St Aidans Hospital Nursing School
History of St Aidan’s mission regional hospital
Rev Dr Lancelot Parker Booth (1850-1925)
St Aidan’s Mission Regional Hospital rose from the missionary work of the Rev. Dr. Lancelot Parker Booth. He had arrived in Natal, from England, at a period when thousands of indentured Indians labourers were imported to work on sugar plantations. When their term of indenture expired, many settled in Durban. He was appalled at the conditions of the Indian labouring classes, particularly at the poverty, illiteracy, the low standard of living, the lack of medical facilities and he felt the urgent need for their spiritual upliftment.
In 1886 Booth’s “Mission Schools” were established in Durban where subsequently thousands of the poorer Indian children, whether Christian or non-Christian, could receive the rudiments of education. In the following year the St Aidan’s Church was completed.
Booth, as Diocesan Superintendent of Indian Missions in Natal, desired to reach out to the greater Indian population. He perceived that the greatest need lay in medical services for the underprivileged classes. Consequently, in the back-yard of the Mission House, he opened a dispensary where he could attend to the medical needs of thousands of the poorer citizens of Durban.
Dr Booth and after : 1883-1900-1915
When Rev. Dr. Booth left Durban in June 1900, 837 local Indians presented him with a “Special Tribute”. Although the signatories of this unique document refer to Booth’s “Hospital’, ironically Booth did not establish a hospital. Instead, at his dispensary at 49 Cross Street, he treated thousands of out-patients because to-date, neither the State nor the Municipality had made any effort to provide hospital facilities for the Indian population.
By modern standards medical science was still in its infancy by 1900. In the sub-tropical climate of Natal, disease was prevalent but the position was aggravated by slum conditions, overcrowding, unhygienic living, poverty, ignorance and “superstition”. Medical missionaries throughout the world were convinced that Western medicine was the strongest means at their disposal to bring Christianity nearer to the masses.
Dr. Booth was also a pioneer in introducing nursing and first-aid to Indian men. The Indian Stretcher-Bearer Corps, which he trained for service in the Anglo-Boer War, was a unique contribution to South African medical history. Perhaps, he was stimulated by M.K. Gandhi in this venture. Furthermore, Booth’s influence caused Sergeant-Major Gandhi to form another volunteer group for service in the 1906 Zulu Uprising. There is also speculation that St Aidan’s provided. A Red-Cross group during World War 1, but this is subject to further research.
With the departure of Dr. Booth, many local doctors such as Drs. Robinson, his wife Lillian Robinson, Stanley Copley, Francois and Mundy attended to medical needs of the poor in the period 1900-1907. Meanwhile the S.P.G. also made its contribution. Between 1904 and 1906 Nurse Richnell arrived to be followed by Dr Ethel Pryce (1907-9). There must have been a need for medical services because the number of dispensaries increased. Although the Cross Street dispensary was closed in 1906, new ones were established at Sydenham and Springfield and in 1916, at Overport.
1st hospital 1916-1923
In October 1914 the Rev. C.M.C. Bone arrived in Durban. Fresh from his experiences in India, he urged for the immediate establishment of a Mission hospital for the local Indian population. Fortunately he found a willing ally in Miss Olive Cole, a qualified nurse who had trained at Addington Hospital and overseas. Miss Cole being a lady of independent means, made a dynamic entry on the scene with financial assistance which was adequate to establish the proposed hospital immediately. These were: to pay a year’s rent for a hired house (opposite Mission House) which could be converted into a 9-16 bed hospital; she gave R120.00 to cover initial expenses; she furnished the rooms and above all, offered her services free!
Thus commenced a great private venture which was officially opened in June 1916 by Lord Buxton, the Governor-General. Initially the hospital was for women and children patients only. With World War 1 in progress, the founders of the hospital made a determined effort to augment their funds. The Durban Medical Council meanwhile insisted that Dr McCord of the American Board Hospital should visit the hospital on the basis of a R200 honorarium p.a. Typical of the pioneering missionary spirit; Dr McCord distributed his honorarium equally between his own hospital and the St Aidan’s Hospital.
In the meantime, the burden of running the hospital fell on the fragile and tired shoulders of Miss Cole who often worked day and night shifts in order to cope with the situation. In 1923 she was succeeded by Miss Wells, but when this lady fell ill, the hospital in fact temporarily closed its doors. Worse still, in September 1923 the hospital lease expired and new premises were urgently required.
2nd hospital 1924-1935
In this hour of darkness, the S.P.G. sent out Sister Laura Pratt in 1924. She was soon thereafter assisted by Miss Betty Hart. In this year, it was decided to occupy Dr. Booth’s old Mission House at 49 Cross Street. By enclosing the veranda, accommodation was extended to 21 beds and 4 cots. With the assistance of 3 Indian female assistants and a female cook, the staff continued God’s great gift of healing the sick. Fortunately, too, the Durban public gave the institution their support and contributed generously to the annual street collection. The P.S.G. paid the salaries of the nursing staff, the Municipality gave an annual grant and coupled with donations, the finances improved considerably.
