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A Doctor in the Whau

Dr. Thomas Aickin (1814-1897)
by Lisa J. Truttman
Avondale-Waterview Historical Society
January 2007

Above: Portraits of Dr. Thomas Aickin and his wife Agnes (née Casement). By
kind permission of the Aickin Family, as with Aickin coat of arms on last page.

Cover photograph: The Auckland Provincial Lunatic Asylum, popularly known
as “The Whau”, as Dr. Aickin would have known it prior to the fire of
September 1877 and the subsequent extensions. Photo reference 7-A10156,
by kind permission of Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries (N.Z.)

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One evening in December 1866, in a small country township then known as
the Whau, the parishioners of the Presbyterian Church there held a “tea
meeting and social gathering”. The small church building’s interior was
liberally decorated with flowers, branches of fern tree and nikau, and many of
the residents attended, including one man who spoke to the audience about
the meaning of their district’s name, and that “he saw a respectable and welleducated audience such as he had little expected ever to see there, when he
first settled at the Whau,” many years before. After some anecdotes about
“the imitative powers of Chinamen and monkeys”, he read the following poem
he’d composed especially for the occasion:
“And now my friends, before we all part,
Let me speak a few words as they come from my heart.
We are truly delighted to meet you all here,
And we hope you’ve enjoyed your temperate cheer.
From its fumes in the morning may you suffer no pain,
Nor of head-ache or heart-ache, have cause to complain,
To each of the fair ones, who furnished her tray
Our tribute of thanks, most sincerely we pay,
And with praises extol their benevolent souls,
Who so freely replenished our baskets and bowls.
Then three cheers for them all, let us heartily give;
Midst blessings, and happiness, long may they live,
And all honor to women, for to them it is given.
To wreath this dull earth with the roses of heaven;
To cheer us still onward through life’s dreary way,
And shed warmth and light as the bright God of Day.
Our meeting this evening contrived by their skill,
Was, as you all know, carried out with a will,
Though what they may prove we presume not to tell.
But of this I feel certain, that no ill can accrue,
From a meeting like this, to them and to you,
For friendship and kindness, and truth and good will,
To neighbour and visitor never caused ill.
That such are the feelings of every one here,
I have much cause to hope, and no cause to fear.
Then adieu for the present, I hope I’ve said right,
May we never regret our meeting this night.” 1
The speaker and author was Dr. Thomas Aickin, local landowner, farmer, and
first local doctor to the settlers of the sparsely populated rural heartland of the
Whau and West Auckland. Within three years, his association with Auckland’s
Lunatic Asylum at Point Chevalier would begin, and within another decade
after that he would leave the Whau behind him forever, amid acrimony and
controversy.
Dr. Aickin’s name tends to appear almost as a footnote to the history of the
district. We know he tended to the ills of Avondale’s early settlers from the
1

NZ Herald, 21 December 1866, p. 4

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early 1860s as our first-known resident doctor. His was the name of the first
Supervisor of the fledgling Whau School in the early 1860s, 2 and as well as
supporting and attending special church functions in the district, he was the
one chosen to chair the opening ceremonies for the Whau Public Hall in 1867.
3 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.
4 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. His land was subdivided and sold in the early 1880s, and 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.
Beginnings
He was born Thomas Leland Aickin at Littlerath, Trim, Co. Meath in 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). 5
These two familial threads came together in Dr. Aickin’s life, especially in New
Zealand. 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. 6 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). 7 On
his return, he initially practised medicine in the country at Cullen, but moved
his practice to Dublin in 1844 where he was to work until 1857. He wrote a
number of medical papers, among them Observations upon the nature and
treatment of cholera. (1854) 8 By then, he had dropped his middle initial.
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.” 9
He’d given up on developing a lucrative practice there by the spring of 1857,
and the Aickin family boarded the Mermaid on 11 July 1959 at Liverpool,
bound for New Zealand. 10 In Dublin, he was just one doctor among many
who also likely shared his level of qualification. In the colonies, his experience
and knowledge would stand out, and possibly offer him the lucrative
independence he sought.

