Saturday, January 17, 2009

Avondale’s influenza hospital

In early November 1918, just as Aucklanders were looking forward to an end to hostilities as far as the First World War to end all wars was concerned, the influenza pandemic struck. The Avondale Jockey Club concluded their spring meeting on 6 November, the racing reporter for the NZ Herald noting that “the attendance was somewhat affected by the prevailing epidemic.” By the 10th of November, over 100 cases of this deadly form of influenza had been reported in the Avondale and New Lynn districts, with one death. The Health Department provided a “standard remedy” to be obtained from the New Lynn Town Board’s offices at that point.

On the 12th of November, the Jockey Club placed all its buildings and site, without reserve, at the disposal of Health authorities. (Judging by what was later reported, this was probably after a request from the local Road Board). Over the next five days, a makeshift hospital was set up on the racecourse. As at 17th of November there were 14 patients there, all reported to be making satisfactory progress. The Auckland Hospital Board sent out all necessary equipment, though at that stage they were unable to provide a doctor. The Board’s chairman, W. Wallace, declared his satisfaction with the set-up. A Nurse Curtis was placed in charge, according to the Star, “… and she also rules the visiting organisation in the district as far as Helensville. The nurse is assisted by a band of local helpers.” Among those helpers was a Miss Hume, and the headmaster of Avondale Primary School, Mr. Darrow, who both fell sick with the virus, but survived. Soon after, cases from New Lynn were also treated at Avondale’s temporary hospital.

On the 18th, it was noted that four deaths had occurred in the Avondale district over the preceding few days, but by the following day the situation seemed to be under control. The Avondale Road Board was recognised as the organisers of the district hospital, and now a Dr. Horsley was able to attend. “Residents and neighbours are attending to cases in private homes where it is not found possible to admit the patients to hospitals,” the Star reported. Eventually, the outbreak died out, and the Avondale hospital closed on 28th November, two weeks after the Jockey Club’s offer to use their site in the emergency.

Reg Combes, author of Pharmacy in New Zealand (1981), gives full recognition to local chemist Robert Allely as the organiser behind the hospital, although Allely’s name was never mentioned by either the Herald or the Star at the time of the outbreak. (The Star later reported on Allely's presentation, however.)
“At the height of the epidemic, Allely erected a tent hospital on the Avondale Racecourse … A Medical Officer of Health was despatched to inspect his makeshift hospital, set up in spite of regulations prohibiting such temporary quarters. But Robert Allely knew what he was about. The Medical Officer of Health unofficially congratulated him, and gratefully left him to carry on in his own way, which he was able to do with the help of his voluntary aides.”
It is Arthur Morrish’s News which has ensured that Allely’s part in the crisis wasn’t left out. On 22 January 1919, the Avondale Road Board staged a special presentation of an illuminated address, gold watch, chain and pendant, and a book with the names of 400 subscribers to Robert Allely. The Chairman, Robert Nesbitt, said that “the townspeople of Avondale would never forget that during that critical time Avondale was without the services of a medical man and Mr. Allely stepped into the breach and visited nearly 400 people without fee or reward. When it became necessary to establish a temporary hospital it was to Mr. Allely they looked for guidance and help and right well he served them.” The other voluntary workers who assisted at the hospital were also praised.

While officially Robert Allely’s name may have been left off history’s script – his contribution to the welfare of the people of Avondale has still not been forgotten.

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