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Volume 6 Issue 36
The Avondale Historical Journal
Official Publication of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Incorporated
A Doctor in the Whau: Dr. Thomas Aickin (1814-1897)
by Lisa J Truttman
This is an abridged version of a full paper published earlier this year. Copies of the full version are available on request — Editor. Dr. Thomas Aickin (1814-1897): local landowner, farmer, and first local doctor to the settlers of the sparsely populated rural heartland of the Whau and West Auckland. His was the name of the first Supervisor of the fledgling Whau School in the early 1860s; he gave an acre of his land on Rosebank, part of his “Riversdale” farm, to the Anglican Church for a cemetery in 1862 after the death of his son William. He was appointed as the second Resident Surgeon/ Superintendent of the Auckland Lunatic Asylum in 1869, the only one holding this position in all of New Zealand. He died without fanfare or public obituary in 1897 after living in Richmond Road, buried in the rural cemetery land he had given away 35 years before. But – there was much more to this country doctor than first meets the eye. He was born Thomas Leland Aickin in Co. Meath, Ireland on 14 September 1814, the son of gentleman farmer John Aickin (from a family of Scottish descent) and Mary Patten (eldest daughter of Dr. James Patten, surgeon on the Resolution during Capt. James Cook’s second voyage). He studied surgery from 1832 at Richmond Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, entering Trinity College in Dublin in 1838 and obtaining his surgical diploma (Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in midwifery) with credit in 1839. He is said to have given anatomical demonstrations in Belfast, visited hospitals in Europe, spending time in Vienna and Berlin (where he graduated in physics and surgery in 1842). He wrote a number of medical papers, among them Observations upon the nature and treatment of cholera. (1854) By then, he had dropped his middle initial. A practice later in Dublin didn’t seem to offer Dr. Aickin much prospect of independence, due to the “great number of practitioners and the relative poverty of its inhabitants.” The Aickin family boarded the Mermaid on 11 July 1959 at Liverpool, bound for New Zealand. On the voyage out, Dr. Aickin assisted with divine service on the Mermaid by reading church prayers, and on at least one sad occasion read the funeral service for the burial-at-sea of a little girl who died after having been ailing for 7 weeks. The ship arrived in Auckland 19 October 1859. On Christmas Eve 1859, Dr. Aickin purchased Allotments 9 and 10 (totalling just over 201 acres) in the Parish of Titirangi, part of the Rosebank Peninsula, from well known hotel proprietor William Edgecombe (who built the Old Stone Jug pub at Western Springs). He later purchased part of Allotment 11 in 1867. When Graves Aickin, Dr. Aickin’s nephew, arrived in Auckland in 1863, he worked for around 18 months on his uncle’s Rosebank farm, before opening up a chemist shop in Karangahape Road in 1865. J. Crum recorded that that Dr. Aickin in 1862 set up a small brickmaking plant at the foot of Avondale road on his land, employing a Mr. Dunbar as manager and later Jack and Arthur Marsh, with sons John and Gordon Aickin taking part. The clay was found to be “too strong”, and so the venture ultimately failed, and piles of broken bricks left at the site for years. It should be said, though, that the Aickin family advised they had no record of a connection
Inside this issue: Dr. Thomas Aickin Early Days, Avondale College and Intermediate 1-3 3-4
Next meeting of the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society: Saturday, 4 August 2007, 2.30 pm (This will be our Annual General Meeting) Lion’s Hall, corner Blockhouse Bay Road and Great North Road Please contact the Society for details.
