Topic: Norfolk Hospital in Tauranga (1953 - 2007)

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An article by Dr Paul Mountfort written for the Board of Directors when the Hospital was closing. Dr Mountford gave the article to Tauranga City Libraries in December of 2015, afterwhich it was scanned and digitised by Research Collections.

Archived version here.


I was asked to write this history of the origin of Norfolk Hospital, not because of any talent in writing, but because I was the only person still alive who knew anything about it. From the end of 1949 to the end of 1952 I was working fulltime at the Tauranga Hospital, at first as a House Surgeon and in the final year as Surgical Registrar. John Mark, who was Senior Surgeon when I started, had a coronary one month later and withdrew from active work at the Hospital. I worked with the other 2 surgeons and got to know them very well. In 1952 Harold Gilbert told me much about his trials and tribulations with Thornecliffe Hospital. In fact I lived through it and when I checked the remembered facts with other sources I was surprised how accurate my memory had been.

In 1953 when Norfolk Hospital was built I was in London but most of the decisions had been made in 1952. A valuable source ofinformation was an unpublished history by Dr Rex Wright St. Clair entitled “Seven Decades of Hospital Care , Tauranga Hospital Board 1918-1989” This is a diary of events and is taken from the Hospital Board Minutes and is a valuable source of dates and qualifications of staff. It is in the Hospital Library.

The Bay of Plenty Times unfortunately lost its records in a fire some years ago. However the Tauranga Library Historical Department has photocopies of the B.O.P. Times on microfilm and I was able to consult these. Also I was able to speak to Roger Gilbert, Harold’s son: Dr.Isobel Wishart, Paul’s widow : Wray McGhechie, previously Wray Corsbie the founder of the laboratory and David Richardson, who was in the Hospital Board office and later became Secretary to the Board. I am most grateful to all these people who so readily gave me assistance.

Also I wish to record a special thanks to Ms Debbie Chin Deputy Director General ot the Corporate Information Directorate of the Health Dept. who sent me a copy of the correspondence between Daniel Bryant and Dr. Davis, the Director of the Division of Hospitals in the Health Dept.

Paul Mountfort.

Norfolk Hospital

50 years is a long time and many changes may occur. In 1952 Tauranga was a small seaside town with 8,000 inhabitants. It was connected to the rest of the country by 3 narrow, winding gravel roads which were usually corrugated. The hospital was a single storey concrete building, with a roughcast surface. It had 2 open plan wards with beds down each side. A new ward had been built for children and this had 6 side rooms and included an outpatients dept. Apart from a small T.B. ward the hospital boasted an Xray dept. and a laboratory. The single theatre had no air conditioning. Scrubbing and gowning was done over ordinary street clothing. The town had 2 private hospitals viz.

  • Thornecliffe in Edgecumbe Rd. which had 25-30 beds and was run by sisters Jackson and Watson and catered for medical and surgical cases.
  • Waimarie in Park St. which was a converted house with 6 beds used for maternity cases. It was owned by Dr. Mark, a surgeon who had been the mainstay of medical practice during the war. He had retired from the hospital in 1950 after having had a coronary.

There were 2 part time surgeons at the hospital. Harold Gilbert and Alan Park. who rotated doing a week on and a week ofi‘ .The duty week included 2 halfday operating lists and all the acutes for the week. In those days a surgeon had to be versatile and be prepared to do caesatian sections, prostates, acute mastoids, nailing fractured hips, and trauma as well as the normal abdominal work. Both surgeons did private cases in Thornecliffe as the occasion required.

Early in 1952 Sisters Jackson and Watson offered Thornecliffe Hospital to Harold Gilbert at a price which he considered far too high. His counter offer was not accepted as it was thought too small. In an attempt to force the issue the sisters closed the hospital and this left the town without a private surgical hospital. Harold Gilbert was so annoyed that he decided to build a new state of the art hospital properly designed for the purpose. He then set himself the following tasks simultaneously.

  1. To find the best possible site.
  2. To raise interest in the project and raise finance.
  3. To learn all he could about Company Law and the Govt. Regulations relating to private hospitals.

