Sunday, June 28, 2009

Disease, morals and “the social evil”: a brief look at Auckland’s Lock Hospital (1883-1886)

This is a much broader subject than it appears at first glance. At some stage, I’ll do some thorough trawling through the Herald and Star editions of the period to fill in gaps and flesh out the tale of the hospital. For now, though, here’s what I have to hand.

In 1864, Great Britain passed the Contagious Diseases Act. This appears to have been legislation in response to concerns as to the prevalence of venereal diseases in military towns and bases in the country, and meant that police had the right to enforce a physical examination upon women suspected of sexually transmitted diseases, and detention in a lock hospital for up to three months while being treated. [Update, 16 August 2010: the term "lock hospital" appears to have originated from the term "locks", rags which covered the lesions of lepers who were "treated" in early hospitals in England during the Middle Ages. The term "lock" came to associated with contagious diseases in general, and venereal ones in particular -- hence the term "lock hospital" for an institution dealing specifically with sexually transmitted diseases.]

In New Zealand, a place in the 1860s where there were some military encampments and barracks during the Land Wars in the North Island, it was oddly enough Mr. W. Rolleston from Canterbury who championed the passage our own Contagious Diseases Act in 1869. (Wellington Independent, 19 August) Even so, it wasn’t until 1872 that the Act came into operation in Canterbury. (Taranaki Herald, 10 April) Wellington sought to follow suit in 1877, but the council there met with stern opposition from morals groups, who viewed the legislation as not so much a prevention of disease amongst the public as it was, by the system of certification of clean health to those women who had no infections, a kind of encouragement of the “social evil”.
“SANCTIMONIOUSNESS.: A more contemptible exhibition of sanctimonious folly than that displayed at a recent meeting of the Wellington City Council it would be hard to imagine. From a short account of the meeting, which will be found in another column, and which we have reprinted from the Post, it will be seen that it was called for the special purpose of considering the late petition in reference to "the social evil." The police laid before the Council a very favorable report of the working of the "Contagious Diseases Act " in Christchurch, but on a motion being made for put* ting the Act in force in Wellington, it was defeated by six to three, and another motion passed asking the Government for fresh legislation on the subject. We don't know what answer this application will receive, but we know how it ought to be answered. If the applicants be of the number of those who “fear a curtain lecture more than hell," let them resign their places in the City Council to men of sense, who will bring the Act into operation at once. “
(Wanganui Herald, 1 April 1881)

On the other hand, there were groups, also with a moral view, who felt that something needed to be done about prostitution in the capital, and saw the Act as a means to that end.
“A petition of Wellington residents to their City Council praying to have the Contagious Diseases Act brought into operation within the Borough, alleges that Wellington, with its population of 20,000, is more immoral than Melbourne with its 250,000 inhabitants. The memorial has been referred to the Minister of Justice with a recommendation that he should take strong measures to suppress the immorality complained of.”
(Taranaki Herald, 14 May 1881)

However, it was Auckland, not Wellington, which was to be next after Christchurch to undergo the experiment. Exactly why Auckland decided to go down this track is not something I’ve ascertained yet. One suggestion is that the Council wanted to show the Royal Navy that Auckland could be a suitable, and venereal disease free, base for their Pacific operations. (I need to look into this further).

In June 1881, the Auckland City Council petitioned the Colonial Secretary to allow the Act to come into affect in the city. (Grey River Argus, 14 June) By later the following year, when it appeared that the Council were absolutely dead-set on setting up the Lock Hospital, the petitions against the scheme began to fill the table at their meetings. In response, the Mayor at the time, James McCosh Clark, assured a deputation of clergymen that while he didn’t want to stop the process of being the Act into operation in Auckland, “he would endeavour to prevent prostitutes obtaining certificates of cleanliness.” (Evening Post, 3 October 1882) A tender for erecting the Lock Hospital, adjacent to Mt Eden Gaol on the stockade reserve, was accepted in February 1883.

