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The Daily News
St. John's, Newfoundland
July 18, 1925

Historical Sketch of
The Progress of
Medicine in Newfoundland



Address by Doctor L. Keegan, President of the Newfoundland Medical Society at the opening of its second annual convention of Monday, July 13, 1925.


It gives me much pleasure to welcome the members of the Profession to our annual medical convention and I can assure our outport friends that we of the city are delighted to meet with them again.  We sincerely hope that your visit will be pleasant as well as profitable.

Since our last convention the Association has lost one of its most active and prominent members, I refer to the late Dr. J. Murphy of St. John's.  His death was particularly sad and grieved us all, especially those who were with him to the last and helped him in his heroic struggle for life.  Cut down in his young manhood and at the beginning of a brilliant career he is mourned not only by those who were dear to him, but by the members of his own profession all over the country.  The Clinical Branch of the Association has already forwarded resolutions of Sympathy.


Today I find myself, in the unenviable position of having to deliver the Presidential address and while I know it is the honour and privilege that goes with the office, I would much rather perform a laparotomy or amputate a limb.  The greatest difficulty is in selecting a subject for an address of this kind, and as precent progress in Medicine and Surgery in other parts of the world is so well known to you all I have decided to stay within the rugged coast line of Britain's oldest colony and attempt to give you a historical sketch of the progression of medicine in Newfoundland.

Medical progress in the great cities of Europe, America and Canada, helped by Universities and backed up by money has of course been rapid and I do not wish to record the few facts I have dug up, as to our progress in the way of comparison or in order to depress you; on the contrary I want to encourage you and to point out that, cut off as we are, from the great University centres and even from each other, without money or philanthropic friends to help us in scientific work and up against insurmountable difficulties all the time, the marvel is that any progress has been made at all, and instead of being downhearted I think we should rejoice, that Medicine in Newfoundland is as advanced as it is today.  It is to the pioneers who struggled in the dark periods of this country's history, that we must reverently take off our hats, for it is only by dipping into the musty past, and picking up bits of history here and there, that we can appreciate the great triumph of being able to hold a Medical Convention in Newfoundland.  Here today at which the North, South, East and West of Newfoundland are represented by highly qualified and efficient practitioners.


To discover the first medical man in Newfoundland, and when they came here, makes it necessary to go back many years, for as far as one can learn none accompanied the first English colonists.  We learn that Guy sailed from Bristol in May, 1610, in the reign of James 1st, he had with him his brother-in-law and 39 colonists and after a fine passage out in 25 days, he sighted their new home in Port de Grave then Bay de Grave in Conception Bay.  The selection for the site of the new colony was the land-locked harbour of Cupids, and here Guy built three houses besides wharves, stores and fishing establishments.  From his letters I conclude there was no medical man with him and one in which he refers to the health of his colonists, is conclusive proof of this, it is written ten months after his arrival.  He says after ten months of all the number who wintered here, there are wanting only four, whereof one Thomas Percy, died of thought, having slain a man in Rochester, which was the cause, being unknown to me until a day before he died, and one John Morris Taylor, miscarried the first of February from a bruise, the third Marmaduke Whittington was never properly well after he had smallpox, which he brought out of Bristol and the fourth William Stone, having at first only a stiffness in one of his knees, kept his bed for ten weeks and would never stir his body, which laziness brought him to his end.  Of the rest four or five have been sick, some three months, some four, who now are better than they were.  All of them, if they had as good will to work as they had good stomachs to their victuals, would long since have been recovered.

Had there been a medical man present no doubt he would have reported on these cases, and the fourth case Stone would have been diagnosed a focal infection and would probably be living today if his colon had been removed.

William Coulston in a letter written in 1613 states that Nicholas Gure's wife was delivered of a lusty boy on March 27 but we can only assume she delivered herself.


In 1625 Lord Baltimore was given a charter from James 1st and five years later he established a Colony at Ferryland, he did a good deal of fighting with the French, but there is no mention of a doctor in any of his letters and I can only conclude that during the reign of Charles 1st and the administration of Cromwell 1625-1660, there was no medical man in Newfoundland, although the British inhabitants had spread themselves, not only around the eastern coast, but some had gone beyond Bonavista as far as Notre Dame Bay and some had made their residence in Placentia.

In the reign of Charles 2nd in 1662, a French ship, full of men and women, put into Grand Placentia where she landed a great number of soldiers and passengers, who fortified the harbour with 18 guns.  Up to this date no Frenchman had lived in Newfoundland during the winter, and the first resident military of any kind, were those who garrisoned Placentia in that year.  The place was strongly fortified, was referred to as the Gibraltar of North America and although attacked by a powerful English fleet under Commander Williams and others, Placentia was never captured, it is quite probable that a doctor accompanied the first contingent to Placentia.  It is certain there was one stationed there a few years after, moreover a small hospital was erected on the town side of Placentia, the site being near the present post office, and the hospital was maintained for years.  We may therefore conclude that the first Medical man and first hospital on the island were both French.