2

Auckland Provincial Council records
Daily Southern Cross, 14 November 1867
4 Headstone, George Maxwell Cemetery, Rosebank Road
5 Hugh Speechly, Thomas Leland AICKIN (1814-1897), unpublished mss via email, sighted
2006
6 ibid; also R. E. Wright-St Clair, Medical Practitioners in New Zealand from 1840-1930
7 Speechly, p. 2
8 ibid, p. 4
9 ibid, p. 3
10 ibid, p. 5
3

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Arrival in Auckland
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. 11 The ship arrived in Auckland 19 October 1859.
On Christmas Eve 1859, Dr. Aickin purchased for £1400 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). 12 He later purchased part of
Allotment 11 on 24 January 1867, 13 and transferred the total of the Rosebank
property to his son John Aickin for just £200 on 25 September 1867, 14 in trust
for John’s mother Agnes Aickin. 15 Dr. Aickin and Agnes transferred the
property to John in 1871, 16 and John transferred Allotments 9 and 10 back to
his father in 1875 for £400. 17 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. He’d studied his profession originally in Belfast under his uncle. 18
Back in January 1860, Dr. Aickin also purchased a farm comprised of five
allotments in the Parish of Takapuna, totalling over 210 acres. 19 This was
close to Duck Creek and just to the north and north-west of the later site of the
Chelsea Sugar Refinery. 20 By 1881, however, this farm was no longer in
Aickin’s ownership. 21
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, 22 with 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. 23 It should be said, though,
that the Aickin family advised they had no record of a connection between Dr.

11

“Voyage to New Zealand”, from A Quota of Qualtrough”, pp. 31-40, via
http://www.qualtrough.org/index.htm
12 Deed No. 15594, LINZ records
13 DI 20D/245, LINZ records
14 Deed No. 36369, LINZ records
15 Declaration by John Aickin, Deed No. 39681, LINZ records
16 Deed No. 44038, LINZ records
17 Deed No. 51264, LINZ records
18 Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Vol II, 1902, p. 120
19 Deed No. 15750, LINZ records
20 Map from 1868 sale of de Jersey Grut property at Wawaroa Valley at Duck Creek,
published in The Story of Birkenhead, Margaret McClure, 1987, p. 33
21 CT 25/33, LINZ records
22 “Early Clayworkings in New Lynn and Surrounding Districts”, 1951, from J T Diamond
Collection, 1270 BNE, Waitakere City Libraries
23 Crum office records, handwritten on exercise book paper, 1979, from J T Diamond
Collection, 1270 BNE, Waitakere City Libraries

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Thomas Aickin and a brickyard when asked by John T. Diamond in the 1960s.
24

Dr. Aickin duly registered as a medical practitioner under the country’s first
regulations in early 1868. 25 He was providing vaccinations with his Whau
residence from 1873 as Public Vaccinator for the district under provisions of
the Public Health Act 1872. 26 But from 1869 to 1878 his name became bound
to the Auckland (or Whau) Lunatic Asylum at Pt Chevalier.
His time as Resident Surgeon at “the Whau”
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.
27 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. 28 He was married to the eldest daughter of Dr. Thomas
Philson,29 the Provincial Surgeon – who was also the father-in-law of Graves
Aickin, Dr. Thomas Aickin’s nephew.30 This connection, along with a relative
scarcity of fully-qualified medical professionals in the colony plus the
Provincial Council’s concerns that their Asylum should continue to be seen as
a progressive success, may have led to Thomas Aickin’s involvement with the
institution. 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”. 31 By the end of November in 1869, he had been
appointed as Resident Medical Surgeon of the Asylum. 32
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. 33
From the time of the first Asylum in Grafton the Resident Surgeon was
responsible for reporting to the Provincial Government, via the Provincial
Superintendent. Dr. Aickin’s general medical qualifications were impeccable –
but, as with his predecessor, he appeared to have limited prior experience, if
any, in the field of mental health.
24

J T Diamond’s personal communication with “Mr. Aickin”, 1960s, from J T Diamond
Collection, 1270 BNE, Waitakere City Libraries
25 The New Zealand Gazette, 1870, p. 36
26 The New Zealand Gazette, 1873, pp. 722-723
27 Fisher, “Annual Report of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum”, NZ Herald, 17 March 1868
28 NZ Herald, 3 November 1869, p. 3
29 ibid
30 The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 2, 1902, p. 120
31 Letter from “Honour To Whom Honour Is Due”, Daily Southern Cross, 26 August 1870
32 Daily Southern Cross, 26 November 1869
33 Thomas Aickin, M.D., “Rules and Regulations, Auckland Provincial Lunatic Asylum”, 1872,
YCAA 1083 5a, Archives New Zealand