The site he chose was magnificent as it was on a promontory with a 270°view of the harbour and hills. This had been the site of the Te Renga Renga Pa and later the home of the missionary the Rev T.S.Grace. He had built a house and a separate kauri shed which was said to have been a schoolroom for Maori boys. Rev Grace died in 1879. When Harold Gilbert bought the property it was owned by Mrs. A.E.Mason and there was a shabby old house and a small kauri shed on it. The purchase price was £8,750. Frank Gillman from the Hamilton firm of Gillman and Angus drew up plans for a purpose built hospital. Bryant House Trust Board wrote to Dr. Davis, the director of the Hospitals Division of the Health Dept. the following:

“About two weeks ago I was in touch with my friend, Mr. T.J.Ropina who, on our behalf, had an interview with you re the building of a private hospital at Tauranga. At that time we were trying to obtain an option for 3 months over a section of something over 2 acres, together with the buildings overlooking the harbour. It is indeed a very beautiful site and I understand about the last piece of land of this size available in the better part of Tauranga. We have now obtained this option for the sum of £8,750.

My son in law, Harold Gilbert F.R.C.S. London and Edinburgh, is the senior surgeon at the public hospital and for this work he receives only a small remuneration. His chief income has been from a private hospital which has now closed down. The building was obsolete and the price asked for it was exorbitant. It is suggested that a modern hospital be erected on the land over which we have the option. We hope that my daughter and her husband will be able to take up £10,000 worth of £1 shares. The more well to do residents ofTauranga will be approached to take up some fii rther shares, but it is estimated that the building will cost at least £30,000. Dr. Wishart, a radiologist just returned from England, is prepared to put £6,000 worth of plant into the hospital, and pay for the accommodation. He would do all the X-ray necessary for the hospital itself.”

Dr. Davis recorded the following:

Saw Mr. Bryant and discussed proposal with him. Went to Tauranga same day and discussed same with Dr. Gilbert, saw plans of 18 bed hospital and with some alterations tentatively approved them. The hospital is estimated to cost in the region of£40,000. Informed him that I thought the Govt. might be prepared to loan money on 1st mortgage. On 14.5.52. I visited Thornecliffe Private Hospital. It has been thoroughly renovated and proposed to reopen again first week in June. Saw also Waimarie Maternity Hospital with Dr. Mark and discussed turning this into a surgical hospital. Gave requirements but did not encourage this. Requirements are for a new sterilising room and new sink room for a 6 bed hospital. I am informed by Dr. Mark and Dr. Gilbert that there is always a waiting list in Public Hospital. The present Private Hospital accommodation is they both think not suflicient.

The building plan was dated 24th Dec. 1952 and it was approved by council 23rd Jan 1953. It provided 11 single rooms 2 twin rooms and 1 three bedded room making 18 beds in all.

In the meantime Harold Gilbert had managed to sell shares in the hospital. At this stage the project nearly foundered due to lack of sufficient money, but Roger Gilbert, who was a lad at that time said that at the last minute it all came right. Roger cannot enlarge on this but in the share list D.V.Bryant took shares in his own name raising the Gilbert block to 40% of the total. Also Fred Beasley accepted shares in part payment for his work. The company was registered in Auckland with 25,000 £1 shares. The shareholders were:

  • Lucy and Harold Gilbert
  • R.H.Hay (pharmacist on the Strand)
  • D.S.Mitchell (later mayor ofTauranga)
  • J.F.Porter (Proprietor ofHillsdene Motors He was in the Airforce with Harold Gilbert)
  • G.D. Hynds (farmer and later Chairman ofTauranga Hospital Board)
  • Dr. Helen Y.S.Mackenzie (general practitioner)
  • M.C. Walker
  • E.A. Mountier
  • A.P. Jensen
  • C. Webb
  • F. Webb
  • Beazleys Tauranga
  • D.V. Bryant

It is notable that neither of the other 2 surgeons J.Mark or A.Pa_rk were original shareholders but both did buy shares later in order to have operating rights.

Norfolk Hospital was opened on Sat. Nov. 21st 1953 by Mr. G.AWalsh, the member of Parliament for Tauranga.

The B.O.P. Times reported as follows:

Welcoming the official guests the chairman of directors Dr. H.H.Gilbert said that a firm conviction that the district was on the threshold of great development, a realisation of the public demand for private hospital facililties and support from the Minister of Health, had determined the construction of the hospital.
It had been accomplished at an approximate cost of£2,800 per bed, a figure which included the purchase of land and the building and equipping of a hospital and nurses home. He compared the figures with that of a public hospital bed which ranged from £6,000 upward. He said that the patients in the new hospital would not be wakened before 7 a.m. and following the lead of the Great Ormond Street childrens hospital in London, parents would be encouraged to tuck up their children at bedtime. In declaring the hospital officially open Mr. Walsh read a message from the Minister of Health, Mr. I.R. Marshal1 which had been sent framed. The Minister said

“The hospital stands on the historic site of Te Renga Renga with its traditions of chivalry and humanity. It is a fitting place for a hospital where the sick and suffering will now come for help, relief and recovery, where the doctors, nurses and other hospital workers can give that devoted and unselfish service which is their high calling. I congratulate those who have planned and worked to establish this hospital. I wish you all continued success in your efforts and increased satisfaction in your achievements. I trust that the hospital will for many years provide services for health and healing which it is so well equipped to give.”