About the beginning of 1703 a permanent garrison was established in St. John's, this garrison was under the command of Major Lloyd, who apparently was a very poor specimen of humanity.  He treated the soldiers badly, robbed them of their pay, and did many other iniquitous things.  A petition for his removal was sent to the Lords Commissioner for Trade and Plantation in London, and this petition contains the first reference I can find, to a British medical man, for amongst the charges against Lloyd, which numbers seventeen, the third is put down as barbarity to the Surgeon.

In 1708 St. John's was attacked by the French and I find that Lloyd and the garrison, including the Surgeon were taken prisoners and marched to Placentia.  This Army Surgeon was the first British doctor stationed here.  Later on when the French vacated and St. John's was re-fortified and soldiers of the regular army were here, there were Army surgeons with them, moreover any settlers who might be sick, received medical aid from the doctor of the Ships of War during the cod fishing season, and it is likely that Ferryland, Carbonear and Trinity Harbour, where Military were also stationed, had some Army Doctors.  In 1762 the second year of George the 3rd's reign, there was much fighting here, St. John's, Carbonear and Trinity Harbour, where Military was also stationed, had some Army doctors.  Were captured by the French and recaptured by the English but towards the end of this Sovereign's reign things improved, and Newfoundland began to rise from the ashes, the old days of tyranny, corruption and violence giving place to the brighter days of civilization and progress.  We had our first roads built, there was some attempt at education.  Representative Government was allowed us, a court of justice established, and in this reign we hear of our first civil Medical Practitioners.  The men who practised medicine in Newfoundland before the 1800 year were: Jonathan Ogden, Francis Bradshaw, Doctor Mayne, Rev. M. Dingle, David Duggan, John McCurdy, and a doctor named Moore who was a Jersey man.


The first and most remarkable of these was Jonathan Ogden, who rose from a humble hospital position in Halifax, N. S. to that of Chief Justice of Newfoundland.  He came here in 1874 bearing a letter of introduction from Major General Campbell, the Governor of Nova Scotia; a few years after, he was appointed to the Civil Branch of Ordinance, occupying a room at Fort William, as a surgeon.  I find from a letter dated October 1792, the following:  Mr. Jonathan Ogden, surgeon, having represented that the room he occupied at Fort William as a surgery, since his appointment to the Civil Branch of Ordinance, has been appropriated to the Clerk of Works, requests permission to build a room to adjoin the end of the quarters he now occupies, at his own expense.  This permission was granted by Governor King.

In 1794 Ogden was made a magistrate in St. John's.  In 1798 he was appointed magistrate for the island and keeper of records for the district of St. John's, and later on in the same year it is recommended that he be paid a salary for his services.  In 1799 Ogden was appointed by Governor Waldegrave to the office of Naval Officer for the whole island.  In 1802 three years later after this appointment I find the following communication:  George the third to our trusty and well loved Jonathan Ogden, greeting, do by these presents constitute and appoint you to be our chief justice of our Supreme Court of judicature in our Island of Newfoundland, George, Rex, 29th May, 1802. Shortly after this, Ogden's health broke down for I find a letter from Governor Gambier of the Right Honourable Lord Hobart asking that Ogden be given leave of absence.  This was granted but the ship he sailed on was lost with all hands, and thus ended a remarkable man and a remarkable career.


Doctor Francis Bradshaw was justice of the Peace at Trepassey in 1792 and afterwards removed to Placentia where he practised medicine, he also had the responsibility of ministering the law, for which he received no remuneration.  It is an illustration of the difficulties and hardships these men had to endure, always supposed to work for honour and glory and a word of thanks that might be handed out to them from time to time.  For eighteen years Dr. Bradshaw did duty as magistrate without pay and then had the temerity to memorialize the Governor asking for some remuneration.  His letter is dated June 1813 and the reply of Governor R. E. Keats is as follows:

Fort Townsend
July 29, 1813

I have received your memorial.  Though perfectly willing to acknowledge the advantage which the Government and the people at large derive from the services of a magistrate, who exercise authority with the same justice and integrity, which I believe you have done, the situation nevertheless is neither without example or totally destitute of those rewards which are peculiarly gratifying to one's feelings and which I doubt not you have often experienced.  Though I willingly admit your merit, I cannot acknowledge a parallel in the labours of the magistrate of the populous town and district of St. John's and those of Placentia and much as I should regret and feel the loss of your services in the Commission of the Peace, I nevertheless cannot entirely approve or consent to recommend to His Majesty's government the memorial.

Signed R. E. Keats, Governor

Within a month the same government sent Bradshaw the following interesting Placebo.

