Old Bega Hospital - One Hundred Years of Service

Part 1

In 1989 Bega District Hospital celebrated 100 years of service to the people of the Far South Coast of New South Wales.

Celebrations included a Centenary Ball attended by the Minister for Health, a successful Hospital Fete, a staff gathering, and the striking of a commemorative medallion. As well, special fundraising initiated by Far South Coast communities provided special equipment for patient care areas.

By Centenary Day, 18th April 1989, a History of Bega District Hospital was finished and is assembled here for future and further interest. It does not purport to be a complete History and so corrections, photographs, and additions would be very welcome.

In 1989 the Hospital and the Celebrations were a tribute to all those past and present who established, developed, served and supported the Hospital. The need to continue all these efforts remains.

R F Kearns

Chief Executive Officer

History compiled and written by Mr Charles Day.
Research by Mr Bob Westmacott and Mr John Rheinberger.
Sources: Mitchell Library and Bega District News

Photo: The original hospital building

The beginning of a district hospital 1876 - 1910

Originally published in the 100th annual report of the Bega District Hospital, 1987

Also available as a pdf file (0.5MB) in original format with photos.

Photo: Rear view of the original hospital, built 1889

The original moves to provide a public hospital in the district commenced in 1876, but due to a lack of enthusiasm quickly died away due to a lack of unanimity among the people of the day. The need was there for such an institution and efforts continued to be made by some members of the original committee over the intervening years with little success.

One problem which caused the divisions was the proposed location of the structure as some wanted it here, others there, this spot suited, that spot didn't. The Committee members tired of the arguing and faded away. All the time, however, people suffering from accidents within the district had to rely on the charity of others or the forbearance of hoteliers in Bega where the only doctors resided.

The movement revived in 1883 temporarily but again flagged when a decision could not be reached as to obtaining a Government grant of land or buying same.

The Governor by proclamation in April 1886 set aside five acres of the Bega Permanent Common for the purposes of a hospital. The papers of the day when reporting this action stated that the site was quite useless, too far from the town and years would elapse before a building was erected there.

This lack of decisiveness on the part of the locals could well have continued had Bega not had the good fortune of having Leslie McArthur appointed as Acting Police Magistrate. Mr McArthur had had previous experience in country hospitals and prevailed upon the Mayor, Mr Rawlinson, to convene a public meeting to get the ball rolling. This was called for 12th June 1886. Mr McArthur also wrote a most informative letter to the local press of the day setting out how such an institution could be commenced and funded.

The public meeting was held and well attended and some members of the original committee got their noses out of joint at this 'Johnnie come lately upstart'.

However, for the sake of the district it was fortunate that the meeting overcame any pettiness and achieved the formation of an active committee to commence fundraising. Mr McArthur also laid before the public meeting the rules of his extensive search into the formation, construction and operation of a number of country public hospitals.

The public meeting resolved upon several Important matters:-

The meeting concluded with hearty thanks to Mr McArthur for his efforts - he having been elected Secretary at the meeting.

Over the ensuing months, the committee commenced fundraising. Collectors were appointed for areas within the district and the town of Bega was divided into sections allocated to two members of the committee per section. A grand ball was held to raise funds in Bega, at Cobargo minstrels performed and at Candelo and Kameruka functions provided additional funds.

Photo: Good attendance at an early hospital function

The committee also actively pursued the question of design of the hospital and Dr Evershed provided a sketch of a building housing two wards each of eight beds, committee and waiting room, warders and matrons room, storeroom, dispensary, kitchen, laundry, mortuary, bathroom and offices The estimated cost was 1,000 in wood and 1,500 in brick.

The committee decided to seek further plans also better access to the site.

A Government grant of 750 was sought and details of the funds raised was requested by the Government as the grant was on a for basis. As the project was, by August, developing to the stage where a report could be furnished to subscribers, they were reminded that under the Public Hospitals Act it was necessary for a subscriber to be paid up to the tune of 1.

By October 1886 the committee had in hand 350/7/9 and it was recommended to the meeting of subscribers that a Government grant of 1,000 be applied for and that the Government be requested to resume land on the western side of the site for access.

The meeting was also advised that the plans prepared by Messrs Bolster and Justilius [or Bolster and Justelius], Architects, of Sydney had been adopted and subsequently approved by the Inspector of Public Charities. The proposed construction was to be of brick for the administration and kitchen with the wards to be of wood lath and plaster lined.

The committee also submitted to a subsequent meeting of subscribers a set of rules for the conduct of the hospital. These were the predecessors of the hospital's current by-laws.

By December 1886 matters had progressed to the stage where trustees were required to be appointed.

Messrs H Wren, T Rawlinson, I D'Arcy, P H Wood, G P Kernson and W Scott were subsequently elected, the latter as Treasurer.

A committee of management to oversight plans, call for tenders, etc was also formed.

The raising of the necessary funds was a slow task and by the end of January 1887 only 500 was to hand. Much more had been promised but had not come to light due to a downturn in the economy of the area.

By the 4th June 1887 the approved plans had come to hand and the Government grant was being actively pursued. Subsequently the Principal Under Secretary for Health advised that a grant of 1,000 would be made available on a for basis. As a consequence of this advice, tenders were called for the construction of the building on the basis of the approved plans. In addition further steps were taken to receive promised funds from around the district as well as seeking additional funds. The committee appointed a collector to call on persons who had promised funds to collect same.

Photo: View of the entrance to the old hospital

Following closure of tenders, Mr Malcom's tender of 1,675 was accepted on 2nd November 1887. The local funds in hand at that time were 570.

