Those who served the Silver City

Thursday, 4th May, 2017

nurses nurses

There are so many great names synonymous with the 130 years of hospital service to our city. 

I know each and every reader will have a favourite story to tell about someone that went beyond the call of duty. However, for many it is too early for them to be written into history through archived newspapers and so cannot be researched easily. 

Perhaps they will be acknowledged in the 150 year celebration. In saying that, information on any hospital personnel would be greatly appreciated by the hospital museum so that we can expand on the information held. 

The information included in this series was researched from NLA Digitised Newspapers, Broken Hill ABC Radio, the oral history of Matron Gladys Vance, Ms Fay Newell and the extraordinary essay of the fourteen-year-old niece of Franziska Schlink.

Dr. Henry James Firth Groves

Dr. Henry James Firth Groves studied at Guys Hospital, London where he distinguished himself at the University of London, and at the time he left England he held the position of public health officer at Lambeth.

In about 1885 he came overland to Silverton from Hillston, on the Lachlan River, about intending to rest for a while. He, however, entered in to partnership with another in an agency business, but very soon tired of it, and in 1886 he arrived in Broken Hill. There was only one other doctor in the Hill at that time. 

Dr. Groves was a man with a large heart, and his sympathy was at once aroused by the sufferings of the unfortunate patients who had to bear the burden of fever and other ailments under such trying conditions as then existed. He at once offered his services and was the first Hospital doctor appointed. He received a salary of 50 pounds per annum, and devoted the whole of it to the relief of the patients, to supplying medicine, and to the improvement of the then existing conditions.

Dr. Groves’ connection with the Broken Hill Hospital was a long and honourable one, and at the outset he did noble and philanthropic work for the institution and the sick of the town. He was the first president of the Broken Hill Club, first president of the Masonic Club, and was a leading member of the Masonic Order on the Barrier.

He died in Melbourne in 1904 after a long illness. Those that knew him described him as a man who had a “breezy bluffiness which hid his good qualities but he had a kind heart and a sympathetic nature”.  

Matron Burkhill

Mrs. Emma Burkhill, was the first matron of the Broken Hill Hospital. She was born at Cooling in Kent England on September 28, 1846, and came to South Australia on November 28, 1866. In 1871 she was appointed matron at the Mount Gambier Hospital, and held that post for two years, coming to Menindee in 1876.

Mrs. Burkhill transferred to Broken Hill in 1885, and was appointed matron at the Broken Hill Hospital, which was then situated on the Gaol Reserve. In May 1888 she transferred to the 2nd custom built hospital and remained there until she resigned at a Hospital Board meeting in October 1894; the resignation taking effect as of 12 November. The resignation was accepted and that the secretary wrote to Mrs. Burkhill acknowledging her long and “efficient service” to the institution.

She resided at 193 Sulphide Street Broken Hill for the rest of her life with the exception of one year in which she travelled to New York to visit one of her daughters.

She died at the Hospital on the 20 August 1936 aged 90 years and is buried in the Anglican Section of the Broken Hill Cemetery.  

Emma Ethel Burkhill, one of Matron’s daughters continued to live in the family home. She was born at Menindee and was well known to early day people as a teacher of dancing. She died on 23 January 1952 in the hospital her mother served so well and is buried in the same grave as her step brother Alfred Orman who pre-deceased her in 1946. Emma junior was 73 when she died.

Dr T E Fraser Seabrook

Dr T E F Seabrook, was a General Practitioner at Silverton and serviced the area including Broken Hill from 1886. He moved to Broken Hill where he was in private practice and became the medical officer for Broken Hill Proprietary Mine. He was appointed Superintendent of the Broken Hill Hospital in 1893. In 1902 he resigned to become Government Medical Officer at Darwin and Dr L Seabrook succeeded his father as hospital superintendent. Dr T E F Seabrook returned to Broken Hill and died in 1908. He was 73.

