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
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
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
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
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
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
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.