Ipswich, Queensland

The early years

Despite its proximity to Brisbane, Ipswich has a distinct identity of its own, and has grown at its own pace. In the early years, when transport between the two cities was by riverboat or horseback, the 40 kilometre trip would take 2 days – meaning Ipswich needed to be self sufficient from the beginning.

The first medical practitioner to come to the town was William McTaggart Dorsey, who arrived in 1842. Dorsey was probably the first doctor to practise in Queensland. In addition to his busy practice in Ipswich, Dorsey often had to travel on horseback to visit patients who lived outside the town. He lived in a two room slab hut in what later became known as Little Ipswich, and this building also served as his hospital. This was well before the separation of 1850, which established Queensland as a separate state. Dorsey practised in Ipswich for 36 years, and died in 1878 at 66 years of age.

In 1849, Dr Henry Challinor was brought to Australia by Dr Lang as the ship's doctor on the ‘Fortitude', one of Lang's migrant ships. Challinor would go on to maintain a busy medical practice in Ipswich for 20 years, and develop a good reputation as an obstetrician. In addition to his role as GP, Challinor had official appointments as both police magistrate and local coroner, and later entered parliament. In 1869, he gave up private practice to become the medical superintendent of the mental asylum at Goodna. (Challinor Centre in Ipswich, a now defunct facility for the intellectually handicapped, was named after him.)

Soon after Dr Challinor's arrival, other doctors came to Ipswich. Dr Patrick Glisson was the first to arrive, then, in 1853, came Dr James McNish, who was particularly interested in obstetrics. The next year saw Dr Frederick Cumming come to town, then in 1856, another three doctors arrived: Thomas Rowlands, Francis Lucas, and finally Herman Beikler, who came with German qualifications. Not long after arriving, Beikler went to Warwick to open a pharmacy, and Cumming left for Toowoomba.

In April 1856 a public meeting was held in at the Ipswich Courthouse to promote the establishment of a hospital in the town. Rowlands, who was the temporary secretary of a provisional committee set up to try and get the hospital built, subsequently wrote to the colonial secretary asking that His Excellency, the Governor, grant the committee the rights to a piece of land it had selected. He also requested 1500 pounds for building, 500 pounds for furnishings and 200 pounds annually for maintenance.

In July of the same year, a list of donors, along with their respective donations, was forwarded to Sydney. In total, 650 pounds was collected. George Thorn, the first free settler to come to Ipswich, headed the list with a donation of 50 pounds. The Legislative Assembly subsequently granted all these requests, and after some difficulties and delays, the Ipswich Hospital – the first public hospital in the state – finally opened in March 1860, with the Queensland Government stepping in to provide funds for furniture.

Francis Lucas, an Aberdeen graduate, was the hospital's first surgeon. In those days doctors had to be all rounders, and most had surgical skills in their repertoire. Assisted by Rowlands and Challinor, Lucas performed the first major operation at the hospital: the amputation of a leg afflicted by a fungoid tumour. The operation was performed under chloroform anaesthesia, and the patient was said to have made a good recovery. In 1863, Dr Lucas suffered a fracture of his ankle, and mortification set in. He left Ipswich and took a ship out of Queensland. Sadly, though, he died shortly after leaving Moreton Bay.

Rowlands, who came to Ipswich in 1854, was also an accomplished surgeon, and ran a busy medical practice. He identified microfilaria in the urine of a patient – a discovery that was said to be of great interest to Joseph Bancroft. He died at only 54 years of age in 1876 from erysipelas.

The hazards of the young colony

In the early days of the colony, doctors occasionally found themselves contending with a sometimes hostile land. Dr Miles, a surgeon who practised on the Darling Downs, went missing after leaving his home to visit a patient in the country. His body was found about a week later in a creek.

Dr Lipperman got lost after also heading out to visit a patient in the country. His body was eventually found lying at the foot of a tree; it appeared that he had died from hunger and exhaustion.

In 1863, Dr William Henry von Lossberg sailed from Hamburg as surgeon superintendent on the sailing ship 'Alster', which was bringing German migrants to Queensland . Upon landing, he moved to Ipswich and established a medical practice. In 1864, Lossberg went on horseback to attend a patient at Maroon, about 50 kilometres south of Ipswich . Apparently he had a guide to lead him there, but was left to return home by himself. On his way back to Ipswich he got lost and is said to have wandered through the bush for 6 days. His horse drowned crossing a stream. On the sixth day, while sitting on a log writing his last will and testament, he was found by an aboriginal boy. An intensive search had been undertaken for the doctor, and the boy promptly brought settlers to the site, who then took Lossberg to Maroon Head station. The doctor eventually made his way back to Ipswich, where he remained in medical practice for 50 years. In 1887 he was appointed government medical officer; he was also a member of the Ipswich General Hospital surgical staff. He died in 1916.