I send you by the PHEASANT 2 nine-pounder guns together with a proportion of powder and ammunition, which I shall be anxious to hear have been mounted, and which I doubt not, the zeal and patriotism of the inhabitants of Placentia, will induce them, to make the best use of, in case the enemy should give them an opportunity. You will please to sign and return the receipt by the Pheasant.

I find no record of Dr. Bradshaw's reply to this document.  Bradshaw continued to practice in Placentia until 1825.


The Rev. M. Dingle, Missioner and doctor worked in Bay Bulls and Ferryland in the year 1794.  Here he was also in the capacity of Magistrate without pay, in his case the higher motive complex was better developed than in Bradshaw, for apparently he did not memorialize anyone until he was penniless.  This man had many hard experiences as the following interesting clipping shows:  When in 1796 the French burned Bay Bulls, they took on board their ship JUPITER, Magistrate Dingle, who was also doctor.  Other prisoners were also taken off and brought to St. Pierre, where they were set afloat in boats to find their way home as best as they could.  Apparently he found his way home but also found that his property was burned and he was penniless.  I find that then he petitioned the governor William Waldegrave, for remuneration for past services.  The Governor, who apparently did not believe, in hard cash transactions, wrote to His Grace the Duke of Portland, the following magnanimous letter,

That Mr. Dingle's character in Newfoundland is that of a man equally honest and unfortunate.  He has performed the duties of Magistrate for many years in the island to the satisfaction of the inhabitants, and lost his whole property while holding that office, when the French invaded, and has some claim for his loss.  If your Grace will recommend him to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign parts if found qualified on the examination for the post of missionary it would relieve a worthy man from misery, and second the views of the society.


To His Grace the Duke of Portland

As to David Duggan and John McCurdy, both of them were practising at St. John's in 1797, the former is chronicled as acting surgeon to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  I have copies of petitions from both these men asking the Governor for permission to enclose pieces of ground. Dr. Mayne practised in Bonavista town in the year 1796.  Coming then to the early part of 1800, we find the name of Dr. William Carson and he figures among the supermen of our profession, who unhonoured and unsung have passed away.  Born in Kircudbrightshire, Scotland, he graduated at the University of Edinburgh, practised in Birmingham for a short time and arrived in this colony in the year 1808.  He was a man of great parts, highly intellectual, of tremendous energy, a fearless fighter and a great medical man.  He was not taking the treatment endured by the men of his own profession, who went before him, he intended to dictate policies when necessary, not to blindly obey, and his outstanding ability and university training placed him far above the quarter deck legislators of that day, who ruled the country with a rod of iron.  Carson was a deep student of the British constitution, knew that it did not mean the despotic system he saw around him and he had scarcely settled down as a resident of St. John's before the thunder from his pen was echoed over the island through the columns of the Newfoundland Sentinel, the colony's first newspaper.  It was through Carson's efforts that the Floating Courts were abolished and a proper system of British justice brought in.  It was through Carson's great ability as a statesman, that representative form of government was secured for Newfoundland.


From various bits of correspondence I have read, Carson appears to have been the prime mover in every kind of reform and whenever he was jumped on, by the local rulers of the day, he appealed over their heads directly to the members of Parliament of the United Kingdom.  In one of these appeals, on behalf of the inhabitants of Newfoundland, he says "The ignorance of that English Minister of the Crown, who enquired what kind of trees grew on the Bankss of Newfoundland, is truly characteristic of that defective, information which is still so apparent in the policy observed towards this settlement." Continuing, he says fearlessly, the inhabitants of Newfoundland know that you do not know them, that they have hitherto been represented to you through a medium, by which they have been distorted and obscured.  It is the object of this letter to remove the veil that has concealed them and to expose the evil genius that has hitherto blasted the fortunes of this country. Around 1810, when Carson was writing this way, the population of Newfoundland was 70,000, yet when the merchants and inhabitants decided to address the Prince Regent on their grievances, Carson was the man selected to send forward their petition with a covering letter of his own, which for its boldness and deep knowledge, stands out as one of the greatest documents written in the history of this country.  Touching on the ignorance and prejudice of the Vice-Admirals, who then governed the inhabitants, he says:  "A high-minded Admiral endowed with nearly absolute power, cannot be expected to submit to the painful and humiliating task of learning; to appear ignorant of these high duties which he is called on to perform, would be far too degrading for so dignified a personage so enveloped in ignorance he therefore assumes an impossible character, and the dignity of magisty is degraded in the character of its Representative."   Such writing in days when an act of independence might be arraigned as an act of mutiny, illustrates the patriotism and character of this man.

Very shortly after Carson arrived he started an agitation for a hospital in St. John's and in 1811 a committee was appointed to deal with the matter.  The following advertisement appeared in the papers of that year: St. John's October 14, 1811.  The committee appointed by the Grand Jury for the management of an hospital for sick persons, intended to be built, take this public manner of requesting the attention of merchants and other masters of servants, and also supplies of those men, to stop one penny in the pound of each man's wages on a/c of the hospital, and such monies as may be collected are requested to be paid into the hands of the Treasurer.