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This isn’t a criticism against him – in the Victorian period, care of the insane
was regarded as consisting of restraint and isolation from society, while those
caring for them waited either for a recovery from their ailment, a stabilisation,
or the almost inevitable death. Psychiatry was in its infancy, modern drugs
were unknown, and mental illness was treated as a physiological disorder, in
the days before psychoanalysis. A resident surgeon did not need to be
proficient in psychiatric medicine, only the more general kind, and Dr. Aitkin
was the only resident surgeon in the country. He himself wrote “A purely
physical cause demands a physical remedy; but a disease upon the origin of
which no one can clearly determine, demands a continuation of treatment
which, it is to be feared, has not yet been discovered by the ablest
psychological physicians.” 34 It can’t be said that he didn’t do all that he could
he could to keep informed as to progress in the field of mental health, as it
was at the time. In his submission to the Joint Committee on Lunatic Asylums
in 1871 (who were considering the merits of enforcing that all provincial
asylums followed Auckland’s example of having a resident surgeon, as well
as instituting a government-run Central Asylum), Dr. Aickin authoritatively
quoted and referred to a number of texts and publications on the care and
treatment of the insane from around the world. 35 He was a learned man in
other fields of knowledge as well, writing to newspapers of the day with
considerable thought on ways to combat the caterpillar nuisance on farms, 36
and designing 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. 37
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).
“At first the patient was very violent, and had to be kept under control by
means of the strait-waistcoat. By judicious treatment, however, a gradual
improvement took place, and at length, after the lapse of a few days,
Wetherall was able to take gentle exercise, and more recently he was able to
do light work. After this the improvement was more rapid, and yesterday he
was liberated, having entirely recovered his reason.” 38 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. 39 One in April 1870 included refreshments
“abundantly provided by Dr. Aickin” and local settlers from nearby Whau
34

“Report by the Resident Surgeon for 1872”, 30 January 1873, published in Appendix to the
Journals of the House of Representatives, 1873, H 23, p. 6
35 Submission by Dr. Aickin, published in Appendix to the Journals of the House of
Representatives, 1871, H 10, pp. 16-19
36 Daily Southern Cross, 16 February 1867
37 Daily Southern Cross, 4 October 1876, p. 2
38 Daily Southern Cross, 6 April 1870
39 NZ Herald, 6 March 1868

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township and surrounds performed. 40 Even in the latter months of his charge
at the asylum, he wrote plays which were performed there, for the inmates’
amusement. 41 “Dr. Aickin,” wrote an Inspector of the asylum in 1875, “is
unquestionably entitled to great credit for his judicious treatment of his
patients, and his unwearied attention to them, night and day. Those who know
him will unhesitatingly acknowledge that the institute that has him at its head
is indeed highly favoured.” 42
Problems began to surface within the Asylum’s administration in 1871. H
Hanson Turton, 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’.” 43 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. “The power of dismissal”, according to Turton, “should rest
where it is assumed to rest) with the Medical Officer of the Asylum” or in
conjunction with the Keeper. “When the power is clearly defined by His Honor
the Superintendent, and officially published at the Asylum, in all probability it
will not require to be exercised at all.” 44 This is quite possibly what lead to the
1872 “Auckland Provincial Lunatic Asylum – Rules and Regulations” 45 which,
while not explicitly threatening dismissal for contravention of the regulations,
stipulated among other things that copies of the rules “must be suspended in
the private apartment of every male and female Officer and Attendant, and
any infringement on their spirit will not be tolerated.” Of interest is Rule 10,
where it forbade any publishing of reports concerning the history, conduct, or
conversation of any patient confined at the Asylum. “The duty of all the
officials employed in the care and treatment of the insane is to observe
silence concerning their peculiarities.” 46 The lack of such consideration for the
privacy of the patients before this is possibly why so much information had
entered the newspapers in 1870 to do with the unfortunate Mr Wetherall.
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. 47 It is unlikely that this ever took place.
40

