Topic: Waikato Hospital: 1864-

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From a 5-bedroom farmhouse in 1886 to a 600 bed regional base teaching hospital in 2008 – Waikato Hospital has come a long way since a burst gun barrel sent the first patient through the doors on 17 May 1887 with an injured hand.

Waikato Hospital

Hamilton's first hospital resulted from the stationing of the Fourth Waikato Militia in Hamilton in 1864.A military hospital was set up on land in Bridge Street which is now occupied by the Hamilton Central Police Station. The Militia's surgeon was John Carey and his assistant surgeon was Bernard Charles Beale.

The military hospital continued to operate for several years but ceased to function when the Milita were demobilised. Sir Donald McLean, Minister of Native Affairs, visited Hamilton in 1875 and was approached about a hospital for Hamilton. The Government however chose to build a hospital in Ngaruwahia which Dr Carey took charge of. The hospital only operated for several months and Dr Carey returned to Hamilton.

The 1885 Hospitals and Charitable Institutions Act saw the Waikato, Waipa and Raglan Counties included within the Auckland Hospital District. The region was represented on the Auckland Hospital and Charitable Aid Board by Mayor of Hamilton, William Australia Graham, MP for Waipa, J.N. Pegler and Joseph J. Barugh, who was later to become the first chairman of the Auckland Farmers' Freezing Company.

On 17 April 1886 the Auckland Board resolved to recommend to Government that a separate Hospital Board be established in the Waikato.

Original Waikato Hospital buildings, 1896
  Waikato Hospital buildings, 1896

The first meeting of the Waikato Hospitaland Charitable Aid Board was held on 1 December 1886. Although there was no hospital, the Board appointed a medical officer - George Geils Kenny who had previously served as Medical Superintendent of Wellington Hospital. The Board leased land from  Mr Robert Salmon which consisted of 50 acres and a five room farmhouse. The first patient at the hospital was James J. Daley from Alexandra who arrived on 17 May 1887 with injuries to his hand after a gun barrel had burst.

In May 1888 the Board purchased the hospital property from Mr Salmon and the Hospital started to expand with two new wards, an operating room, dispensary room and nurses' kitchen, old men's refuge and fever hospital being built.

Aerial view of Waikato Hospital in the 1930s
Aerial view of Waikato Hospital and grounds in the 1930


 Over the next few years the Hospital continued to grow and in 1892 it was decided to appointed a full time Medical Superintendent. Dr Kenny applied for and was appointed to the position which he held until 1899. Miss Elizabeth Margaret Rothwell became Head Nurse (later called Matron) in 1896 a position she held until 1921.

Hugh Douglas was appointed as the new medical superintendent and with Miss Rothwell oversaw the expansion and development of the Hospital. Mr Douglas remained at the hospital until 1919.

In 1904 the Board decided to build a new 60 bed hospital including a new nurses' home. The new hospital was officially opened on 20 November 1908.The Hospital had been connected to the telephone exchange since 1904 and in January 1916 had electric lighting from a steam generator installed on the grounds. In 1908 the hospital had a horse drawn ambulance which was used until 1925 when the first motor ambulance was purchased.

The hospital expanded further with wards for tuberculosis patients, geriatrics and an isolation ward being built. In 1920 the Te Waikato Sanitorium for TB patients closed and its Russell Ward was moved to Waikato Hospital to become the Children's Ward. It was known as the Sunshine Ward in honour of the Sunshine League.

As the district grew so did the Hospital with a bacteriological laboratory being established in 1921. Wards 4 and 5 (now Wards 27 and 28) were opened in 1927. A maternity block was opened in December 1930. It was named the Campbell Johnstone Ward after the chairman of the board who died just two months before it opened. The ward soon had insufficient beds but it wasn't until 1954 that it was extended and the new Waikato Women's Hospital was built.

A new infirmary with 150 beds was to be built during the Second World War, the contract was let in 1941 but completion was delayed by emergency regulations. The infirmary was named the Hockin Wing after Dr Munro Hockin who was Medical Superintendent from 1928 until his death in 1939.

Opening of ward 4 and 5, December 1927
  The opening of Wards 4 and 5, December 1927

 In 1943 the need to provide more accommodation was recognised and the Douglas Nurses' Home named after Dr. Hugh Douglas was opened in 1944.

By 1948 the number of beds at the Hospital had risen to 544 from the 170 in 1920. After the war facilities continued to expand with new operating theatres, a new boiler house and central laundry, administration block, and extensions to nursing accommodation amongst the developments.

Aerial view of hospital, 1976

In the 1960s and 1970s there was a large increase in the population in the Waikato Hospital Board area and the number of patients increased by 40% between the 1960-61 and 1970-71 financial years. There was a lot of building at the Hospital during this time including the six storey Smith Block, named after former Board Chairman George Smith, a new surgical block, the extension of the main kitchen, a new mortuary and the mothercraft unit.

A public appeal to purchase a cobalt unit for radiotherapy treatment was very successful and the Waikato Division of the British Empire Cancer Campaign Society (later the Cancer Society) was established as a result.

Aerial view of Waikato Hospital, 1976  

A fundraising appeal by the Lions Club raised money for a hostel for radiotherapy patients. The radiotherapy department was recognised as a training school in 1968. In 1980 a regional audiology unit opened and in 1985 a CT scanner was commissioned.

In 1997 the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre was officially opened. The existing mental health facility at the Hospital had been redeveloped to cater for patients transferred after the closure of Tokanui Hospital. In the same year the Hospital also restructed its obstetric wards. June 2000 saw the opening of a new emergency department wing to cope with the number of emergency cases which had risen from 26,000 in 1994 to 40,000 in 2000.

Waikato Hospital continues to grow. It has a regional trauma centre with a dedicated helicopter service. A new parking building has been opened to cope with the on-going parking problems at the Hospital. The Waikato Clinical School is a division of the Faculty of Medical & Health Services, University of Auckland with 50-60 medical undergraduates on campus each year. There are also groups of nurses doing postgraduate training and undergraduate pharmacy students receiving training.


The early history of Waikato Hospital / R.E. Wright-St. Clair

From cottage to regional base hospital : Waikato Hospital, 1887-1987 / R.E. Wright-St. Clair

Historic photographs

Newspaper articles from the Waikato Times

See Also:

Waikato District Health Board - official site

Waikato Hospital - on Wikipedia


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Waikato Hospital: 1864-

Subject:Waikato Hospital Board, Waikato District Health Board, Hospitals -- New Zealand -- Hamilton -- History, and Waikato Hospital (N.Z.)
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Waikato Hospital: 1864- by gk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License