Report on Female Factory

Evidence Type: Newspaper Report
1 June 1839


JUNE 30, 1838

PATRICK HILL, Esq. called in and examined:—

PATRICK HILL, Esq., holds a diploma from the Royal College of surgeons in Edinburgh, was formerly a Surgeon in the Royal Navy, and has been colonial surgeon at Liverpool seventeen years.

Candidates for the colonial medical service are required to satisfy the heads of the department that they are duly qualified before he recommends them to the Governor for appointment; I am not aware that the Governor ever appoints without the head of the department being satisfied that the candidate is qualified by some established school of medicine in Great Britain or Ireland.

With reference to the latter part of the first clause, I do not see any objection to the examination by three members of the Board, provided the candidates can satisfactorily prove by the production of tickets and certificates that he has had the usual course of medical enducation [sic] in Europe; the production of which in the mother country is imperative before a candidate can be admitted for examination. I am of opinion this case can seldom present itself and ought not to be encouraged, being satisfied a sufficient number of regularly qualified men are arriving from time to time in ships, willing to establish themselves when an opening offers.

There is a difficulty in so far as the practice of midwifery is concerned, if the act is intended to apply to female practitioners. In the country districts the population is so scattered that it would be impossible to expect the attendance of a medical man, even if the parties were able to employ him. I believe there are very few qualified midwives in the Colony, many of those who profess to practice as such are extremely ignorant.

I think it would be desirable to require such females as make it their regular profession and business to attend as midwives, to take out letters testimonial from the Board. They might easily be instructed by any surgeon or accoucheur in the principles of the profession, or an attendance for a stated period might be required at the Female Factory, at Parramatta, to acquire a knowledge how to conduct a natural labour (fortunately by far the most frequent), they would be taught to avoid the evils of unnecessary interference, and would be able to discriminate cases of difficulty and know when to send for the assistance of the accoucheur.

I have known several cases where much mischief has resulted from the ignorance of the midwife, and have heard of more than one instance where the woman has died undelivered. I do not see, however, that a penalty can be attached to the occasional assistance afforded by women in the country; very often all that can be obtained is the presence of an experienced female without pretensions to skill of any kind.

I am of opinion the colony is not sufficiently advanced to afford education for the practice of medicine and surgery, that laid down in the sixth clause is certainly not sufficient. This does not apply to apothecary.

It would be desirable that unqualified persons were excluded from practice; but if the law is in their favour, I see no great evil under the regulations of the fifteenth and sixteenth clauses. The public would be in possession of the knowledge of who were qualified practitioners.

In large towns the medical practitioner and apothecary might be kept distinct, but I see no advantage from such an arrangement. In the country it would be impossible, as generally the practitioner has to dispense his own medicines.

There is one apothecary in Liverpool, who is a qualified surgeon: he prescribes when applied to, but does not go out.

Convict surgeons are employed by Government to attend ironed gangs, when such gangs are employed at a distance from an hospital,—if within a reasonable distance, the colonial surgeons are required to visit these gangs. I do not think the Government could dispense with the services of these persons without greatly extending the medical department, or making some arrangement with private practitioners. They are under the orders of the nearest colonial surgeon, and have to report to him, and to send cases of importance to the hospital.

They serve one year without gratuity, afterwards, if their conduct has been satisfactory, they are recommended for the gratuity of the second class, eight pence per diem, which is afterwards increased to one shilling per diem.

I do not think the Dispensary system applicable to this colony. I prefer that of district surgeons, similar to that established in Van Diemen’s Land.

An allowance is given by Government (£50 or £60) which ensures the attendance of the surgeon on any gangs that may be established in the district. The surgeon also makes an arrangement with the employer of convict servants, to visit periodically their respective establishments, at so much per annum for each convict. This system is adopted in many parts of the colony, as far as the private arrangement extends, but without the Government allowance,—were this given, it would secure the attendance of qualified persons on Government gangs, and would be an inducement for medical men to establish themselves in the country districts.

I feel assured there is no want of duly qualified surgeons willing to establish themselves, if an eligible situation is pointed out to them, but without some such arrangement as I have pointed out above, ensuring a certainty, I would not advise a surgeon to settle in a country district, trusting alone to the profits of private practice.

I am well acquainted with the southern district of the colony. I do not think there are many irregular practitioners in it. I know two or three.

(To be continued)

See Original: MINUTES OF EVIDENCE ON THE MEDICAL PRACTICE BILL. JUNE 30, 1838,” The Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848), Saturday 1 June 1839, p.2