NZ Herald, 23 April 1870
NZ Herald, 27 August 1877
42 H. D. Morpeth, “Report by the Inspector on the State of the Provincial Lunatic Asylum,
Auckland, up to the 31st December, 1874”, published in Appendix to the Journals of the
House of Representatives, H2, p. 3, 1875
43 H. Hanson Turton, “Provincial Lunatic Asylum, Auckland – Inspector’s Annual Report”,
Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1872, G 27 p. 2
44 ibid
45 Rules and Regulations, 1872, YCAA 1083 5a, Archives New Zealand
46 ibid
47 “Report on the Provincial Lunatic Asylum”, published in Appendix to the Journals of the
House of Representatives, 1873, H 23, p. 4
41

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Around this time, Central Government employed Dr. E. Paley from Victoria to
report on the colony’s lunatic asylums. Among his recommendations in his
1873 report was that a qualified medical practitioner, “having knowledge and
experience in the treatment of the insane and the management of Asylums”
be appointed as Inspector-General of all New Zealand’s asylums. 48 From
proposals coming from the Legislative Council that New Zealand should have
a Central Asylum working in tandem with well-managed provincial asylums in
1870-1871, the policies now shifted towards preparation for the coming
abolition of the provinces (which came about on 1 November 1876) 49 and the
centralisation of the management of the colony’s asylums.
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. Former Auckland Provincial Superintendent, then
Attorney General and Resident Minister at Auckland Frederick Whittaker
appointed a Commission two days later to enquire into “the present state” of
the asylum, as well as the gaol at Mt Eden and the provincial hospital, tasked
to “make suggestions as to their future control and management.” The thenMayor of Auckland, two members of parliament and a local businessman
were appointed. None had any medical qualifications or experience with the
administration of lunatic asylums. 50 It’s difficult to see why this commission
was to include the asylum at all, when Dr. Skae was on the point of beginning
his own work as Inspector for the Colonial Government. Dr. Skae
accompanied the Commissioners during their investigation, and compiled his
own, separate report, later published in April that year. 51
Just a month later however, 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.” 52 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.” 53 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, 54 possibly as much because of
48

“Report on the Provincial Lunatic Asylum”, published in Appendix to the Journals of the
House of Representatives, 1874, H 1, p. 9
49 “Superintendents of Auckland”, Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Vol. 2, 1902, p. 37
50 NZ Herald, 5 January 1877
51 NZ Herald, 7 April 1877
52 NZ Herald, 8 February 1877
53 NZ Herald, 26 March 1877
54 NZ Herald, 26 September 1878

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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. 55 I have yet to find a copy of the
Commissioners’ report on the asylum, although two others on the gaol and
hospital were later published. All that has surfaced is one complaint used by
the inquiry and taken from its veil of secrecy to be published in the Herald.
The father of a young boy had accused Dr. Aickin and his staff of allowing the
boy to have his nose broken and collect bruises and sores during his time at
the asylum. The charges were duly answered, through earlier responses to
Benjamin McLean (previous Inspector of the Asylum) by Dr. Aickin and
attendant Job Humphries, pointing out the pre-condition of the boy and that
he’d picked a fight with another inmate, who then retaliated. 56 Nothing further
has come to light.
In 1876 Dr. Frederick William Adolphus Skae had been appointed in England
by the Governor of New Zealand on behalf of the central government in
Wellington, 57 and was formally appointed as Inspector of Lunatic Asylums for
the colony of New Zealand on 16 November 1876, two weeks after the
abolition of the provincial councils. 58 The situation between the attendants
and the Resident Surgeon was highlighted by examples Dr. Skae referred to
in his report:59 patients placed under restraint without Dr. Aickin or the Keeper
being advised, and therefore without the asylum’s medical journal being
noted. The attendants merely relied on Dr. Aickin noticing as he made his
rounds. The register of discharges had not been updated for nearly two years.
The doctor’s office at the time of Dr. Skae’s report had also been
commandeered as a sleeping place for male patients in the critically
overcrowded asylum. As Dr. Skae went on to remark, the overcrowding,
defective appliances and inadequate staff of attendants made conducting the
management of the asylum “in an entirely satisfactory manner” impossible. Dr.
Skae did not suggest that Dr. Aickin should be replaced, however. He
recommended that the asylum be enlarged, to make the job of managing it
easier for the Resident Surgeon. 60 “When the crowded state of this Asylum,
its defective appliances and inadequate staff of attendants are taken into
consideration, it must be freely conceded that to conduct its management in
an entirely satisfactory manner is not possible for anyone. These things being
held in view, the mortality appears very low, the proportion of recoveries high;
and the rarity of serious accidents, and the small extent to which seclusion
and retirement are resorted to, is very creditable to the medical officer and his
staff.” 61