Medicine in the early days

At the time these early Australian doctors were practising, very few of the scientific innovations in common use today were available. Inhalation anaesthesia was beginning to be used, but aside from that, the drugs listed in the pharmacopoeia were mainly of botanical or inorganic chemical origin, and, as we now know, most were virtually useless in the treatment of disease.

In these early days, digitalis was used for heart disease, morphia for pain, quinine for fever and mercury for syphilis. The true cause of infection was still not understood; most doctors still believed the miasmatic theory that infection arose spontaneously from the putrefaction of organic matter in certain locations. Despite this widespread belief, quarantine measures had been put in place – ships with illness on board were required to be quarantined in Moreton Bay upon arriving. In those days, strychnine injections were still being used for snakebite, despite Bancroft's experiments which showed they were useless. In 1895, diphtheria vaccine became available.

Home grown doctors and practices

By 1877, the Ipswich Hospital's board had been able to acquire sufficient finance to open applications for a resident medical officer. The salary offered was 300 pounds a year plus accommodation. Private practice was forbidden, but doctors were allowed to consult with other doctors. The appointee was required to be a surgeon.

The first individuals born in Ipswich to qualify as medical practitioners were Dr John Alexander Cameron (born 1869) and Dr John Flynn (born 1870). Flynn died from influenza in 1919, after serving for 25 years on the hospital's surgical staff. Cameron, the son of the headmaster at Ipswich Grammar School, undertook his medical training at Cambridge and his postgraduate training at the St George's and Queen Charlotte hospitals in London. He subsequently returned to Australia and set up a practice in 1896 in conjunction with Dr WN Robertson. Robertson later left Ipswich and became an ENT Specialist in Brisbane.

In 1904, Cameron moved into a small cottage on the corner of Roderick and Pring streets in Ipswich , and set up his medical practice there. Five years later, a cottage hospital was established on the site and a Miss Frances Louis Wilde, from Yorkshire, was appointed matron. Cameron, who had a special interest in obstetrics and gynaecology, had a very busy general practice. It is said that he took few holidays, and that his chief interest and pleasure in life was his medical practice. While a member of the Obstetrical Society of Queensland, he published A Record of 2000 Consecutive Cases of Midwifery, which contained detailed notes of every case he had undertaken. Ill health compelled him to retire in 1941.

Cameron's eldest son, Donald Alastair, was born in Ipswich on 17 March 1900. After completing his schooling in Ipswich he enrolled at the University of Sydney, where he graduated with a BA in 1920, and a MB BS in 1927. He subsequently trained at the Royal Prince Alfred and Prince Henry hospitals in Sydney . In 1932, Donald commenced general practice in Ipswich with his father. From 1940–1945 he served with distinction with the RAAMC in Tobruk, Ceylon, New Guinea and New Britain, and was subsequently awarded the OBE. Back in Ipswich after the war, his surgical skills ensured that his medical practice became more orientated towards surgery. To the surprise of many, he offered himself for election to the federal seat of Oxley as a matter of duty. He won, and entered parliament in 1949, becoming Minister for Health from 1956–1961. He was subsequently appointed as High Commissioner to New Zealand from 1962–1965, after which he returned to general practice in Nundah, a suburb of Brisbane . Donald was then elected to the Queensland Branch Council of the Australian Medical Association, becoming president from 1969–1970. He died on 5 January 1974.

In 1912, Dr Basil Lloyd Hart joined JA Cameron in his practice. In one of his books, Dr Stuart Patterson referred to Hart, saying that he was very good natured and never refused a call. Hart was apparently so busy by day and night that the only way he could get some rest was to attend a nearby picture theatre with his wife, where he would sleep through the evening's performance. Hart was also a proprietor and director of St Andrew's Private Hospital in Ipswich, in association with Dr Mervyn Patterson, Dr Gilmore Wilson, and JA Cameron, and served in the army medical services during World War I.

Under the guidance JA Cameron, St Andrew's grew in size, with improvements and additions made as finance permitted. By 1952, the hospital had 28 beds. St Andrew's was essentially a cottage hospital, built inside a typical Queenslander (a spacious wooden building with ample verandas). The main building was a long structure running parallel to Roderick Street outside.