Signed William Carson, M. D.
Nathan Parker
Thomas Williams
Nicholas Gill
Alex. Boucher
John Dunscomb
Thomas Meagher
James Melledge
David Tasker, Treasurer

This petition in 1811 engineered by William Carson, was the first attempt in Newfoundland for the establishment of a civil hospital and will be referred to when considering Hospitals later in this address.  When representative government replaced the system that Carson fought against, he became representative of St. John's and was also speaker of the Assembly.  These positions he held until the subversion of our free constitution by Lord Stanley, after which Carson started the fight for liberty again, but did not live to see the days of responsible government.  On the evening before he died, he sent for the editor of the PATRIOT, Robert John Parsons, he asked him to stir up the friends of the people, to recover their rights, and win back by constitutional means, the Great Charter of which they had been so unjustly deprived.  From his obituary I take the following: Hon. William Carson may be said to be the first public character who ever departed life in Newfoundland.  To him in conjunction with a few others, Newfoundlanders owe they have obtained in politics, rights.  Carson sacrificed many who might have been their friends, and relinquished an easily made fortune, surely such a man should not be consigned to the tomb without some kind of public testimonial to adorn the last resting place of one whose life was exhausted in the public cause.  We do not think that a public monument should be erected to his memory, at the expense of the Colony.  It would be a tribute to worth, which the future historians of Terra Nova, would not fail to record to our credit, as a people, and to which posterity would be an invaluable memento.  Alas, gentlemen, nothing was done and the only memento I know of, to perpetuate the memory of this great member of our profession was the christening of one of the wards in the General Hospital after his name.  It may not yet be too late, through the influence of the members of this Association to erect in the Hospital grounds a small monument, by which posterity may remember him.


It must not be thought that St. John's was the only spot on the island where medical enthusiasm was to be found, in the early part of 1800, for while Carson was fighting for the relief of suffering humanity there, the banner of Aesculapius had been unfurled in many of the outports.

Even before Carson's arrival in the country, Burin is found looking after her sick, under the direction of Stephenson.  He was there in 1804 and I find that his Commission as Justice of the Peace is dated 1805.  Stephenson was an ex-naval doctor, when he decided to settle in Burin.  He brought his family out from England so he must have been middle aged at that time.  He was an excellent doctor and a very accomplished man, being a great musician.  Practising with Stephenson was an Irishman called Row, who was also an ex-naval doctor.  Row was described as a man of very much wit, but as unfair charges are always being hurled at the Irish you must take this statement cum grano salis.  Row's wife had been present when the French burned Bay Bulls, but apparently it did not affect her nerves for she lived to the ripe age of 96.  These men were succeeded in Burin by the Morans, Frank and James, both Irishmen.  Frank spent his whole career at Burin.  James practised for some years at Brigus, but returned to Burin as Magistrate in 1864.  He died at the age of 73.  He was a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin.  He is described in an old record as well loved and a very charming and cultivated gentleman.

Before leaving Brigus he was presented with a very valuable watch which after his death was sent to his brother in law, who was an ex Lord Mayor of London.  His brother Frank predeceased him by seven years at the age of 75.  When James felt his health failing he requested Dr. Herbert Smith to take over the district and once more Burin was fortunate in obtaining an able medical man.  Smith was known to many present here today.  He was a graduate of Harvard a man of exceptional ability, of sterling character and devoted to his profession.  Over twenty years ago I had the pleasure of meeting him at Burin, where together we performed a trephining operation for depressed fracture of the skull.  His skill and great knowledge impressed me very much and his account of the successful Caesarian operation performed on a very crippled woman, without an anaesthetist or skilled assistant stands out as a triumph in the medical annals of Newfoundland.  I saw the woman when I was over there.  She was a very severe case of Potts disease of the lower dorsal vertebrae, her body being almost at right angles to her legs when she stood erect.  The woman's name by an extraordinary coincidence was Caesar and when the child was delivered the doctor called her Jane Porro Caesar, and Jane is the mother of a family today.  This operation was performed thirty three years ago, the year of the great fire.  It was the first laparotomy in this country.

In the quiet little village of Burin and its surrounding rugged hills, Herbert Smith spent his life in relieving suffering humanity and when the call came he passed away without any signal honours, but his name will be remembered by the medical profession of this country for many generations to come.


Conception, Trinity, Bonavista and Placentia Bays also had medical men in these early days.  The appointment of doctors as magistrates appears to have been in the usual course adopted, this being due to the fact that they were the most highly educated men to be found, so this custom has been handed down from past generations to the present time.  I find the Commission of magistracy was issued by the Governor to John Edgar.  Greenspond, early in 1800, for Dr. Edgar writes a letter to Governor Keats dated July 1813 asking to be relieved from the unpleasant situation of Magistrate of Greenspond and states:  "I have been censured by illiterate and unprincipled persons for discharging my duty as an upright and impartial man ought to do."