In 1883, a new mayor was elected, William R. Waddel. The Lock Hospital proceeded, but with a slightly different intent – disease prevention, rather than personal detention. In August, Dr. C. F. Goldsbro’ was appointed medical superintendent at £150 a year, and a matron has been appointed at £100 a year — both subject to three months' notice. (Hawkes Bay Herald, 29 August) The Observer in October 1883 reported that the hospital was fully operational, with 80 women already on the books.

In December 1883, Dr. Goldsbro’ died, and Dr. Tennent appointed as visiting surgeon in his place in February the following year. The petitions appeared to have continued.

“A meeting was held of persons opposed to the enforcement of the Contagious Diseases Act. A petition was drawn up for signature praying the Mayor and City Council to take the vote of the ratepayers as whether further public moneys should be appropriated for a Lock Hospital : also whether it should not be handed over to a recognised body of citizens under trust for the purposes of a female reformatory.”
(West Coast Times, 28 April 1884)

However, it was probably not morals, on either side of the debate, which caused the Lock Hospital to shut down. It was costing the city a considerable amount of money to run, in a period when the Long Depression began to make an impact economically. While the initial annual cost had been estimated at £450, the NZ Herald reported that more money had been expended on the hospital in the first six months of operation than on road formation in the city, and only £30 less than that spent on the new Free Library. (Te Aroha News, 17 May 1884) By October 1884, appeals were being made to the central government asking that they take over the hospital, and ease the burden on Auckland’s ratepayers. The Government, unsurprisingly, said no. (Te Aroha News, 4 & 11 October 1884)

In 1885, the statistics impressed some, but not others.

“The agitation against this institution has been resumed, and another effort is being made to secure its abolition. Some discussion took place at the City Council last evening, when reports from Dr. Tennent and the police were submitted. These bore unanimous testimony to the value of the Hospital, and the police statement asserted that the effect of the Act had been to decrease the number of abandoned women by 63, while no less than 28 had entirely reformed, been married, or taken into refuges through the instrumentality of the Act. On the other hand, Mr R. H. Hughes, secretary of the society which is antagonistic to the Lock Hospital, wrote asserting that since the Act had been brought into force the visits of men to brothels had increased twenty-fold. In his report, Dr. Tennent said the number on the Hospital register originally was 84, and at the first examination, eleven women had been detained for treatment for several diseases. He then proceeds: There has been, at least, 50 per cent of a decrease in the number of prostitutes since the opening of the Hospital, and I am informed by Detective Hughes that prostitutes soliciting in the street are now rarely if ever seen. I have received from Mr. Superintendent Thomson the following report from the Police Department :—

Number of prostitutes known to the police in Auckland and suburbs to date: 103 Number proceded against under the Act: 98
Number brought under the Act, and who attended the Lock Hospital: 84
Number who left for the bush and other parts of the colony 14
Average number that attend for medical examination twice every month, and average number in Hospital 40
Married and reformed: 8
Living with men not married: 5
Number gone into service and reformed by the ladies of the Parnell home and of the Salvation Army Refuge 20
Number in Mount Eden Gaol 10
Number left Auckland for other parts of the colony 15
Number not proceeded against: 5
Decrease of number of prostitutes: 63

Dr. Tennent adds :— The establishment of the Lock Hospital has also arrested the spread of infectious diseases. I cannot close my report without bearing grateful testimony to those benevolent ladies who have rendered valuable aid and sympathy in the work of attending and reclaiming the fallen, some of them making regular visits to the Hospital weekly.”
(Te Aroha News, 9 May 1885)

The petitions against the Act in general and the Lock Hospital in particular, though, kept coming.

Then, there came the Great Breakout of August 1886.


A very scandalous scene of insubordination occurred on Wednesday in connection with the Auckland Lock Hospital. Owing to the illness of Dr Tenant, Dr Walker visited the institution, and as the result of his visit ordered the further detention of the patients then in, numbering seven.

In the evening the whole of them stampeded from the building, save one old women, and came down town in a body. They paraded the wharf, singing songs. Their conduct and the use of obscene language arrested the attention of the Harbour Board watchman. The police were informed, and shortly afterwards intelligence was received from the Lock Hospital that six of the inmates had cleared out.

