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Thames Hospital celebrates its 150th anniversary this weekend

02 November 2018

In its 15 decades of existence Thames Hospital has cared for the diggers of the goldfields and successive generations of the wider Coromandel and Thames Valley community. This weekend it celebrates its 150th anniversary.

What's on:

Tonight: True Tales of Thames Hospital book launch
St George’s  Hall, Mackay St, Thames
6pm – registration and wine and cheese
7pm – Book launch
8pm – Social evening at Thames Hospital Boiler House Social Club.

Saturday morning: Thames Museum has a collection of hospital memorabilia on display. There will be a parade from the museum to the hospital’s Mackay St entrance for the official opening at 1pm, followed by hospital tours.

Sunday 9:30am: A community service of celebration at St George’s Church on Mackay St.

Community-built

Thames Hospital men's ward circa 1900

(Photo: Thames Hospital men's ward, circa 1900)

The diggers’ hospital in Thames was officially opened on 2 November 1868, and called “Thames Goldfield Hospital”.

Gold mining had been in full swing for just over a year and the town of Thames itself didn’t even exist – it wasn’t to be formed until 1873 when the settlements of Shortland and Grahamstown merged.

The hospital is one of the oldest operating in New Zealand and has been an enduring part of the Coromandel and Hauraki Plains community through natural disasters, war, epidemics, economic downturns and boom times

The hospital is a major employer in the district and dominates the skyline of Thames.

The history of the hospital has been chronicled in True Tales of Thames Hospital, 150 Years 1868 – 2018, written by a dedicated group of people with a connection to the hospital, both past and present.

“It was founded 150 years ago not because the government of the day thought there should be a hospital here – but because members of the community saw the need and got the job done, ” our Mayor Sandra Goudie says.

Diggers need a place to heal

Thames Goldfields Hospital 1868

(Photo: Thames in 1868. The diggers' hospital is the building in the centre right enclosed by the square fence)

Digging in the goldmines of “the Thames” was a dirty, noisy, dangerous business, local historian Kae Lewis writes in True Tales of Thames Hospital in her chapter on the establishment of the hospital.

The miners faced cave-ins, rocks falling from mines further up the hills, falls down shafts, and industrial-type accidents while tending the steam-powered stamper batteries that crushed the gold-containing ore.

There were also the illnesses present in any frontier settlement of the 1860s: typhoid fever, dysentery, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough and measles.

Severe cases were sent to hospital in Auckland by boat, and many didn’t survive the passage.

A committee was set up and began the task of fundraising. Ngati Maru donated a one-acre block of land – where the hospital is today located.

The hospital was opened at noon on 2 November, and was built, furnished and equipped at a cost of £230, all of it raised by the community, with no contribution from the central or provincial governments.

Modern times

Thames Hospital 2018

(Photo: Thames Hospital in 2018. Picture taken from around the same point as the one above from 150 years ago.)

In 2007-08 the hospital underwent a major redevelopment with the demolition of buildings dating from 1900.

By 2010 a new Emergency Department, Inpatient Unit, Clinical Centre and Radiology Department had opened. A few years later a new CT scanner and echocardiography service were added. In 2011 the new Thames Birthing Unit was opened.

“We’re always looking at the needs of the community and how best to respond to those,” Jacquie Mitchell, Service Manager for Thames and Coromandel Rural Health Services, says.

“Our population is elderly, we have one of the highest over-65 populations in New Zealand. Our services also keep in mind other priority groups such as maori and children,” she says.

“Thames Hospital services are in good shape. The future is bright.”

Thames Hospital in numbers 

Total staff – 351, including the birthing unit

Babies born – about 120/year

Emergency Department patients – 18,000/year

Outpatients – 19,000/year

Top five inpatient admissions:

  • Elderly unable to cope at home
  • Congestive pulmonary disease
  • Infections causing sepsis
  • Cancer for palliative care
  • Cardiac chest pain