Mr. Walsh pointing out that there were 52 private hospitals with 1249 beds in the Dominion, said the new hospital represented only the second addition over the last 15 years. Rather than expand over recent years, private hospitals had shown a tendency to fall away. The Govt. was desirous of encouraging private hospitals and so was willing to help any organisation that was willing to help itself. Congratulations were extended by the Mayor of Tauranga, Mr. L.R Wilkinson.

The Xray Department.

Instead ofbuying shares in the hospital Dr. P.W.Wishart agreed to purchase and install an Xray plant. Provision for this was made in the original plans and he became a long term tenant. Dr. Vlfishart who had the degrees M.R.C.P Edinburgh and D.M.K.D. from London was both physician and radiologist to the Public Hospital. He believed that every patient should have a diagnosis and that this should be proved conclusively or a better diagnosis arrived at. He also believed that the Xray department should be the central part of a hospital. He continued his busy work load at Public Hospital and fitted in private work at Norfolk. A few years later he sat and passed an exam and was able to add F.F.R to his qualifications. Ray Mills, the radiographer at Public Hospital transferred to Norfolk Xray fulltime.

The Laboratory.

At the time ofopening of Norfolk Hospital the only laboratory in Tauranga was at the Public Hospital. This had had a traumatic origin and as things turned out this was of advantage to Norfolk Hospital. In the 1940s there was a tiny laboratory at Tauranga Hospital and tests were done by a nurse who had had some training. This service fell down and the Board advertised for a Laboratory worker to set up a laboratory. Mr. Frederick Hodson, a bacteriologist from the Rangitaiki Dairy Co. was appointed. He came through to Tauranga to inspect the facilities and organise the purchasing of equipment. After his second visit on Feb. 13 1950 he failed to arrive back home. A search was done and his body was found near the road at Te Teko. 4 days later the police caught the murderer and he was duly tried and convicted. The Board readvertised the post and Miss Wray Corsbie a Technologist from Auckland Hospital was appointed. She was a perfectionist and set about setting up a high class laboratory to serve not only the hospital but also the general practitioners. At that time tests done for the profession outside the hospital attracted a payment from the Health Dept. and were an important source ofrevenue for the laboratory. In order to be recognised for G.M.S. payments a laboratory had to be under the supervision of a medically qualified pathologist. Miss Corsbie asked Dr. Graeme Somerville, a pathologist from Waikato to act as supervisor for her laboratory and guarantor of standards. This he did and he took his duties seriously. As the laboratory grew he soon saw that the volume of work being done for the profession outside the hospital would support a private laboratory. He approached the directors of Norfolk and they built a building on Grace Rd. for him and he became their second tenant. Once again the building was designed by Frank Gillman and it was opened in 1957.


Norfolk Hospital 1962

Norfolk Hospital from the air in 1962.



In 1953 Harold Gilbert was quoted as saying that though the effects might at the time be unforseen, the building of a new private hospital would immediately attract part time specialists to this area with their own particular skills. This would profoundly affect the Public Hospital by increasing patient expectations and very soon lead to a demand for more beds, operating theatres, facilities and indeed just about everything. This was indeed true, but also the Public Hospital was replaced by a large modern multistoried complex with the latest equipment. This made life for Norfolk Hospital very difficult and it is to the credit of Harold Gilbert that Norfolk Hospital kept going, maintained a reputation for personal service and the shareholders were paid a modest dividend each year. Norfolk Hospital was enlarged several times, altered and modernised over the years and must have been a goldmine for the architects.

The Xray Department.

When Paul Wishart died unexpectedly in October 1959 the department was taken over by Dr Frank Snell and later by Dr. John Wardill. As there was no room for expansion the Xray Department was finally closed and a new larger unit built in Promed House.

The Laboratory.

This was an immediate success and in 1956 was doubled in size. More staff were employed including Dr. Toss Pullar, a pathologist and Dr. Isobel Wishart (Paul Wishart’s widow) as a trainee pathologist. When Graeme Somerville died Dr. Philip Palmer took over. Finally the laboratory was closed and a larger laboratory built in 1st Avenue.



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Norfolk Hospital in Tauranga (1953 - 2007)


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Norfolk Hospital in Tauranga (1953 - 2007) by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 New Zealand License