55

NZ Herald, 8 February 1877
NZ Herald, 10 April 1877
57 Enclosures 4 and 5 in No. 4, published in Appendix to the Journals of the House of
Representatives, 1875, H 4C, pp. 4-5
58 Daily Southern Cross, 28 November 1876, p. 2
59 Report published in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1877, H 8,
pp. 21-25
60 ibid, p. 2
61 NZ Herald, 7 April 1877
56

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The Herald began to make its own enquiries into the running of the asylum. It
looked at the issues of the register of admissions being kept up to date, 62 and
the discharging of patients on trial. 63 In July they reported that on “further
changes taking place” at the asylum, with some of the attendants receiving
“notice to quit the Institution” after the end of the month, and other during
August. 64 Dr. Aickin telegraphed Dr. Skae in early September, asking
whether the promised additional wing to the building would be proceeded
with, after a violent incident broke out in the asylum during which “it was found
impossible to separate violent patients”. Dr. Skae’s response was to instruct
Dr. Aickin to investigate accommodating some of the inmates in the old former
asylum on the Domain.65 The cost of adding the wing, which should have
remained on the drawing board back in the days of the Provincial Government
in 1864-1867, was at that point still going through estimates in Parliament.
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. Despite having her clothes removed
later for sleep, it was thought she may still have successfully hidden the
matches. As well as this, the keys to unlock the cells were mixed up at the
height of the blaze. Dr. Aickin, with the aid of two other men, rescued one
patient, but they were too late to save Mrs. Fortune. He advised the jury that
he “thought it a most improper thing for visitors to give matches to patients.
Yet they did so … It was an imperative rule that no matches should be given
to patients. Had always given the strictest orders on that subject.” The jury,
however added a rider to their verdict: “That the discipline carried out in the
Auckland Asylum is of the most defective character …” 66
After the fire, the Colonial Government appointed architect Philip Herapath to
plan and undertake repairs to the building so the male patients, removed to
the Albert Barracks, could return in the shortest possible time. 67 By the
middle of October, the repairs were sufficient that the male patients were able
to be shifted back to the asylum. 68 Herapath was also called upon to draw up
plans for the long asked-for extensions to the building, as well as the setting
up of a supply connection with the Auckland City mains. Meanwhile, Dr. Skae
was tasked to undertake an inquiry for the government into the circumstances
of the fire. 69

62

NZ Herald, 12 April 1877
NZ Herald, 17 April 1877
64 NZ Herald, 31 July 1877
65 NZ Herald, 7 September 1877
66 NZ Herald, 27 September 1877
67 NZ Herald, 1 October 1877
68 NZ Herald, 15 October 1877
69 NZ Herald, 10 October 1877
63

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The deficiencies in the management of the Asylum as described in the Skae
report from earlier in the year, along with the well-publicised conclusions of
the fatal fire inquiry, 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.” 70 Another anonymous letter-writer in the
Herald in 1879, harshly critical of Dr. Skae’s own appointment as InspectorGeneral, stated that Dr. Skae had written “elaborate reports to go before the
House, in which he speaks of the Auckland Asylum as being sadly
mismanaged and altogether in a more deplorable condition, but winds up that
same report by stating that, notwithstanding the defective state of the building,
and the gross shortcomings in the management, the percentages of patients
turned out as cured compared favourably with the best European lunatic
asylums. So much for consistency.” 71
Dr Thomas Aickin resigned his post as Resident Surgeon at the Auckland
Asylum early in September 1878. 72 Little was published in the editorials of the
NZ Herald as to his reasons, apart from noting that he’d been dissuaded from
resigning the year before by the Colonial Secretary. 73 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.” 74
Dr. Aickin’s management was further commented upon in an anonymous
letter to the Herald from “One Who Knows”: “One appointment in the right
direction is that of Mr George Hardy as manager … Mr Hardy has an
experience of eleven years in this institution to my personal knowledge, and
no doubt his practical experience will be beneficial to the welfare of the
patients … the cleanliness of the institution, also the respectable dress and
healthy appearance of the inmates … plainly shows we have now one in
office who takes an interest, and has the welfare of this public necessity at
heart.” 75
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
70