Bonavista town had medical men as far back as 1796 in the person of Dr. Mayne, an ex-naval surgeon, who practised there in that year.  He brought up his family there, his daughter marrying Dr. Stirling of Harbour Grace.  He is supposed to be buried in the Anglican cemetery at Bonavista.  Following him came James Oakley, an Englishman who went to Bonavista as Medical Officer on a French warship.  His granddaughter is living in Bonavista today.  For some years before his death Oakley was paralysed and was carried in a chair to visit his patients.  This chair and the medicine case that always accompanied him are still in existence.  He died in 1829 at the age of 74.  For forty years his remains lay in the Anglican cemetery but as the grave was at the entrance to the new Anglican church, the remains were removed to the Methodist cemetery the relatives refusing to have a good man tramped upon.

John Skelton, Snr. was a contemporary of Oakley.  He died in 1859 leaving two sons, Doctors George and John, who succeeded him in Bonavista.

In 1874 Dr. Forbes, father of our worthy Vice President took up practice there, being a partner with Skelton.  Forbes was a graduate of Harvard and had the great luck of being taught his anatomy by Oliver Wendell Holmes, and of knowing him personally.  He was a man of much ability and had a very high reputation as a practitioner.  Dr. Forbes died in 1918 at the age of 69, forty four years of which he spent in Bonavista.

The first practitioner in Harbour Grace was Moore, a Jersey man, referred to before, he was succeeded by Dr. Sterling, as the following clipping shows:  "Mr. Sterling, Surgeon, Harbour Grace having applied to me for permission to occupy a piece of land in the rear of that which he at present holds is granted permission." Governor Hamilton, November 14, 1818

Sterling may have been there for some time previous to this date.  He was an Irishman of much ability, was the founder and the first president of the Harbour Grace Benevolent Irish Society and was the life of the second city.  He married the daughter of Dr. Mayne of Bonavista town, and in his old days he and his wife went to Twillingate where he passed the remainder of his days with his son William, who was a medical graduate of Edinburgh University.  All the present generation of Sterlings are descendants of Sterling of Harbour Grace.  The next practitioner in the second town was J. S. Taylor who resided there in 1832.  Following him came Lombard, Molloy, Dow and Allan, senior; both of these were graduates of Edinburgh.  Allan first settled at Brigus having returned there from an arctic expedition, then came Thompson, Toussaint, who was educated at Paris, William Allan, Junior, and finally Martin who had previously been in Heart's Content.  In 1832 there was a cholera scare and public meetings were held all over Conception Bay, subscriptions were raised and a hospital was built in Harbour Grace on the Carbonear Road.  This Hospital was afterwards used as a barracks for soldiers up to 1862, when it was given over as a residence for married police.


Carbonear was also well looked after from a medical standpoint in the early days and I find the names of Taylor (who afterwards went to Harbour Grace), Fenion, Donegan, Hanrahan and Thompson.  Hanrahan was a native of New Ross, Ireland.  He first went to Burin, but later settled in Carbonear.  On the twentieth of January 1844, he perished in a snow storm returning from a sick call.  At the time he was accompanied by one man, who by walking all night around a tree succeeded in keeping alive, but Doctor Hanrahan was found quite dead.  The late Mr. Justice Emerson was a grandson of Hanrahan.


Bay Roberts possessed William Fraser a graduate of Harvard University.  He is well remembered in Bay Roberts now.  Several of his brothers were Doctors and they were all sons of the Rev. Donald Fraser, who was the first Presbyterian Minister in Newfoundland.  The present Dr. Fraser of St. John's is a grandson.  William Fraser died in 1889.


Heart's Content was slower than the other settlements in obtaining medical aid for the first general practitioner there was Dr. Buchanan in 1864. He was followed by Dr. Martin.  Martin was well known in Dublin, being a graduate in arts and medicine of Trinity College and was the chosen one out of three hundred applicants in London, when the Anglo-American Telegraph Company made their first appointment in Heart's Content, this was in 1865.  Martin left Heart's Content in 1880 afterwards practising in Harbour Grace when he was not with the Reids on construction work.  Dr. Anderson, father of the present well known doctors, Arthur and Tom, took over the work at Heart's Content in that year.  He was a graduate of Glasgow and had the privilege of spending some time in Lord Lister's wards at the Royal Infirmary, in company with the late William McEwen.  Anderson went to Brigus originally at the instigation of the Grieves of Greenock and his responsibilities extended from Brigus to Kelligrews.  As a surgeon he had a very high reputation all over Conception and Trinity Bays.  Dr. Leonard Smith practised in Heart's Content in 1876 but died the following year.