By the 1930s the Indian population of Natal had increased to about 141 000 and obviously this small hospital could no longer cope with the increasing demand. By this time the need for a new modern building became a matter of urgency and fortunately, the occasion brought together three men – Bishop Ferguson-Davie, the Rev. W.H. Satchell and Dr K.M. Seedat who devoted all their energies towards this new goal. In 1932 a Hospital Building Committee was established and from the Durban Corporation a piece of land just over an acre in extent in Centenary Road was purchased.
3RD HOSPITAL 1935-1983
On 16 January 1935 the foundation stone of the present hospital was laid by Kunwarani Lady Maharaj Singh, wife of the then Agent-General for the Government of India. On July 4 the hospital was formally opened by the Countess of Clarendon, the wife of Governor-General of the Union of South Africa. The building was designed by Mr W.B. Oxley and erected by Messrs Tedder and Brown. The initial stages of the building programme had cost approximately R20 000 and by 1940 the hospital had accommodation for 60 patients.
From this date onwards, the history of the hospital is a continuous record of expansion, increasing staff, introducing up-to-date medical equipment and very important, acquiring additional funds. Fortunately, the Indian public too had become aware of the important role which St Aidan’s Hospital was destined to play in the life of the Indian community. Among the early benefactors were the R.K. Khan Trust, M.E. and M.A. Motola and the Rustomjee Trust which, in 1938, contributed towards the installation of modern X-Ray equipment. Men and women of all races and religions came together in a great effort to alleviate sickness and suffering. In an age before medical societies came to be accepted as the norm, the Hospital provided a great service for rich and poor alike. In 1940 the Rev. Satchell was one of the founders of the Friends of the Sick Association (F.O.S.A) which still exists today.
The Diocese aware of its responsibilities and aware of the great social and material upliftment which had taken place in the Indian community over the past eighty years, passed a Resolution (ACT 11 of 1946) which henceforth placed the administration of the hospital under a BOARD of MANAGEMENT. This board consisted of 12 members, six of whom were elected by the Synod and the remaining six would be elected by the INDIAN MEDICAL SERVICES TRUST. The Bishop would act ex officio as Chairman or alternatively, a Deputy Chairman appointed by the Bishop would preside (at present the Rector of St Aidan’s Parish). The Indian Medical Services Trust, established on 22 July 1947 and registered on 29 September 1947, represented the interests of the Indian community and was composed of doctors, merchants and persons from the professions. Dr K.M. Seedat was the first Chairman of the Trust and in this capacity, he collected R48 000 from the Indian community for the second phase of the development of the new hospital.
Aware of the acute shortage of accommodation, the Board of Management embarked on a R76 000 programme of expansion. During 1948/49 plans were completed and in August 1949 extensions commenced. On 22 September 1951 the new extensions were officially opened by the Hon. Mr. M.G. Shepstone, Administrator of Natal. By 1952 the hospital had accommodation for 100 beds. When completed the central building appeared as a rectangle with a large central square as garden. The extensions had cost R75 287.50 and the Natal Provincial Administration contributed two-thirds of the total cost.
In May 1952 Miss L. Pratt and Mis E. Hart laid the foundation stone of the St. Luke’s Chapel which adjoined the hospital. It is this Christian aspect which has given St. Aidan’s mission its special characteristic. The hospital admits all races as patients and employs multi-racial staff. It offers facilities for the training of nurses. At present 157 local doctors and specialists visit their patients at the hospital. There are three types of patients, full fee-paying, part fee-paying and ten percent of the beds are reserved for indigent patients. During each decade the hospital has striven to offer the most up-to-date facilities and patients can be accommodated in private as well as general wards. In 1960 the Hospital faced an entirely new problem-the Group Areas Act, which declared the Hospital a “Special Zone” and for many years the Board sought permission to undertake further “extensions”. In 1966 the new St Aidan’s church was built on a plot adjoining the hospital. By 1970 when the Natal Indian population had reached 500 000, patients accommodation had reached acute proportions but residence for nurses was perhaps the most urgent priority.
Eventually in 1977 the hospital embarked on a R5 million project which should be completed by 1984. The plans, drawn by the Architects, Messrs C. Alcock and Bedford are most impressive and work on the project has divided into three phases.
On 24 November 1978 Mr Frank Martin, M.E.C officially opened a new Administration Block, which included a dispensary, surgical stores, Children’s ward, Intensive Care Unit etc. On 6 February 1981 Mr Martin opened a 100 bed Nurses’ Home and an adjoining Service block which incorporates lecture rooms, a dining room and the catering department. On Saturday, 3 September 1983, the Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nuttal, officially opened new extensions which included, a new Theatre Block, Surgical Wards, Maternity Labour Room Suite and Examination Rooms, Administrative Offices and entrance to the hospital. With the third phase (still in progress) the aim is to extend hospital accommodation to 240 patients.
St Aidan’s Mission Hospital operated as the private hospital for all these years. In April 2004 the Hospital was officially handed over to the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Health on a 10 years lease.
NB: Excerpts of this history were replublished with the kind permission of the Anglican Church’s St Aidan’s Mission Parish.