Report published in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1878, H 10,
p. 9
71 NZ Herald, 1 July 1879
72 NZ Herald, 14 September 1878
73 NZ Herald, 26 September 1878
74 ibid
75 NZ Herald, 28 September 1878

12

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. According to him, during
his nearly nine-year term as Resident Surgeon:








Two shower baths were constructed
A 75-foot well was sunk at the rear of the main building, alleviating the
water shortage
He worked to improve the diet of the patients
With H H Turton’s help, he had a first-class cooking range installed.
This was added to by another range and two additional copper boilers.
Male dress was changed three years before Dr. Aickin’s resignation
He suggested coloured print dresses for the women (no indication this
was followed)
Dr. Aickin’s applications for a drying shed went unheeded
Several male patients were sent to bathe in the summer “in a safe and
convenient place adjacent to the Asylum”. No accidents occurred. The
female patients “exercised abroad on every fine day”
Monthly entertainments sanctioned by the Provincial Superintendents
included a suit of theatrical scenery purchased by Dr. Aickin and
erected in the dining hall
Female patients enjoyed picnics on P. Dignan’s land bordering the
Waitemata
He’d arranged to have the deficient drainage system redesigned,
moving the piggery and dead house to more suitable locations

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.” 76
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.” 77
On 30 June 1879, however, Dr. Thomley resigned for health reasons, 78
although his successor, Dr. Alexander Young, was apparently in charge of the

76

NZ Herald, 5 October 1878
Report published in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1879, H 4,
p. 6
78 ibid
77

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Female Lunatic Asylum at Grafton before this. 79 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.” He also served those settlers residing
from the Waitakere Ranges to the City as a doctor, apparently for no fee. 80
Afterward
Dr. Aickin may still have been living on his Rosebank property in 1873 when
he was appointed a Public Vaccinator, but by 1877 he had an apartment on
site at the Asylum. After resigning, he was living in Grafton Road for a time 81
and by 1879 he is listed as a surgeon in Cook Street. 82 This may have been
where he had his practice; a Thomas Aickin, along with Casement and John
Aickin, were farmers in the Whau district at the time. He leased part of his
Rosebank land to another son Thomas in 1881 for a period of 10 years, 83 but
this does not appear on the title drawn up for the property in November 1882.
84 His Avondale farm had been subdivided earlier, in August 1882, and fairly
steady sales from 1883 to 1896 would have brought in additional income. 85 In
1882, during the sale of his Avondale farm Dr. Aickin was noted as being in
both Ponsonby Road and Hobson Street, 86 but by 1886 had settled in
Richmond Road, Ponsonby. 87 He died less than a year after his wife Agnes in
1897.
The site of his experimental brickyard from the 1860s was in the hands of
James Archibald and Percy Best at the end of Avondale Road in 1902-1903,
according to J. T. Diamond. This later became known as Archibald Bros., and
operated until 1926. 88 By 1906, Casement, H.C. and Leyland Aickin are listed
as living in the district, after an absence of nearly 20 years. 89 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.
90 The family sub-divided the remaining property, Lot 18 of Allots 9/10 in 1931,

79

NZ Herald report of coroner’s inquest, 26 June 1879
NZ Herald, 23 October
81 NZ Herald, 5 October 1878
82 Wises NZPO Directory 1880
83 Deed No. 71144, LINZ records
84 CT 30/157, LINZ records
85 DP 192, LINZ records
86 ibid, 1883-1884
87 ibid, 1887-1888
88 J. T Diamond collection, File Ref. 1271 BNE, Waitakere City Libraries
89 Wises Directory, 1907
90 Auckland Star 2 September 1925
80

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and operated the “Riversdale Commercial Orchard” on the remainder until
1945 when the last of the property was finally sold. 91
Descendants
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. 92
One of Dr Thomas Aickin’s daughters, Eleanor Kathleen, married Edward
Coates of Matakohe. Their eldest son, Joseph Gordon Coates, became New
Zealand’s twenty-first 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.” 93

91

Valuation field sheets for Avondale Road, City Archives
Speechly, p. 6; Wright-St Clair, Rex. 'Robertson, Carrick Hey 1879 - 1963'. Dictionary of
New Zealand Biography, updated 7 April 2006 URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/
93 Michael Bassett, Coates of Kaipara, 1995, pp. 20-21
92

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