Turning to Fortune Bay we find Harbour Breton being looked after by Dr. Clinton.  He was born in London, England in 1815, graduated from the London College of Surgeons in 1837 and came out to Newman & Company.  Shortly afterwards he died quite young, at the age of 42.  Dr. Knight of this city is a grandson of Dr. Clinton.  Dr. Sheehan was also stationed at Harbour Breton.  He was a native of Waterford, Ireland.


In Placentia proper, Francis Bradshaw referred to before, practised until 1825.  He was an Irishman, an ex-naval surgeon and was succeeded by his son Francis L. Bradshaw who was there from 1825 until 1873 when he died at the age of 74.  Next came Adam MacKen - he had been practising in St. Mary's but was only in Placentia three years when he died.  In 1880 McKendrick took up the work.  He was a remarkable man, of a very retiring disposition.  He led a humble life, devoting himself altogether to the sick of Placentia Bay.  I remember first meeting him in 1890 at his little surgery in Placentia, when he told me of the hardships and trials he had, often in storms on land and sea, travelling on horseback through blizzards to relieve some suffering patient very little remuneration for the work he did, but withal perfectly satisfied and happy.  Several years before he died, he suffered from malignant disease of the stomach, for which a gastro-enterostomy was performed, but the disease recurred and in spite of his sufferings he carried on work up to a few months before his death.  He was beloved by the people and his name will be long remembered throughout Placentia Bay.


And now we will return to St. John's, where in 1811 the inhabitants were somewhat interested in establishing a hospital for sick persons, and this a result of Carson's agitations.  Prior to 1811 the only hospitals in existence were military ones and I will deal with these first.  The military hospitals were used almost exclusively for the treatment of soldiers of the garrison, and from all the information obtainable, I am convinced there must have been two.  One, a small one, was situated at the foot of Patrick Street on the site of the present gas house.  Moreover there was a military burial ground in a line directly south from this, at the foot of the South Side hills, because some years ago, when excavating grounds in this spot, workmen found skeletons and the remains of coffins together with many military buttons.  It is quite reasonable to conclude that this building may have been used for infectious diseases only, being at the time isolated from the main garrison, which was situated at Fort William the site of the present skating and curling rinks.  The other and principal and military hospital and undoubtedly the first built was situated on Military Road between Government House and Fort William.  This building I find was sold by public auction on June 11, 1852, and was then taken down.  To replace this a new military hospital was built on Forest Road, on the site of the present General Hospital, and forms part of that institution today.  It contained, I should say about fifteen or twenty beds and sometimes civilians were treated there, and it is interesting to note that in 1913 an old man was admitted to the General who told me he had been treated in the Military Hospital for a fractured leg when seven years old being run over by an officer who was driving to the shooting grounds in Torbay.


The townspeople of St. John's being now forced to make provision for the Hospital treatment of civilians, acted on the proclamation issued by Sir J. T. Duckworth on September 30, 1811, which proclamation quickly followed on the notice published by Carson and others, and on June 4, 1813, the foundation stone was laid at the river head of St. John's in the grounds now known as Victoria Park.  The Governor at the time was Sir R. G. Keats.  It was a red letter day in the history of the town; there was a procession from the Court House to the site and a speech was made by Chief Justice Colelough, the prayer was offered up by the Rev. D. Noland of the St. John's Episcopal Church.  On the foundation stone was affixed a plate with the following inscription:  "The foundation stone of the Newfoundland Hospital was laid by His Excellency Sir Richard Goodwin Keats, on the 4th of June in the year of Our Lord, 1813 and in the 52nd year of the reign of our sovereign Lord the King, in the presence of a numerous assembly of the friends of the Institution." The cost of the construction of the building was 2135 pounds sterling.  It is gratifying to observe that in these days the labourer took his tot, honestly and above board, for amongst the items of expenditure I find without any camouflage whatever,19 pounds sterling to cover rum for the men who hauled the frame. Since the introduction of higher education and prohibition, such items generally appear under the head of stationery.