Being now certain of their quarry, and of the task before them, Sergeants J McMahon, Clarke, Detective Hughes, and Constable McDonnell proceeded in pursuit. They had not far to go, as the girls, in bravado, were coming up Queen-street abreast. The police rounded them up, and took them to the lock-up where they kept the station lively far on into the night, singing songs, and using language more expressive than polite.

The six prisoners are Theresa King, Maria Ann Long, Mary Ann Curtis, Elizabeth Irwin, Agnes Austen, Alice Stewart, and they are charged with a breach of the Contagious Diseases Act, 1869 by escaping from the Auckland Lock Hospital.”
(Poverty Bay Herald, 6 August 1886)

The Council decided by early September, to close down the hospital, due to the financial drain on the city. It was closed on 15 September, and the building was sold to the Crown in early February, 1887. Even that final chapter proved controversial.

“Some queer facts were made known during a discussion on the Lock Hospital question by the City Council on Thursday night. Cr Kidd opposed the sale of the building to the Government on the ground that other customers were in the field. Cr La Roche drew attention to the little game that was being kept dark. The other customers were [the] Charitable Aid Board who would apply it to the uses which the Council had resolved to discontinue. Cr Crowther said that it was not a time to reopen the question of maintaining the Lock Hospital. There were 19 closed shops in Queen-street, and business was more depressed than it had been for 15 years past. The 403 objections to city assessments showed that ratepayers found their taxes pressing severely upon them and at any rate in the face of the reduction in the salaries of their laborers, they could hardly perpetrate the anomaly of keeping open the Lock Hospital. The Mayor felt that £350 was altogether too small a price for the hospital, but under the circumstances they could do no better. “
(Wanganui Herald, 19 February 1887)

“The apparently interminable discussion upon the Contagious Diseases Act came before the City Council again last evening. Notwithstanding the resolution of the Council at a previous sitting to accept the offer of the Government for the Lock Hospital building, Councillor Kidd introduced the question upon the ratepayers' petition presented at the last meeting in favour of a poll. He declared that the evil of prostitution had greatly increased since the suspension of the Act. His opinion was based on information supplied by the best medical men, the Inspector of Police, and the detectives. Inspector Thomson's report was that the Act was beneficial.

"Councillor Kidd also quoted from a statement made by Mr Beetham at Christchurch, wherein that gentleman deplored the abandonment of the Contagious Diseases Act in that city. Detective Hughes' report estimated the number of fallen women now in Auckland at 150, many of them being mere girls between the ages of 11 and 15, who had come out on the streets since the Act was repealed. The only law by which they could be reached now was the Police Offenders Act of 1884. Under this Act they could be charged with having no lawful visible means of support ; but it was almost impossible, under the circumstances, to obtain convictions. Councillor Kidd at this stage moved — "That the Council continue sitting," the time being close on 10 p.m.; but the motion was negatived. He proceeded to quote the opinions of Drs Stock and Tennent in favour of the Act, when the arrival of 10 o'clock interrupted the debate, and the Council adjourned.”
(Christchurch Star, 5 March 1887)

Great Britain repealed the Contagious Diseases Act in 1886. It was finally repealed in New Zealand in 1910.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the ladies of Rokeby Street. During the period of the Lock Hospital, a number of them went through the system.

Valentine Becquet (the infamous “Madame Valentine”, owner of brothels in Rokeby and Wellesley Streets)
Religion: Roman Catholic
Discharged with certificate 28 January 1884, after treatment for condylomata warts and gonorrhea

Elizabeth Burton
Religion: Church of England.
Admitted twice from Rokeby (gonorrhea), three times from Wellesley, and once from Victoria Street.

Eleanor-Emma Butwell
Religion: Roman Catholic
Admitted once from Rokeby with gonorrhea, and twice more from Wellesley Street.

Mary Collins
Religion: Roman Catholic
Examined 21 January 1884 and detained. Readmitted April 1884 with gonorrhea.

Catherine Davey
Religion: Church of England
Certified as free from disease September 1884, but readmitted November 1884 with gonorrhea

Emma Gifford
Religion: Roman Catholic
Certified free from disease in 1886

Clara Gray
Religion: Church of England
Discharged 28 June 1884 with certificate

Rose Haultain
Religion: Church of England
Admitted to the Lock Hospital five times, gonorrhea

Emily Hawkes
Religion: Roman Catholic
Suffered with gonorrhea and chancre. Admitted twice from Rokeby, twice from Victoria and once from Wellesley Street.