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continued from previous page between Dr. Thomas Aickin and a brickyard when asked by John T. Diamond in the 1960s. In March 1867, inmates from the old Lunatic Asylum at Grafton were conveyed to the “new and magnificent edifice on the Great North Road” at Pt Chevalier, in the words of the first Resident Medical Officer, Robert E. Fisher. Fisher died from consumption just over 20 months after his appointment in October 1969, apparently after catching a cold around the same time as the Asylum opened. His appointed successor was Dr. Aickin. By the end of November in 1869, he had been appointed as Resident Medical Surgeon of the Asylum. One anonymous correspondent to the Daily Southern Cross in 1870 referred to his qualifications as being “not surpassed by any medical man in New Zealand”. The titles of Resident Medical Officer, Surgeon or Superintendent seemed to be interchangeable during the 19th century history of the asylum. Essentially, they meant the same thing: the Supervisor-in-charge at the institution. Serving under the Resident Surgeon in 1872 was the Keeper, Senior Male Attendant, Matron, and attendants. The arrival of every new patient was reported to the Resident Surgeon, who also gave instructions as to bathing and cutting the hair of inmates, and directed the Matron as to the care of female patients. Dr. Aickin was a learned man, keeping himself up-to-date in the field of mental health as it was at the time, as well as in other fields of knowledge as well. He wrote to newspapers of the day with considerable thought on ways to combat the caterpillar nuisance on farms, and submitting designs on the arrangement of “the apparatus necessary to produce a large volume of carbonic acid gas for the purpose of extinguishing fires on shipboard” in 1876. Dr. Aickin’s medical skill in his position was initially praised highly by the likes of the Daily Southern Cross, describing the successful rehabilitation of one William Wetherall of Thames, apparently driven mad by “resisting the mesmeric influence” of a Dr. Carr (who, at the time, apparently held séances). Dr. Aickin was noted at this time as showing “great interest in his unfortunate charges, and is anxious to avail himself of every means of making their position as agreeable as possible.” He organised entertainments at the Asylum “to provide a little amusement for the unfortunate inmates.” These followed on from concerts arranged during Fisher’s time. Even in the latter months of his charge at the asylum, he wrote plays which were performed there, for the inmates’ amusement. Problems began to surface within the Asylum’s administration in 1871. The Inspector of Asylums in reporting to the Provincial Superintendent, wrote of hearing that the Surgeon and Keeper were “being grossly insulted in the presence of the patients, and of an improper spirit being shown to each other by the attendants, both in the male and female wards, with no further penalty than the empty threat of being ‘reported to the Inspector’.” The problem seemed to lie with the Resident Surgeon’s inability to hire or fire staff at the Asylum, who seemed to be employed on a month by month basis. A Commission of Enquiry into the Asylum in 1872 found that Dr. Aickin was “in a position of difficulty, having no authority to engage, suspend or dismiss an attendant.” They felt that it was impossible for him to enforce his authority, and stated that the attendants were therefore “encouraged to become negligent and disrespectful.” They recommended an increase in the position’s responsibilities. It is unlikely that this ever took place. Many of the glowing testimonials to Dr. Aickin’s abilities ceased from early 1877. On 1 January that year, the asylum came under the direct control of the Colonial Government. A Commission was appointed two days later to enquire into “the present state” of the asylum, as well as the gaol at Mt Eden and the provincial hospital.” Just a month later, Dr Aickin and the asylum Matron, Margaret Hamilton, had both tendered their resignations. The Herald said they understood that Dr. Aickin’s resignation came about as he felt strongly “on the matter respecting which the Commissioners appointed to examine onto the condition of the Asylum … have acted in carrying out their duties.” The Commission’s report itself was completed by the end of March, and attracted complaints to the Herald regarding statements made in the report, along with “the un-English manner” in which the evidence was taken “ … in secret and apparently under promise that neither the names of the witnesses nor their evidence should be made public … the whole business was conducted in an inquisitorial style, and that those implicated in any charges … had really no opportunity of defending their conduct or justifying themselves.” Margaret Hamilton was replaced; Dr Aickin on the other hand was convinced by the then-Colonial Secretary, Dr. Daniel Pollen, to reconsider his resignation and stay on as Resident Surgeon at the asylum, possibly as much because of the difficulties the Colonial Government would have finding anyone to take on such an onerous position for the level of remuneration that was offered to Dr. Aickin at the time as anything else. The Herald began to make its own enquiries into the running of the asylum. Then, on 20 September 1877, came the first of the two major fires at the Lunatic Asylum that century. A patient, Mary Ann Fortune, had been found burned to death in her cell once the fire had been extinguished, with little left of her remains except charred bones. While the coroner’s inquest later found that the origins of the fire remained unknown, it was stated that Mrs Fortune took some matches off a shelf in the matron’s room the afternoon before, where some friends were visiting her. The Skae report on the Asylum from earlier in the year, along with the well-publicised conclusions of the fatal fire inquiry which cast doubt on the security procedures there, were likely to be a serious blow to the public’s confidence in the once-vaunted administration of the Asylum. In July 1878, Dr. Skae issued a further report, yet again advising the government that “the Register of Admissions continues to be kept in a very unsatisfactory manner, and is full of errors. Most of the numbers affixed to each patient’s name, as the numbers in order of admission, are incorrect.” Dr Thomas Aickin resigned his post as Resident Surgeon at the Auckland Asylum early in September 1878. Little was published in the editorials of the NZ Herald as to his reasons,