Dr Leonard Llewellyn Seabrook

Dr Leonard Llewellyn Seabrook was born in London in 1864 arriving in Australia as a young boy. He was educated at one of Adelaide’s colleges. He succeeded his father Dr T E F Seabrook as Superintendent of the Broken Hill Hospital from 1902-1914. He was well known for his successful treatment of typhoid fever. Dr L L Seabrook was granted six months’ leave of absence in December 1914. However, he was unable to continue in his profession due to continual ill health. He died in November 1916 at his residence in Railwaytown. The doctors Seabrook are buried in the Anglican Section of the Broken Hill Cemetery.

Doctor William David Kerr Macgillivray 

Dr William David Kerr Macgillivray was born at Kallara Station on the River Darling when it was owned by his parents. The family moved to Edington Station, Cloncurry, Queensland where his father was one of the earliest settlers in North Queensland.

Dr MacGillivary was educated in Melbourne. He passed his medical course at the Melbourne University and practised his profession first at Coleraine, Victoria and later at Hamilton. When he came to Broken Hill he took over the practice of the late Dr. Graham.

He arrived in Broken Hill around 1897 and practised continually until his death on 25 June 1933. This term of service was interrupted only by his military service in the AIF when he was a surgeon from 1916 until the end of the war.

“The late Dr. Macgillivray was noted for his genial manner and wide sympathies. He always seemed to be in good humour, and was always at home to everybody to whom he could give any service. His circle of friends was unlimited, and there were comparatively few families in Broken Hill which had not at some time come into contact with him, by all of whom his memory will be cherished.” (Barrier Miner Editorial of that time).

Dr MacGillivray holds a special place in Broken Hill’s history for his passion for the environment. In 1933 he was considered to be one of Australia’s best known ornithologists. He accumulated a very extensive and valuable collection of Australian birds and also a large number of Australian animals which we preserved in his private museum.

He was the inaugural President of the Barrier Field Naturalists’ Club and his name is synonymous with Albert Morris in the regeneration of our city. MacGillivray Drive at the cemetery is named after this fine man.

Flags flew at half-mast in the city as a token of the public loss suffered by his death.

Doctor Samuel (Sam) Barnett

Doctor Samuel Barnett was the son of one Broken Hill’s pioneers. Sam Barnett Senior was born in Nairne, South Australia and was a drover with Sir Sidney Kidman before arriving in the Barrier around 1886. By 1924 he was the publican of the Newmarket Hotel. He also owned several butcher shops within the city.

At the time of his death in 1947 his son Sam Barnett was the Surgeon Superintendent of the Broken Hill Hospital; another son was the licensee of the Silver King Hotel and one of his daughters was Sister Mary Theophane. Sister Mary Theophane taught me at St Joseph’s Secondary School and I remember her well. 

Doctor Barnett sought leave of absence from the Broken Hill Hospital in 1946 for an overseas trip that the Broken Hill Mining Companies subsidised. The letter sent to the Broken Hill Hospital Board read:

“The directors of the Broken Hill mining, companies have decided that, subject to the approval of the Hospital Board, they would be prepared to make a gift to the Hospital of a sum sufficient to enable the Hospital to send Dr Barnett abroad for the purpose of investigating and studying the latest surgical treatment methods. This offer is made providing that Dr Barnett will be prepared to remain on the staff of the Broken Hill and District Hospital for a period of three years upon his return.”

The reasoning for the generous offer was the desire of the companies that Broken Hill procured all the latest surgical methods of treatment for both employees of the mines and the citizens of Broken Hill.

Doctor Sam Barnett was Surgeon Superintendent of the Broken Hill Base Hospital from 1935-1954. His son Dr Michael Barnett continued a long association with our Health Service and has recently retired. 

