Braeburn - William Hosking's house in Church Street.

Hosking Family

Hosking family - Doctor William Hosking with his second wife Alice, and their two children, Christina and Rupert.

Dr William and Alice Hosking

Will and Alice - Doctor William and his second wife Alice in the garden of their house "Braeburn."

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The redoubtable Doctor Hosking was a dominant figure in the early history of medicine in Masterton. Although not tall, his vigour and enthusiasm for medicine led him into a prominent role in the establishment of medical facilities in the town.

Hosking was born in Cornwall, the son of an ironmonger. He undertook his medical training at Charing Cross Hospital in London, and came to New Zealand in 1863 as the ship's surgeon aboard the New Great Britain. He started his New Zealand practice in Bluff, but soon moved up to Hokitika on the West Coast, before opening a practice at Ross and acting as the surgeon at the local hospital. Family tradition suggests he was drawn as much by the lure of gold as he was by the chance of establishing a medical practice. He was well-suited to the rigours of practice in the frontier regions of New Zealand, his firm manner and his fearlessness standing him in good stead when patients were inclined to be too restless.

It is said that a large and grumpy Irishman came to see the doctor to have a tooth extracted. All through the painful operation the unwilling patient swore and cursed, and raged against the small doctor, whose only response was to work quickly and quietly. When the operation was complete the doctor silently showed his patient to the door, but as the Irishman passed through the door the doctor gave him a vigorous kick, sending him sprawling down the steps and into the street below. The doctor quickly locked the door again, and then calmly returned to his waiting patients.

In 1874 he returned from a trip to England and decided to establish himself in Masterton. When he arrived in Masterton in 1875, it was to a small rural town that had neither doctor nor hospital. The strong willed Selina Sutherland was providing her nursing experience, and settlers relied on doctors from Greytown to service their medical needs, so he was quickly in demand. He travelled all over the district, going up to fifty miles to see his patients, by gig to those few places accessible by road, or otherwise by horseback.

When the Masterton Hospital was established in 1879, largely through the efforts of Selina Sutherland, Hosking was appointed its first medical superintendent and surgeon. The caretaker of the hospital, then situated in Totara Street, left a red shirt hanging on the gateway when he wanted the doctor to call in.

The doctor had a limited number of drugs to work with, and most of his work was surgery, carried out on the many victims of accidents in the bush. Although called on for many operations he always said that the most important piece of equipment in the hospital was the kitchen stove, telling the married couple who performed all the nursing and caretaking tasks in the hospital, to give the patients "plenty of tucker. Good chops and lots of milk and porridge."

Doctor Hosking was renowned for his medical reading, and for his determination to follow any leads that might help him in the practice of his profession. It is said that no one could ever better him by questioning him about the latest medical or surgical innovations. He read Lancet keenly and was quickly convinced of the importance of antisepsis and appendectomy. He was also convinced of the potential impact of the newly discovered X-ray technology and was one of the first New Zealand doctors to import the new machines in 1897. He became famed for both his diagnosis by X-ray, and for his radium treatment of cancer. He claimed a large number of successful treatments and was nationally known.

Before one of his trips to England he removed a large cancer from the mouth of a local Scandinavian settler. He had to remove part of the tongue and much of the lower jaw, leaving the hospital staff to feed the man through an India Rubber tube. He told the patient that if he came to see him in twelve months time Hosking would present him with a £5 note. He was delighted to be told, while overseas, that the man had shown up on the anniversary and demanded his money.

Later he was to enthusiastically embrace the use of hypnosis for anaesthesia, and suggestion therapy for neurotic disorders. His daughter later recalled that he performed an appendectomy on his own son using only hypnosis as anaesthetic. He was also very interested in the now discredited Electro-therapy, installing special generators in his house to power his various pieces of medical machinery.

He was one of the first people in Masterton to buy and drive a car, purchasing his first car in 1903. He advised the local paper that he was learning to drive it under guidance, and any mishaps should be laid at his feet, rather than those of his tutor. Family members recall that the people of Masterton were in fear of the little doctor driving his steam-powered car.

William Hosking was a strong-willed man, and liked things to go his way. His wife Christina died in April 1890, and he decided to marry again. According to family members, Hosking selected a suitable partner, and rowed her out to one of the islands in Island Bay. He proposed marriage, and was rejected. He is said to have persuaded his reluctant bride by insisting that she would have to swim back to shore if she declined his offer. She accepted his offer, married him, and together they raised a son Douglas, and a daughter Christina.

Rupert Hosking, one of his sons from his first marriage, served in the British forces in the South African War, and was injured during the siege of Mafeking. Doctor Hosking managed to have himself appointed a colonel, attached to the medical staff, and journeyed to South Africa to join his injured son. Waiting to sail from Wellington in March 1900 he wrote back to his young children, thanking them for their present of grapes and asking them to behave well for their mother. He also asked them to "look after the flowers in the garden and the little fishes and birds for me until I come back and I will bring you a real working engine and talking doll and lots of things."

When he did return he build a large new house in Church Street, called "Braeburn," and returned to his medical work. He retired from general practice, working as a consultant. His son Archer took over the general practice, and also his role as medical superintendent at the Masterton Hospital.

William Hosking died in 1917, ironically of radium poisoning. His daughter recalled that her father was careless with protective clothing, and was guilty of not wearing the leather gloves and aprons he was advised to.

His place in Masterton's medical history was assured. Many older settlers came forward with tales of his medical skills, and of his other traits. Some remembered him as a passionate gardener, and recalled that he had introduced toads and hedgehogs to the district. Others recalled the way he would take a daily swim in the Waipoua River, and how he donated a swimming pool for the women of Masterton.

But no-one pointed out the role he had played in the establishment of the Plunket Society.

Shortly after Hosking's arrival in Masterton he was called to see a young accountant from a Masterton bank who was suffering from a bad abscess in his throat. He was called to the accountant in the middle of the night, and growled at him for having been called out at such an hour. The accountant and the doctor soon became friends, however, and the accountant confided to the doctor that, although he was doing well in his banking career, he actually yearned to practise medicine. Doctor Hosking encouraged the young man to follow his inclination, thus setting Sir Truby King on the path to his medical career.

Later in life King was to recall the doctor as a "rough and tumble man, apparently a bully, but at heart quite the reverse."

Just the sort of man to be the doctor in a frontier town.

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  Papawai - the centre of the Maori Parliament   Russian Jack - the last of the swaggers
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  Samuel Oates   Taking a dip
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