making him easily the longest serving of the early doctors. During this time, he occupied virtually every medical position in the town, and in addition served as Native Medical Officer. During the earlier years, he engendered considerable controversies, both with his medical colleagues, with whom he regularly fell in and out, and with the wider public. He forever conducted robust correspondences in the newspapers, some of which was unbelievably brutal, for example, with a local unqualified pharmacist, W.Plant. Generally, his medical expertise was sound, but he could be dogmatic and wrong, for instance in 1877 he displayed his ignorance about the infectious and contagious nature of typhoid fever. His health began failing in the 1890s, and he retired to Onehunga in 1899 where he died in 1901. Dr Payne came from a Quaker family and was listed in the 1861 Census as living in his father’s household in Somerset aged 19, occupation druggist and, interestingly, described as 'Deaf'. His father had a wide range of scientific and artistic interests, and Martin was named after a friend, Martin Barry F.R.S. The two sons were educated to a high level at home but, even so, getting Martin accepted into a medical programme must have been a challenge. Later, in Thames, there were some references to Dr Payne being partially deaf, and this may, in part, explain his polarising temperament


William Augustus Perston (Oct 1872 - 1878)

Dr Perston was born in 1827 in Scotland and graduated M.D. Glasgow in 1852. He appears to have been practicing there as a surgeon in the late 1850s but emigrated to New Zealand in 1859 and with George Conaghan, an ex-army medical dispenser, went to Whangarei as the first doctor. He practiced there until September 1872. (He had also applied unsuccessfully for the Thames' House Surgeon position in February 1870 when Lethbridge got the job). Several factors may have precipitated his move to Thames in October 1872; a fish-curing venture had just failed, and opinions about him were divided (he was described as a 'hard-riding medico', whatever that meant) and there were now two other doctors in Whangarei. It is also possible that he wanted to give support to the large family of his brother Matthew who had committed suicide in Thames a few months before. He appeared to have left his financial woes behind him and devoted himself to medicine, building up a substantial and popular practice, but he was troubled by periods of depression and ongoing problems with rheumatism. After the death of Dr Fox, he was elected House Surgeon in August 1876, ahead of Payne, but this seemed to cause some angst with both Payne and Kilgour, with Payne apparently not officially attending the hospital for the next 18 months. One can only speculate on whether or not these pressures in addition to his ill health became too much for Dr Perston, but it was obvious that his mental state was poor and he was frequently resorting to chloral hydrate (a sedative). Inevitably, this ended badly with a fatal dose in April 1878. All of this was reported in great detail in the newspapers along with speculation that eccentricity and mental illness might run in the family (in addition to his brothers’ suicide, a nephew Robert Perston had just died, in February 1878, after being committed to an Auckland mental asylum). He was only aged 50 when he died.

Seth Sam (1868 -1872)

Dr Sam was born in Madras in 1833 and graduated there with an M.R.C.S. in 1854 (aged 21). His served in the military forces in the Crimea (reportedly alongside Florence Nightingale in Therapia Hospital) and was highly praised. When he came to New Zealand in the 1860s he was at first responsible for the health of Maori prisoners and then, in 1865, he joined the Waikato Militia. He set up practice in Cambridge later that year, and after 4 years, moved to Thames in mid 1868 where he immediately had to deal with insolvency problems. He was an Honorary Surgeon to the hospital, and a popular doctor who was considered a 'character', treating the poor without charge and referring to men with some affection as 'noble diggers' or 'horny-handed miners'. He could be assertive and for example, with some validity, questioned the credentials of 'Dr Carl Fischer' of Auckland. He was a member of the Provincial Council when he unexpectedly left Thames in September 1872 for Australia. His career carried on in the same vein as in Thames with just one censure in 1875 for issuing a death certificate without examining the deceased. He died in Forbes, N.S.W., Australia in 1882.

Georges Phillipe Trousseau (1869 -1872)

Dr Trousseau was arguably the most gifted doctor to practice in early Thames. He was born in 1833, the only child of the famous Paris physician and surgeon Armand Trousseau. After a rather adventurous time in the French Revolution at the age of 15, he resumed his medical studies and, once qualified, served in the French Army and then worked with his father gaining much practical and theoretical experience in, for example, the performing of tracheotomies which Armand had pioneered. Unfortunately, his reckless Paris living proved disastrous, he separated from his wife and, after his father’s death in early 1867, departed, penniless, to Australia. He soon moved on, again penniless, from Sydney and sometime in 1869 arrived in Thames. Ellen Fox described him as 'by far the cleverest doctor here' excepting her husband of course, Dr. Alexander Fox (Lush). This was after he had taught Dr. Fox how to perform a tracheotomy. Dr Trousseau himself later described how he 'spent his life in Thames on horseback, earning quite a bit of money; but, imitating his new companions, he bought claim shares on the right, on the left, everywhere as the money arrived, hoping to fall on a good lot, on an extraordinary vein. At this game, he lost what he had won. Tired, seeing no future for him in this country, he listened to the advice of his friends and left for Honolulu'. When he arrived in Hawaii in May 1872, the newspapers announced he was the son of the famous Trousseau and he soon prospered as a doctor, performing the first skin graft in Hawaii, soon being appointed a government doctor and then physician to the Hawaiian Royal Family. His knowledge of epidemiology and appreciation of the germ theory of disease transmission was invaluable in combating smallpox and leprosy. However, like many other medical men of that time, his doctoring was intermittent, and he took on other ventures such as a cattle ranch, a sugar plantation and, later, ostrich farming, none of which proved successful. He professed to having no love of money and, when he died in 1894, possibly of an overdose, he still had not repaid money his wife had lent him in the 1860s when he was down and out in Australia. She contested his will but with limited success as the main benefactor was a woman who he had lived with in a punalua arrangement together with her husband.

Henry Weekes (1868 - 1870)

Henry Weeks born in Devon 1814, qualified in 1836 and first came to New Zealand as Surgeon Superintendent on the Plymouth Company’s ship William Bryan. As well as doctoring in New Plymouth he made scientific observations and did some exploration. After selling his 50 acres for a considerable profit, he commenced the globe-trotting that characterised the rest of his life. After a spell in England he came back to Auckland and farmed on Puketutu Island in the Manukau Harbour. Then he went to San Francisco several years (''patching up arrow wounds'). Back in New Zealand, he performed a pioneering caesarean operation in 1857, joined the Auckland Militia in the 1860s then settled in South Auckland where, as a good friend, he recommended Vicesimus Lush for the Thames Vicarage. Weekes moved to Thames in August 1868 and was appointed as the first 'Senior Medical Officer' of Thames Hospital in November 1868. (There was some controversy later over this position, with Lethbridge, in turn, being appointed in July 1869, but then Weekes seemingly getting the nod, possibly with Lush’s support, in December to share duties). However, in late February 1870 Weekes returned to England and completed his FRCS (at 55), practiced in Southampton for a few years, then in Barcelona and finally retired to England where he died in 1894. Weekes, a lifelong teetotaler, expressed his views in The Lancet on a variety of topics, for example, lax registration of doctors in the UK, vulnerability to sexual accusations by female patients and, most bizarrely, in 1892, a theory that gases emitted after earthquakes had wafted around the world causing the 1891 influenza epidemic.

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