Dr Benjamin Gilmore Wilson, a graduate from Sydney University's school of medicine, succeeded Thornton as the superintendent of Ipswich General Hospital in 1915. He reported that there were 76 patients with diphtheria in 1918 and 96 in 1919. Antitoxin was used to help the recovery of these patients.

In 1919, the influenza epidemic sweeping the world made its way to Ipswich. From mid May to mid June over 3000 cases were recorded; there were probably countless others. About 20 deaths occurred in the hospital and doctors and nurses were also afflicted, including the superintendent, Wilson. Ipswich was fortunate that at that time there was also an epidemic hospital in the town, which helped provide care for many.

Wilson retired from Ipswich General Hospital in 1920 and set up a general practice at his home on the corner Brisbane and Milford streets. Wilson 's family would prove one of Ipswich's most distinguished medical families. Wilson's grandfather, Reverend Benjamin Gilmore Wilson, had qualifications as both a medical practitioner and a clergyman, and had come came to Queensland from England in 1858, after an open invitation was put out for someone to take charge of the first Baptist Church in Queensland. Most of Wilson's activities in Queensland involved the church, but he would help out during medical emergencies.

Two families of medical practitioners in Ipswich claim descent from Reverend Wilson. The first are Mervyn Stuart Patterson and his son Hamilton Stuart – both distinguished members of the medical profession, as we will soon see. The other family retain Gilmore Wilson as part of their name, including Dr Benjamin Gilmore Wilson, the hospital's former superintendent. Sadly, Wilson died in 1943 from a myocardial infarct. His son, Harry, at that time a young doctor serving in the war, was sent home to take over his father's practice.

Harry's three siblings were all to become medical practitioners. Harry, the eldest, graduated MB BS in 1940 as one of the initial graduates from the University of Queensland Medical School. After a year as RMO at Royal Brisbane Hospital, he served for 3 years as a medical officer in the Army, before being recalled. After 7 years working in Ipswich, he went to England to continue his studies, achieving his MRCP in London in 1951 and his MA in Queensland in 1957. He became a FRACP in 1957. In later years, he was appointed senior physician to Princess Alexandra Hospital, and helped found the Queensland Cardiac Clinic. He was also a director of Cromwell College in Brisbane, and served on the board of the Ipswich Grammar School for several years. Harry continued to work part time as a specialist physician in Ipswich from the surgery in his father's old home, where Harry and his family also lived.

Chester Gilmore Wilson became an obstetrician, returning to Ipswich to work in 1955 after studying in England. Brian Gilmore Wilson became an ophthalmologist, with a specialist practice in Brisbane. Esther Roe, the only sister, also had a general practice in the capital.

The subsequent generation from these families has produced several medical practitioners, all of whom are widely respected. The Reverend Benjamin Gilmore Wilson has left a remarkable legacy to Ipswich – and to medicine.

Dr David Trumpy followed the Reverend's grandson Wilson as the hospital's superintendent in 1920. Trumpy, who had graduated with first class honours from the University of Melbourne in 1917, proved a very successful superintendent. Trumpy had undergone additional training in surgery, and had excellent diagnostic and surgical skills. His duties were such that he was required to deal with all manner of diseases, much like other general practice doctors of the time. During his tenure, Trumpy attended many meetings of the Queensland branch of the BMA in Brisbane, as did Mervyn Patterson. He was well respected by all who knew him. He was superintendent for 47 years, retiring in 1967 at 74 years of age.

Dr Roderick MacDonald began conducting a general practice in 1897 from his home at 37 East Street. In 1913, Mervyn Patterson joined the practice. The following year, MacDonald left for war service. When he returned, he left Ipswich for the Tweed River in New South Wales, where he established a practice.

Shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, Patterson underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic in the United States for cardiospasm – a condition that caused him to be rejected for war service. Patterson provided general practice services for 61 years. As was the norm in those years, he was required to perform a considerable amount of obstetric services and surgery. He also held an incredible variety of appointments, serving as the medical officer of health for Ipswich, an area medical officer for the army, a repatriation local medical officer, a medical inspector of schools, a medical officer of the state children's department and a commonwealth referee for pensions. He also served at the government medical office for Ipswich, and was a member of the British Medical Association Queensland Council, an appointment which required frequent meetings in Brisbane.

In mid 1940, Dr Stuart Patterson joined his father in this practice. The partnership was to prove short lived, however, with Mervyn soon leaving to take up a new position as the registrar of the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) at the 112th Australian General Hospital at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane.