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along with Casement and John Aickin, were farmers in the Whau district at the time. His Avondale farm was subdivided from August 1882, and fairly steady sales from 1883 to 1896 would have brought in additional income. By 1886 he had settled in Richmond Road, Ponsonby and died there less than a year after his wife Agnes in 1897. When the original 1859 homestead on Avondale Road burned to the ground in September 1925, it was occupied at the time by his grandson Leyland Aickin. The family subdivided the remaining property, Lot 18 of Allots 9/10 in 1931, and operated the “Riversdale Commercial Orchard” on the remainder until 1945 when the last of the property was finally sold. Dr. Thomas Aickin is the ancestor of some notables in both Auckland’s and the country’s history. His son Casement founded the timber merchant firm C. Aickin & Sons. Casement’s son, also known as Casement, helped Dr. Carrick Hay Robertson perform probably the first heart operation in New Zealand in 1927. One of Dr Thomas Aickin’s daughters, Eleanor Kathleen, married Edward Coates of Matakohe. Their eldest son, Joseph Gordon Coates, became New Zealand’s first native born Prime Minister in 1925. In a stroke of irony, Edward Coates suffered from severe depression from the 1880s and in 1899 was committed to the same Auckland Asylum his father-in-law had been in charge of two decades before. He recovered marginally but died in 1905 at his home from “neuralgia, melancholia and asthenia.”
apart from noting that he’d been dissuaded from resigning the year before by the Colonial Secretary. The Herald was quite scathing, however. “That the management of the asylum for some time has been unfavourably spoken of is beyond doubt … After the (1877) report of Dr. Skae, and that of the Commission, it was generally believed that reforms would follow; that the resignation of the resident surgeon would be sent in and accepted, and that a new and favourable future for the patients would follow; but these expected reforms have proved a complete failure and were never carried out.” Normally, the role of a doctor in Victorian times was that of circumspection, of remaining in the background, and certainly not commenting in the local press on matters concerning duty. Dr. Aickin however perhaps felt so stung by what was being discussed about him and his management of the Asylum, he felt it necessary to step briefly out of that background. In a long letter that spanned more than a column in the Herald, he made his reply, detailing improvements made by him to the Asylum’s administration and operation. He went on to add: “The registry of the Asylum shows the accuracy of … returns, and, although want of good management, discipline, classification, &c., have been frequently imputed to the medical officer and leading officials of the institution, by certain traducers who had formerly occupied positions therein, it must be admitted by every right-minded person that the facts above stated give a flat contradiction to such malicious statements.” However, criticism continued, even after Aickin’s final resignation. On 1 January 1879, George Hardy was replaced as Acting Superintendent by Dr. J. G. Thomley, and according to that year’s report to Wellington he was “a Medical Superintendent of ample experience, gained in a large English asylum …It is hoped,” the report went on, “that recreation and, above all, useful and interesting employment, will receive a greater amount of attention than hitherto … A new register of admissions has been opened since last visit, and the entries in the old and wonderfully-confused one are being corrected and transferred into it.” On 30 June 1879, however, Dr. Thomley resigned for health reasons, although his successor, Dr. Alexander Young, was apparently in charge of the Female Lunatic Asylum at Grafton before this. In turn, Dr. Young died while in office in October 1885. In his obituary the Herald noted: “After the retirement of Dr. Aickin from the control of the Lunatic Asylum, a good deal of anxiety was experienced as to the appointment of his successor. At that time the Grey Ministry was in office, and the Hon. Colonel Whitmore, as Colonial Secretary, had the appointment. Backed up by the unanimous opinion of the local medical gentlemen of Auckland, and the strong certificates of competency and special skill presented to Dr. Young, ignoring the prevalent tendency to send out of the colony for a superintendent of the asylum, on the ground that the men required for such positions could not be found in New Zealand, Dr. Young was appointed.” After resigning, Dr. Aickin lived in Grafton Road for a time; by 1879 he is listed as a surgeon in Cook Street. This may have been where he had his practice; a Thomas Aickin,
Early Days at Avondale College and Avondale Intermediate
by Dorothy C. Bagnall