The need for the hospital was quite evident at that time with many cases of illness, some terminating in death, which it was believed could have been avoided by proper hospital care.

By early February 1888 work was progressing well on the construction by Mr Malcolm and total local funds to hand amounted to 668/8/1. The Government came good in May 1888 and funded the for grant being 668/8/1.

However, on 24th July the committee was advised that the Government had passed a special vote of 500 in aid of the hospital.

By January 1889 the contractor (Mr Malcolm) advised that the building would be completed that week and requested a representative to attend and assume responsibility for taking over the structure. He subsequently advised (19th January) that the work was completed and submitted a claim for 238/8/- as extras. The committee referred the claim to its building sub-committee and appointed Mr McCaffery as temporary caretaker. Following review of the claim for extras the claim was reduced to 77/13/4 which was accepted by Mr Malcolm.

The new caretaker did not last long and by the 9th February had been fired to be replaced in early March by Mr and Mrs Clarke.

Fundraising was still in full swing and a further ball was organised, the fourth to this time. As Mr R L Tooth (of Kameruka fame, etc ) had donated 100, by far the largest donation, he was asked to open the structure on Thursday 18th April 1889. The official opening took place as arranged with Mr Tooth officiating and giving a further donation of 50, making 150 in all. The official opening took place during Bega Show Week and was recognised by a community picnic.

The structure itself was in three parts, the main section of brick and two wooden wings There were two outbuildings - infection ward and mortuary. It was described in the press of the day as 'a neat comfortable-looking edifice and has the appearance of a villa except for the square boxes at each of the four corners.' It is complete in every detail and on too expensive a scale, the latter being the fault of the Government authorities who would insist on the plans of the Taree Hospital being adhered to.

Photo: Hospital in its heyday showing completed extensions

The final cost of the complex, including extras and furnishing, was 1,775. The committee having raised from all sources (grants, subscriptions and donations) 2,041/17/8. After deducting the cost of the building, plans, etc (81/11/-), incidentals (87/11/2), they were left with 97/ 15/ 6 in the kitty. As there were outstanding liabilities of 316 and outstanding Government subsidy of 151, there was an urgent need to raise a further 150 for urgent necessities. The committee rallied to the hospital's support and by way of donations of cash, linen, vegetables, flowers, preserves and placing of milking cows (changing from time to time etc), the institution carried on. One major and quite wonderfully successful fund raising function was a garden party held on 9th November 1889 an the home gardens of Mr Gowing at Jellat Jellat. The gardens were quite magnificent from the press reports and comments made by the estimated 400 people who attended with total receipts in the order of 75, a princely sum for those days. The first patient at the hospital was Janet Clarke and the first death occurred in early July, 1889 being James Whelan, the second being Mrs Ross of Wolumla, in September 1889. This lady had been ailing for quite some time before coming to the hospital.

It is interesting to note that around this time (September 1889) Mr Thompson, Land Valuer to the Works Department, arrived in Bega to report on the Eden-Bega Railway.

Photo: Extensive gardens of the old hospital

In April 1890 tenders were called for the position of Secretary. This saw Mr I M Lee appointed at 25 per annum.

The hospital went from strength to strength as the old ideas opposing the hospital faded and the institution was accepted and well used. Many donations of furnishings were given by the community. In 1904 extensions and outdoor toilets were provided by replacing the wooden western wing with new brick extensions at a cost of 1,094/7/6. After paying for these there was still 525/9/- in kitty, a big advance on 1889.

Similar progress occurred between 1905 and 1908 and in the latter a new wing was commenced in place of the existing white ant ridden wooden eastern wing and providing a larger brick extension. The total cost of this was 1,500 and a special Government grant of 600 was received for this. In addition, a 15,000 gallon underground water tank was provided.

The problems with transport arrangements at the time can be appreciated when comments were made about the non-arrival of furniture owing to the rough seas preventing the 'Eden' from unloading cargo at Tathra. The standard of treatment was also described in the press of the day as such 'that no mother could have given better.'

Mr I M Lee severed his connection with the hospital in 1910. His services as Secretary had commenced in 1890 on acceptance of his tender for the position.

The common thread throughout these early years was the support from throughout the district, not the least Candelo, Bemboka and Cobargo and smaller villages. As indicated earlier it came in cash and kind including towels and pillowslips prepared by the schoolchildren. R L Tooth also again deserves mention for in 1897 he gave a further 100 making a total donation of 250, a generous sum from admittedly a wealthy man.

The total sum spent on the now revised and fully brick structure was 4,369 in original capital costs. To close this chapter of the hospital's development it would be fitting to quote the words of the Hospital President of the day, Mr J J Ritchie: 'The generosity of the people of the district and their wholehearted support of our hospital is much appreciated by your committee, from whose shoulders a heavy load of responsibility, as regards the finance of the institution, has been lifted, owing to the splendid support so liberally given. The main building is now complete in every respect and should meet the demands of the district for some years to come. The detached fever ward, which has done excellent service, will, as it is now inadequate and badly eaten by white ants require replacement as soon as finances permit.'

Author's note:

I have avoided listing the majority of people involved in the development of the hospital in this historical summary as while some individuals shine as leaders and have, in some historical articles been given considerable credit, the research I have made clearly illustrates that a team effort was required right from the outset and it was this absence of a united team effort that for so long delayed the commencement of the hospital. Thus only a few names appear in the article because of their unique contribution, the great majority have been omitted because to list some and explain their contribution would not do justice to the article or to those who contributed subsequently and yet were omitted.

C S Day

There follows two pages of tabulated financial information, included in the pdf version.