At 78 years of age, Mervyn was still busy in his medical practice. His son recalls getting a telephone call from his father one morning asking Stuart to take over for a while so that Mervyn could go home for a shave and a bath. Mervyn, it turned out, had been at the bottom of a coal mine attending to an injured worker all night long. Mervyn was well loved and respected by his patients and the people of Ipswich , who referred to him affectionately as 'Beaky Patterson'.

In 1936, the old family home where Roderick MacDonald first started the practice, and where Mervyn still lived, was destroyed by fire. The story goes that Mervyn and family were heading off to Europe for a holiday, and were just about to board the ship when a friend told them that their house was on fire. Mervyn is said to have told his friend, in his customary phlegmatic style, “well, put out the fire as best you can, and we will fix it up when I come back from England”. The house was subsequently rebuilt and served as both a home and medical surgery for many years.

By 1955 there were seven medical practices in Ipswich, with a total of 15 medical practitioners. The old Cameron and Hart practice was set up in East Street near the river end, and had become a four man enterprise shared by Dr M A Williams, Dr James Hill, Dr Reg Adamson, and Dr Jim Howes. Adamson and Hill had been friends when each had a medical practice in the country, one at Miles and the other at Chinchilla. When surgery was required they would travel to each other's town and assist as required. Howes interrupted his medical career to serve in the Army as a foot soldier in New Guinea. He completed his medical training in 1949, and subsequently joined the East Street practice.

There was also another practice established in East Street. Operated by Dr Tom Cooney and Dr John Shera, it was housed at number 69, near the Ipswich General Hospital.

Cooney was born in Wellington, NSW, in 1890, one of 10 children. He left school at 12 years of age to work on the family farm. At the age of 15, he decided that he wanted to join the medical profession, and returned to school to study. He eventually graduated in medicine from the University of Sydney. After marrying in 1919, Cooney came to Ipswich and began practicing at 69 East Street. Trumpy, the hospital superintendent, arrived in Ipswich the following year, and the two established a lifelong friendship.

Cooney was a talented athlete, playing rugby union for NSW and football and cricket in Ipswich, before taking up golf in his later years. Chairman of a number of sporting organizations, Cooney was particularly admired for his work as chairman of the Ipswich Amateur Turf Club, a position he held from the year he joined – 1946 – until his death.

Dr Howard Morris Saxby (known as 'Chad ') graduated in medicine from the University of Sydney and then moved to Queensland to work, first at the Toowoomba and Nambour general hospitals and then as superintendent for the Maryborough and Charters Towers hospitals. Chad loved administration and was an expert in it.

After serving in a light horse regiment and reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was transferred to the AAMC when war broke out in 1939 and served as assistant director of medical services for the Northern Command. After the war, in 1946, Chad joined Cooney in his Ipswich practice, continuing general practice there until 1953, the last 2 years of which were also spent serving on the Queensland BMA Council (he was also very active on the council of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners for many years). In 1953 Cooney became medical superintendent of the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in north Sydney. In 1966 he joined the Catholic Benedictine Order, and went to live at their monastery at New Norcia in Western Australia, but was forced to leave in 1968 because of ill health.

Another Ipswich doctor, John Arthur McKelvey Shera, was born in Rockhampton in 1913. After graduating in medicine from the University of Sydney in 1939, Shera, who had a great interest in surgery and gynaecology, worked as a resident medical officer at the Ipswich hospital. During the war years, he served in the AAMC in New Guinea. Upon returning, he practiced for a time in Mt Morgan and Rockhampton before coming back to Ipswich to join Cooney in his East Street practice. In 1996, Shera achieved a 50 year membership of the AMA.

In later years, Dr Kevin Francis Brennan and Dr Terry Brumm joined the practice. As the practice expanded further, a new building was constructed for the practice at 29a South Street. Father and son Patterson continued their practice at 37 East Street.

Among the other doctors in town, Dr Wylie Gibbs had a specialist surgical practice, and Dr Sam Garozzo joined him as an anaesthetist and GP.

Dr Harry Wilson and Dr Alex Clarke continued the medical practice established by Benjamin Wilson in 1920.

Dr Mervyn Fish took over a practice previously operated by Dr Ashley Carter, and earlier by Dr George Brandis, who had left Ipswich to become an eminent surgeon in Brisbane.

Dr Salmae Vincent conducted a general practice on her own.