I was very interested to read in the March – April 2007 Avondale Historical Journal the excellent article on the US Navy Hospital during World War 2. My special interest stems from the fact that several years later I was teaching in part of that building, in what was by then the Avondale Intermediate School. At the beginning of 1949 I began in a specialist Music position, which meant that I had my own class for English and Arithmetic, the rest of time teaching Music to, one year, all the Form 1 classes, and the next the Form 2 classes. There I stayed, under Mr Fred Gair, the first Principal of the school, for 5 years. Coming from the North Shore, I really didn’t know anything about Avondale, its schools and its history, but I soon found what an interesting place it was, with its orchards in Rosebank Rd, its Brick Works, and its vicinity to the grape growing areas, and consequent wineries of West Auckland. Avondale was really the last western suburb of the Auck-
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This boy took up music as his life’s work, and finally Robert Alderton became one of New Zealand’s well-known conductors and musical directors. I was quite thrilled some years ago in Dunedin to go to a show of some sort, and to find that the producer was Robert Alderton! In the 5 years that I was at Avondale Intermediate, the two schools were not quite self-contained. We shared the Hall, the Gym, the basketball and tennis courts, and all the sports fields. (The asphalt area was marked out to make nine tennis courts in the summer, eight basketball courts in the winter.) Programmes were worked out so that Assembly was a different day, also sports afternoons and big sports days, and there were certain days that our school could use the gym. Both schools would put on their concerts, plays, etc in the Hall. The whole thing was a very amicable arrangement, and there was a certain amount of contact between the schools. I must end with a very interesting meeting I had with an American in Buffalo, New York. An American friend whom I had met in New Zealand asked me to stay with her in Buffalo for a few days at the end of a month’s holiday in Canada and U.S.A. in 1969. Included in my sight-seeing with her was a visit to their splendid Art Gallery. She was a very friendly person, and got talking to one of the attendants. She introduced me as a friend from New Zealand, and he immediately said, ”I was in New Zealand during the War.” I continued, asking him whereabouts he was stationed, knowing that there were American troops in many parts of the country. Instead of replying Auckland, Wellington, or some other big place, he said, ”Avondale!” I said, “You must have been in the American Hospital there.” Of course, he was, and I don’t know who enjoyed the talk more – his memories of the hospital, and life in Auckland as an American serviceman then, or mine of the school a few years later! He had happy memories of his break from fighting in the Pacific in our small country. They say the world is a very small place!
land area. Avondale Technical High School and Avondale Intermediate were opened in 1945, when the Americans were moved nearer the war zone. Only 4 years from its opening, not only was Mr Gair still there, but so were a number of Foundation teachers. I was told about the building of the hospital, and that it had been planned so that after the War, it would be little trouble to convert it into the planned schools. It was fascinating to hear all this, and realize that our classrooms would have been wards, and that the very long, wide corridors were hospital corridors for wheelchairs and possibly beds. I also heard that our caretaker, after school, would ride his bicycle along them to get from one end to the other! The first teachers and students came to the school in February 1945, before the schools were properly completed, and before the Sports fields and tennis and basketball courts were made. Indeed, everyone had the doubtful pleasure of hearing the daily sounds of bulldozers preparing the large areas. Miss Gladys Rohan, the senior mistress, and the other foundation staff members, always referred to themselves as “the bulldozers”! It can’t have been very easy teaching, or learning, with all the noise! By 1949 the schools were well established, with the Intermediate having nine Form 1 classes, and eight Form 2 – with all except the two slow learner classes having over 40 pupils. Both these classes did very well, under good teachers, and with smaller numbers. Ours was a very happy school under Mr Gair, who had worked hard to bring it to a well-organized, well-behaved addition to the growing number of intermediate schools. His good lead made a keen, happy staff, pleased to continue the standard he had set. The High School, under Mr Titheridge, was also making its name as one of the important secondary schools of Auckland, particularly in the field of Music. Mr Gordon Cole, head of the Music Department, had a very good staff, including a number of specialist instrumental teachers, who came to give individual tuition to those wanting it. By this time, Avondale was noted for its music, and at least one pupil, Bobby Alderton, came from somewhere in the Herne Bay area to have the opportunity of the excellent music.
The Avondale Historical Journal
Published by: the Avondale-Waterview Historical Society Inc. Editor: Lisa J. Truttman Society contact: 19 Methuen Road, Avondale, Auckland Phone: (09) 828-8494, 027 4040 804 Fax: (09) 828-8497, email: firstname.lastname@example.org Society information: Subscriptions: $10 individual $15 couple/family $30 corporate Website: http://www.geocities.com/avondalehistory/index
Copies of Avondale Historical Journal and AWHS Newsletter produced for us by Words Incorporated, 557 Blockhouse Bay Road, Blockhouse Bay. The Society and AHJ editorial staff thank
Avondale Business Association
for their continued support and sponsorship of this publication.
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