Doctor Franziska Schlink

Franziska Schlink first worked at the Royal Melbourne Hospital before moving to the Ballarat Base Hospital where she faced opposition because she was a Catholic. The Board employed her thinking she was a member of the Lutheran Church because of her German name. She refused to resign and insisted on time off for Church attendance. She joined the staff of the Broken Hill and District Hospital in 1936. As one of the town’s first women doctors she had to withstand a hostile reception from resident surgeons Samuel Barnett and Wilhelm Dorsch, but she and Dorsch went on to become firm friends. From 1951, Dr Schlink moved into private practice with Dr Brian Funder and Dr Edmond Thomas Walsh.

Franziska had a very soft spot for young unmarried mothers and their babies. It was not publicly known until after her death that she personally paid for layettes for babies that for many reasons were put up for adoption.

She also paid for an air-conditioner after visiting an elderly patient that was distressed during one of Broken Hill’s hot summers.

She was one of the few women allowed to go underground when she demanded access to treat miners who were injured or unwell.

Franziska Schlink was president of the Broken Hill branch of the Australian Medical Association. She was a woman of great compassion who served this community well. She died at the age of 55 in 1965.

Doctor Hedley McMeekin

Doctor McMeekin was invited in 1983 to open the Hospital Museum. That to me indicates the esteem this Doctor was held by the Retired Graduate Nurses that created the museum. All had worked with Doctor McMeekin at the Broken Hill Base Hospital. Matron Vance, in her oral history, stated he was a Doctor that gave “long, outstanding service to the Hospital”.

Doctor McMeekin commenced duties at the Broken Hill Base Hospital in 1940 and quite often accompanied the Flying Doctor on trips to outlying pastoral properties.

Doctor McMeekin commenced private practice in 1946 and in May 1953 he travelled to England to further his studies and was given a farewell by the Napredak Club who had been recipients of free medical service by the good doctor!

He was also the Central Football Club medico for some years. These are just two examples of a doctor that was truly committed to his community. Doctor McMeekin’s daughter Sally was a graduate of Broken Hill’s School of Nursing in later years.

Doctor W B Dorsch

Doctor Dorsch graduated from medical school in 1933. He had attended the Broken Hill and District Hospital the prior year as a medical student and indicated his interest in returning. The Hospital Board followed up on his interest but it was not until September 1935 that he became a resident medical officer at our hospital. 

Between 1935 and 1937 he was a medical witness at many inquests, two of which were men that had died from poisoning. Both from strychnine: one deliberately and one trying to relieve toothache pain!

Dr Dorsch was appointed Acting Surgeon Superintendent whilst Dr Sam Barnett travelled abroad. In 1939 he had to contend with a diphtheria outbreak in the Children’s Ward at the Hospital during which the Ward was closed.

Dr Sam Barnett returned to his position as Surgeon Superintendent in October 1939. Rumours were rife that Dr Dorsch, much to the consternation of many, had been dismissed. This was quickly denied by the Hospital Board and indeed Dr Dorsch quickly settled back into the position of Assistant Surgical Superintendent. 

In June 1939 Dr Dorsch was responsible for testing the newly arrived iron lung in preparation of the threat of a poliomyelitis outbreak in Broken Hill.  However it was a young lad who was badly injured playing in a BHP Skimp dump that actually tested the new invention. Dr Sam Barnett ordered the iron lung be used to improve the quality of the young boy’s breathing after he had become paralysed. 

Unfortunately, although the iron lung was assembled it was not connected with any electrical supply. Mr. Vic. Johnsen, shift engineer from the Central Power Station, was rushed from the CPS to the hospital where he successfully made the iron lung operational. The young man lived a long life thanks to the dedication and co-operation of hospital staff and the community.

Dr Dorsch requested leave from the hospital in 1942 when he joined the AIF. In 1944 the Board requested his release from the AIF. The now Major W B Dorsch was not discharged from the Army until 1946.

In 1948 Dr Dorsch resigned from the Broken Hill Hospital Staff and purchased a private practice. In September 1950 Dr Dorsch married Dr Margaret Rugless in Adelaide. He was back caring for his patients within three days of his wedding. Now that is dedication for you!