As controversy engulfs various issues with regard to the General Hospital in Port of Spain. It may be of use to recall for posterity the origins of this splendid institution and the names of the illustrious individuals who devoted themselves to the ‘calling’ of the medical profession, serving selflessly and giving generously to those in need.
The hospital was commenced to be built during the Governorship of Vice Admiral Sir Charles Elliot V.C.B. (1854 - 1856) and completed in 1858 by Govenor Robert W. Keate. Keate Street nearby is named for him. The site was originally the Orange Grove Barracks and had been built some 40 odd years before as the principal British Military Station in Port of Spain.
One may hazard that a ‘Dr. Jones’, who was medical officer to the British troops at the capture of the island in 1797 ,and who was subsequently stationed at the barracks, was perhaps the first doctor ‘in the house’.
The building was some 300 feet long and the width was 64 feet, with an open gallery 10 feet wide on either side. It could accommodate some 200 patients. Dr. Raoul Seheult, President Surgeon from 1911 to 1922, remarked that “the architect L.W. Samuel Esq., a Trinidadian, kept in mind the importance of simplicity and the value of light and ventilation”. Controversy had swirled about the new hospital be built on the site of the Orange Grove Barracks, in that many deaths had occured there at the time when medical science had not yet linked malignant fevers to mosquitoes.
The resident surgeon at the time of the opening was Dr.Richard Mercer and his staff consited of :
Chaplain, House Surgeon, Consluting Surgeon, Dispenser, Assistant Dispenser, Clerk, Head Nurse, 8 other Nurses, 2 Wardsmen, 1 Washer woman, a Cook Porter and two Gate Porters.
There was a rapid increase in population in the second half of the 19th century, from 84,438 in 1816 to 200,028 in 1891. Much of this occured as a result of immigration from India, the West Indies and Venezuela. Trinidad was plainly an immigrant society. In this period 44% of the population or 37,502 were born outside of the island. Indentured Indians numbered 13,488 in 1861 and 45,028 in 1891. West Indians who came in search of opportunity numbered 11,716 in 1816 and 33,180 in 1891. Some 6,035 natives of Africa were liberated on the high seas by British battle ships and brought to Trinidad and released. There was some 18,980 people living in Port of Spain in 1861 and 31,858 in the city proper in 1881. Cholera had swept the city in 1854, when during a six week period, deaths averaged between 15 - 35 people per day and returned a few days later with the same appalling intensity. There was a high occurence of leprosy, said to have been introduced to the colony by the Indian immigrants.
In its first year of operation, some 638 patients were treated at the General Hospital, but there were strict rules, for instance:
“No persons suffreing from Asiatic Cholera, Small Pox, Measels, Leprosy or other infectuous or contagious diseases or insanity will be admitted”. These unfortunates had to be looked after at home. It was not until 1896 that two small wards were opened for the isolation and treatment of infectuous diseases. Already a steam laundry had been built in 1897 and a mule-drawn ambulance service had been started. 1897 also saw the installation of electric lights which replaced the kerosene lanterns of 40 years previously.
Famous Trinidadian doctors of the early period were Dr. Sir Louis de Verteuil M.D. (Paris), born in 1807, Dr. Antoine Leotaud M.D. (Paris), born in 1814, Dr. Jean V. de Boissiere M.D. (Edin) M.R.C.S. (London), born in 1830, and Dr. Richard Mercer M.D. F.R.C.S.E., House Surgeon 1858 - 1870.
There was a high standard of discipline as the following incident will demonstrate. A superintending nursing sister on making her rounds of the hospital at 6:15 pm met a visitor in the private rooms. Visiting hours were 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm. She politely but firmly informed him of the rules of the hospital. The gentleman expressed his regret and left the ward. A few days afterward she was complimented by his Excellency the Governor, the same gentleman, for the manner in which she had discharged her duties.
This sketch would not be complete if mention was not made of the nurses, who worked hard, taught the student nurses well, but reaped a poor harvest. Amongst these from long ago was nurse Hackshaw, of the Gordon ward, a strict disiplinarian, nurse Smith of the Acute Female Surgical ward., nurse Senator of the Acute Male Surgical Ward, nurse Barrat of the Police Ward and nurse Irene Mitchel of the Surgery Ward. The wardsmen in the early days were Mr. Boyce and Mr. Shockness.
The Hospital’s gardens were especially remarked upon and so to was The Bell’. One peal denoted that a patient was coming to surgery. Two peals informed you that a patient, accompanied by a constable, was proceeding to surgery. Three peals were for the Surgeon General. Four peals announced the Governor.
An institution is built upon the people who serve it. In memory of the hundreds who have served we will list a handful of them - for Auld Lang Syne, my dear.
The Administrators of the Colonial Hospital
1858-1870 Richard Charles Mercer, M.D., F.R.C.S.E.
1870-1872 Thomas Cuddeford, M.R.C.S.
1872-1874 John Stuckey, M.R.C.S.E.
1874-1877 Samuel Weekes Fitt.
1880-1882 N. Claude burgoyne Pashley.
1883-1884 Charles Francis Knox, M.R.C.S.E.
1885-1887 Lewis Fabien M.R.C.S.E.
1888-1892 Henry McCaul Alston M.D. ch.B. (Edin)
1893-1897 E. Inskip Read, F.R.C.S.I.
1897-1906 Edward Angel Gale Doyle
1907-1910 Edgar Nicholas Darwent, M.D., C.M. (Edin)
1911-1922 John Francis Raoul Seheult, M.D., C.M. (Edin)
1923-1924 Ernest Abert Turpin, M.B., ch.B. (Edin)
1924-1929 Rudolf Carl Wupperman, M.B., ch.B. (Edin)
1929-1937 Joseph Erwin Adolphe Boucaud, M.B., B.S. (Lond.), M.R.C.S. (England), L.R.C.P. (Lond.)
1938-1948 James Cook, F.R.C.S. (Edin), L.R.C.P. (Lond.), D.P.H. (Durham).
Superintending Medical Officer (Specialist)
1948-1951 Joseph Erwin Adolphe Boucaud (Retired 1951)
Deputy Director of Medical Services and Superintending Officer
1951-1952 L.P. Younglao, M.B., ch.B., D.P.H.
1952-1955 James Arnold Waterman, M.D., ch.B. (Glas.), D.T.M. & H., F.R.C.O.G. (Retired 1955)
Superintending Medical Officer
1955-1957 David Strthu Gideon, M.R.C.S., (Engl.), L.R.C.P. (Lond.). (Retired 1957)
1957- Lancelot Francis Chan, M.B., ch.B. (Glas.)
Ministers of Health
1950-1956 Norman Tang, C.B.E., Minister of Health
1956- Dr. Winston Mahabir, Minister of Health, Water and Sanitation.
1871-1893 Samuel Leonard Crane
1893-1901 Sir Francs Lovell
1901-1907 James de Wolf
1907-1919 Henry Lewis Clare
1919-1935 Kendrick Staton Wise
Directors of Medical Services
1936-1942 Adam Rankine
1943-1944 Norman M. Maclennan
1945-1947 George Maclean C.B.E.
1948- Esau Jymshed Sankerali
1948-1956 A. August Peat
1956-1957 Horace Gillet, O.B.E.
1957- L.P.Younglao (Acting)
Consultants to the Hospital as Part-time or Honoray Officers
1958 Consulting Surgeon- Bury Irwin Dasent, M.R.C.S.
1871-1893 Hon. Consulting Surgeon- S. L. Crane, M.D., ch.B.
1871-1900 Consulting Physician- Hon. Sir Louis A. A. de Veerteuil