The first medical men charged with the Superintendence of the Hospital were William Carson and Dr. N. Power.  They were visiting physicians only, there being no resident doctor during the first sixty years of the Hospital's growth.  The first medical report issued, covered the period from June 10 to August 30, 1814.  It stated that 40 persons had been admitted to the Institution; that w1(?) had been discharged cured; that two had died and that seventeen remained in the Institution.  The Committee in charge reported that the cost of operations for this period had been 210 pounds.  In 1820 there were black clouds on the horizon and a public meeting was called to take into consideration the accounts and state of the Newfoundland hospital.  There was a balance against the institution then of 80.12.0d. unprovided for.  One of the resolutions passed at the meeting was to the effect: That any person who may hereafter pay into the hands of the Treasurer the sum of six pounds should have the privilege of sending into the hospital one patient for a month free of charge. Another resolution was to the effect That Drs. Carson, Warner and Kielly be requested to report to the Committee what utensils may be necessary for running the institution. Surgeon Warner appears to have been in charge of the Institution at this time, but I cannot find much about him.  Kielly was appointed on the staff in 1818 and was connected with the hospital for years after.  Edward Kielly was well known in St. John's as a surgeon, he was an ex-naval man, and was a student under David Coughlin who was medical officer in charge of the Military Hospital around 1815.  He was somewhat of a musician as I discovered from the following rhyme published when he was at the pinnacle of fame:  "Oh did you see Dr. Kielly O!  His boots all polished so highly, O!  With his three cocked hat and his double bow knot, And his fiddle to coax the ladies, O!" It was a desperate fight to keep the hospital going in these times and as money could not be raised to build another institution the Insane were bundled in with the sick.  I take the following from a report of the Grand Jury to the Governor in 1835: That the original principle on which the hospital was founded in the year 1813, has for want of funds, been wholly departed from and that it has for several years past assumed the character of a boarding house rather than that of a public hospital. That the apartments allotted to the lunatics are very unsuitable, being so near to the sick wards that the lives of the patients have been endangered and from the total want of fires and the open state of the building, it is only wonderful that these poor creatures have not been frozen in their beds. This document is signed by Robert Job who was foreman of the Grand Jury.  In 1836 the speech of the Governor at the opening of the Legislature contains the following: the Hospital at Riverhead in the present state is I regret to say rather a disgrace than a credit to the community.  I commend it to your protection and will joyfully resign any rights of Government therein, provided you will convert it into a public institution. By this means he meant that the Colonial Government should take charge and finance the Institution but nothing seems to have been done for years, except the passing and repealing of acts for the relief of the sick and disabled persons.  In 1838 I find the appointment of Dr. Sam Carson, Dr. H. Stabb and Dr. O'Dwyer as District surgeons.  They together with Dr. Kielly formed the visiting staff of the hospital at this time.  Dr. Rochfort's name appears in this year also as District Surgeon.  He was an Irishman who entered largely into the public life of St. John's and who together with Sam Carson fought hard for Responsible Government and afterwards was in the Legislative Council.


In 1845 some progress was made, for in this year the insane were removed from the hospital to a place called Palko House on the Waterford Bridge Road.  Dr. H. Stabb father of the late Dr. Fred Stabb was appointed in charge.  In 1847 the Hospital Directors appointed Dr. Bunting as Keeper of the Institution at a salary of 100 a year.  He did not reside there, but had general supervision of the place, but typhus fever broke out in the institution that year and Bunting died from the disease contracted while discharging his duties.  He was succeeded by his brother who held the position of keeper until 1856 when Dr. Rochfort was appointed.  I remember the second Dr. Bunting well - a typical old time physician - always wore a tall hat and white gloves when visiting the patients.  Dr. Bunting was 80 years of age when he died.


Hospital affairs were in a bad way in 1850 and the directors memorialized the Assembly, showing that the liabilities of the institution were 536.14.9 and the assets 97.13.7.  The Assembly appointed a select committee to enquire into matters.  The chairman of the Committee was P. F. Little.  The medical men who gave evidence were Edward Kielly, Samuel Carson, John Rochfort, C. H. Renouf, F. Bunting, Joseph Shea; William Allan and Henry Stabb.  They all urged that the St. John's hospital should be converted into a General Hospital and financed by the government but that there should be a resident medical man.  Dr. Stabb in his evidence made the following statement: It would require probably 1000 pounds per annum to run a General Hospital along the lines I suggest, and that would include all charges and expenses, and such an institution would merit all the wants of the country. The directors' grievance was that charity patients, a source of revenue to the institution, from the government, had been removed from the hospital, and placed in boarding houses, the average rate allowed for their up keep being eight pence a day.  Thus history repeats itself.  As a result of the select Committee's report the colonial government financed the Hospital until 1855 and then took it over as a government institution.


In 1870 the garrison was removed from St. John's and the military hospital was handed over to the Government. The staff and patients of the Riverhead hospital were removed to the Forest Road Hospital.  At the time of the transfer Dr. C. Crowdy and Dr. C. H. Renouf were the surgeons in charge and Miss Cowan was matron.  Dr. Crowdy was well known in St. John's.  He was the first resident medical superintendent at the General.  He was an Englishman of much ability, a member of the Legislative council, Dr. Renouf studied under Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform, and was the first medical man to use chloroform in this country.  The operation was a tracheotomy and the patient made a good recovery.  Dr. Renouf was the father of the present Bishop Renouf of St. Georges.  After the Riverhead Hospital was vacated in 1871 it was used as a fever hospital until 1888 when the Municipal authorities, decided it was a menace to the health of the town and its death was almost as historic as its birth.  On this occasion the public turned out in mass, preceded by the St. John's Fire Brigade.  The building was set ablaze, and the brigade hosed the neighbouring houses to prevent a general conflagration.  Cultures were not grown here in those days, but the older inhabitants say you could hear the bacteria groaning a long long distance away on this "Dies Irae".  No rum ration was allowed.