Elizabeth Hennessy
Religion: Roman Catholic
Admitted from Grey Strert in 1884, and from Rokeby in 1885, that time with gonorrhea

Mary Maher
Religion: Roman Catholic
Admitted once from Rokeby in September 1884 with ulterior hemorrhage, and once from Wellesley Street.

Ada Mandell
Religion: Roman Catholic
Admitted twice, certified in October 1883 as free from disease, but back in with gonorrhea in February 1884.

Jessie McLaughlin
Religion: Presbyterian
Certified free from disease 1886.

Lily/Lillie Meadows
Religion: Church of England
Admitted from Rokeby in March 1884 with syphillis, and twice more from Wellesley Street.

Margaret Moran
Religion: Roman Catholic
Discharged with certificate 28 January 1884, but admitted twice more, from Victoria Street

Ada Morgan
Certified as clear in September 1884, but admitted again later from Wellesley Street.

Rose Pearson
Religion: Church of England
Admitted first from Wellington Street in January 1884, then from Rokeby Street in March 1884, with gonorrhea and chancre (syphillis), and then again in July 1884 with chronic gonorrhea.

Sophia Pearson
Religion: Church of England
Admitted once from Rokeby with condylomata warts, three more times from Grey Street, once from Wellesley and once from Grafton Road.

Nelly/Ellen Ryan
Religion: Church of England.
Admitted voluntarily in June 1884 with chancre (syphillis), but also admitted from Upper Queen Street and Wellesley Street.

Rose Thomas
Religion: Church of England
Certified as free from disease in January 1884, but readmitted twice more from Rokeby Street, with gonorrhea and warts, and once from Wellesley Street

Mary Vaughan
Religion: Presbyterian
Admitted in June 1884 with gonorrhea.

Annie Williams
Religion: Church of England
Admitted twice from Hobson Street, and once from Rokeby, that time with chancre and condylomata.

Julia Wilson (“Black Julia”, the operator of Madame Valentine’s Rokeby brothel, Paddington Villa.)
Religion: Church of England.
Detained, but discharged February 1884.

Lock Hospital Register, ACC 329 Item 1, Auckland City Archives
Women in History: Essays on European Women in New Zealand (1986), p. 22
Various papers on Papers Past
Auckland City Council reports 1883-1887, held at Auckland City Library

The staff at both the Auckland City Archives and Auckland Research Centre at the library were wonderful in helping me get this far on a very involved topic. My thanks to both teams for their help and patience.


  1. All I can think is how horrible it would be for those women admitted. I'm sure they were not treated well in their work but they were probably not treated any better in the hospital :(

  2. Hard to tell at this stage, but I suspect you're right, Marita. I really do need to go trawling through the entire period, from 1881 to early 1887, it's important to do that.

    What gets me is that prostitution then was not a crime -- only being without visible means of support was. Have a disease or being sick wasn't criminal either. But the women were truly locked up for the duration of their treatment, imprisoned (and, just to underscore the point, they were housed close to a real prison). No wonder when a few of them had the opportunity, they made a break for it.

  3. I wrote about the Lock Hospitals in my draft of a novel for an MA in Creative Writing in 2003. I had read about the committals in England where one poor woman committed suicide after being confined and examined against her will. She had been coming home in the dark from work in a factory. I have no doubt that the Police and Doctors enjoyed the control they had over women - an extension of the control men had over poor women who had been transported out of Britain. It appalls me that having no visible means of support was a crime. The aristocracy in England had introduced the Enclosures Act which forced tenant farmers and farm labourers off the land. And the famine in Ireland was caused by the food being sucked out of Ireland for the rich in England. Men, the clients, have always had a choice. Women had few choices and were often reduced to desperate means to support themselves and their children. How can that ever be a crime? The real crime lay with those in control, the Lords and the businessmen who controlled legislation and all the middle men - the Police who enforced these corrupt laws. The women who protested are my heroes. - Saige (Jane) Vendome England