In addition to the hospitals already mentioned, there was also Lyndhurst, another smaller private hospital which was managed by a very devoted team of two trained nurses and a small staff. Cooney was their main general practitioner. I remember being called to deliver a patient at midnight on one occasion, and finding the matron sitting at the end of the bed, supervising and encouraging the patient while at the same time shelling the peas for tomorrow's dinner. It's no wonder those nurses were so loved by their patients.

In 1926, the Ipswich and West Moreton Medical Association was formed. The association held monthly meetings, usually on the third Thursday of each month, which gave local doctors the opportunity to socialise and discuss business and medical matters. A guest speaker often spoke at the meetings about a particular medical topic. These meetings were conducted under the aegis of the AMA, and were useful for promoting goodwill and cooperation among members. In this spirit, doctors would not hesitate in responding to a call for help from a doctor's receptionist or wife when a doctor was unable to attend to their patient, and needed help. Today group practices are usually able to deal with such problems among themselves.

As the population grew during the early part of the 20th century, so did the numbers of doctors in the Ipswich area. Despite few having higher qualifications in medicine or surgery, some individuals went on to develop considerable expertise in areas of interest to them, be it surgery, gynaecology or medicine.

By mid century Ipswich had 15 medical practitioners in private practice, including Dr Wylie Gibbs, an accredited specialist surgeon, and Dr Harry Wilson, a qualified physician. Another doctor, Alex Clarke, took a 12 month break to study and qualify as a radiologist. When he returned, he was able to provide private and public radiology services, as his father had done at his rooms in Brisbane. The rest of us were generalists, practising in what was perhaps the heyday of general practice. Most of the GPs had busy obstetrical practices as well as undertaking some general surgery. Many specialists were in Brisbane, 40 kilometres away, and both their numbers and the variety of skills they provided were increasing rapidly. Still, they weren't in Ipswich – yet.

In 1961, after a change in state government policy, the Ipswich General Hospital stopped allowing outside doctors to admit patients to the general wards, and appointed a part time staff made up mainly of accredited specialists. (General practitioners were still able to admit patients to the intermediate wards, including some obstetric wards.)

These days, the scene has undergone further changes. Numerous specialists have become established in Ipswich, which has meant GPs are not required to perform the same range of tasks as they once did. There are currently 60 general practitioners working in Ipswich; the majority are in group practices, though a few soloists remain. Many of the GPs are female and work part time.

The Ipswich General Hospital now has a large staff of both full and part time consultant medical officers, and services the surrounding areas as well as Ipswich. Now operating with a range of specialists, the hospital has been able to greatly extend the services it offers to the public, reflecting the more sophisticated care now becoming available outside the capital cities.

St Andrew's has also become very busy, with most of the patients under the care of various specialists. Things weren't always so good, however. In the mid 50s, St Andrews faced financial problems. In 1960, a meeting was called, asking the town's doctors to discuss the future of the hospital – and appealing for their financial help. After several meetings, a decision was made: each doctor using the hospital would be asked to make a contribution of 300 pounds. Doctors using the hospital were almost all GPs, which made the hospital critical to the town's general practice.

Sufficient funds were raised to overcome the immediate financial problems; later, developments, such as fitting an air conditioning unit in the operating theatre, were undertaken. Eventually, the hospital was able to have 52 beds available for patient care.

Each year, St Andrews sent out annual reports to all doctor subscribers, which were always accompanied with pleas for donations to purchase more shares. Eventually Civil & Civic were contracted to build a new hospital block, and the new development was completed and opened for patients on 31 May 1980. The new block, which added an additional 50 beds to hospital, bringing the total to 102, represented a combined effort on the part of specialists and general practitioners. The new block was fully air conditioned, and also housed three operating theatres, a sterilising department and a radiology department staffed by a group of radiologists who had previously worked in a site remote from the hospital.

Perhaps the most important change in medical services over the last 100 years is the application of research and scientific breakthroughs to the practice of medicine. These developments have created a need for many individual medical practitioners to devote themselves to a particular component of medical practice and specialise in their chosen craft. The medical knowledge available to GPs has come a long way from the time when theories such as the miasmatic theory were still commonly believed. And while the scope of GPs' work has narrowed relative to procedural work like surgery, they still remain at the forefront of medical care and represent the crucial first point of contact between the medical profession and the public.

Dr Bruce Roberts

The views expressed by the authors of these articles are their own and not necessarily those of the publisher or the editorial staff and must not be quoted as such. Every care is taken to reproduce articles accurately, but the publisher accepts no responsibility for errors, omissions or inaccuracies contained therein or for the consequences of any action taken by any person as a result of anything contained in this publication.