I arrived in Newfoundland the year Crowdy died and Shea was appointed superintendent.  The hospital then was small and poorly equipped, but plenty of good work was done.  I remember being present at the first laparotomy performed at the Institution.  I think it was in 1893.  Dr. Shea was the operator and the case was an ovarian cyst.  There was no operating room or qualified nurses attached to the hospital but nevertheless the operation was a success.  Amongst the men attached to the hospital during my days in Newfoundland who have passed to the Great Beyond, were Henry Shea, Alfred Harvey and Fred Stabb.  Henry Shea was the pioneer here in surgery.  Taking over the hospital when it was in a very crude state, he saw the hospital up to the present Victoria Wing and the opening of the first operating room.  This work was achieved by the women of Newfoundland in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria.  He also helped in the opening of the four great wards named after men identified with the growth of our present institution.  Dr. Shea resigned to take a well earned pension in 1909 after twenty years of strenuous work.  He remained in St. John's and died in 1919.


Alfred Harvey was a particularly brilliant physician and accoucheur.  We were personal friends for many years.  As a diagnostician he was ahead of us all.  Keen with a logical brain and excellent judgment he could solve the most difficult cases, and in his death Newfoundland lost a very able medical man.  He was the son of the very Rev. Moses Harvey the historian.


Fred Stabb is remembered by many here today.  He was an all round sportsman and a very charming companion.  Shortly after his appointment to the Hospital he displayed much ability as an operator and had he lived would have become a brilliant surgeon.  He contracted a severe attack of laryngeal diphtheria, form which he really never recovered, although he worked on for several years after.  But to the great sorrow of his many friends, he passed away while quite a young man.


And now gentlemen I must apologize for the length of this address but the blame should be attached to those who suggested my writing it.  We have travelled back through many decades of Newfoundland's medical history, and looked into the darkest periods and perhaps have awakened amongst some of you, memories of the musty past.  Some of us here have already entered and many are approaching the sere and yellow, then energy begins to wane, others have straightened out in the course, the goal of their ambition in sight while more at restive at the starting point full of life and hope.  To all I would say to visualize the past makes us more content with the present and that the men who have gone before were the men who cleared the ground and sowed the seed that enables the present generation of medical men to reap the comparative advantages and luxuries by which we are surrounded.  If we consider the disadvantages, the poverty, the trials and hardships these men endured, it is doubtful if we as a profession today measure up at all, and it is only by remembering such things that we can rise above the bickerings and petty jealousies that are constantly occurring; it is only by acting more and talking less and by putting our shoulders to the wheel, that the success achieved by others can be pushed along to greater perfection.


In Newfoundland today we have many able medical men scattered over the island, who have formed themselves into an association and I appeal to all of you to keep that Association alive, it is only in its infancy, but you can make it the greatest, most influential and most beneficial Association in the country.  That cannot be done by a few, there must be unity and loyalty, there must be strength and enthusiasm amongst all.  A better spirit must arise amongst us, hitherto we have kept within ourselves, our personal interests absorbing all our time, individually we have been passed over and forgotten in the vital question of public health and medical institutions and this is entirely due to our lack of initiative and energy.

Collectively and as a recognised Association, we can change all this and every member of the Newfoundland Medical Association must recognize his responsibility.  We are the Custodians of the people, where the great questions of public health and medical institutions are concerned, and it is up to us to assert ourselves to offer our advice and our influence to improve health conditions all over the island.  There cannot be happiness without health and there cannot be health without hygienic surroundings nor can there be prosperity and we all want to see Newfoundland healthy and prosperous.  She is a great country to live in.  She has the healthiest climate in the world and although medical men may have better facilities and easier times in other parts, there is a fascination about this old spot that captivates and holds one.  Philip Goldsmith was right when he said:

There lies a land to the west and north
Wither the bravest men set forth
And daunted not by sea or ice
They came at length to a Paradise
They called it Newfoundland at sight
It's rather the land
of Heart's Delight.

And in conclusion I wish to say that for three years, I have borne the brunt of the work and the responsibility in connection with the building up of the Association, and while I do not wish to complain I think a change would relieve me and at the same time be in the best interests of the Association.  You will have the opportunity of selecting and electing new officers before the Convention closes and whoever my successor may be he will have my heartiest congratulations and best wishes for success.

copied December 1969


Page contributed by: Barbara McGrath (
Page transcribed by: Ivy F. Benoit (January 2001)
Page revised: Oct. 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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