New Zealand 1890-1896

The Lomax-Smith family set out for their new life in February 1890 on the RMSS Ormuz from Gravesend to Melbourne Australia, and then on the SS Manapouri to Christchurch, New Zealand. The family travelled first class where food and conditions were much healthier than those endured by the steerage passengers. Ethel took a nurse with her to help with Guy, who was less than a year old. This immigrant route was the longest and most arduous in the world, taking between 75 to 120 days with the ever-present risk of shipwreck, storms, fire on board and disease. Epidemics of measles and worse were not uncommon on these immigrant ships. It is hard to understand why Ethel and Montagu would want to risk their lives and the life of their ten-month old son. Did they view it as an adventure or were there more practical reasons behind the trip to the antipodes?

Times were difficult for young British doctors at the end of the 19th century. The profession was relatively new, and already overcrowded. The British Medical Journal and the Lancet campaigned to improve pay and working conditions for new doctors, but found that boycotting poorly paying salaried posts was hopeless because other desperate doctors simply stepped into vacant posts. Conan Doyle, himself a doctor wrote Round The Red Lamp (1894), and The Stark Munro letters (1895) – with stories which detailed the difficulties young doctors faced in establishing themselves in practice. Patronage from wealthy clients was an absolute necessity. Conan Doyle advised new doctors to ‘go out, mix everywhere with men, let them know you – concerts, meetings, clubs, literary debating, political, social, athletic – these are the rungs up which one climbs’.  The necessity of a wife was strongly advised in the Stark Munro Letters. 

The situation was not helped by the relatively low status of a Victorian doctor, coming well below Divinity, Law and Government posts in the ranks of the Victorian professions.

In the 19th century, British doctors were mainly drawn from the rising middle classes, perceived as ‘intelligent artisans’ and tainted by their need to charge fees. It is difficult for modern sensibilities to understand the horror of the ‘whiff of trade’, but it was very real and doctors were not ‘gentlemen’ – doctors were excluded from the Naval Officers mess  until 1884. The upper classes chose their doctors by their class attributes, and in order to succeed, a doctor had to have a classical and general education similar to a public school gentleman. For those doctors without wealthy patronage, making a living was a struggle in the early and middle 19th century. James Paget made a study of what became of medical students graduating from St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1869, and found that the vast majority became general practitioners. Very few were able to make a good living, a third ‘barely survived or failed’. Most were ‘obscure, underpaid and overworked’. Young doctors could find employment as an assistant to an older GP and this was thought to be more respectable. If a partnership was offered through this route, money then had to be found to buy in to the practice. Some doctors spent time as ships surgeons or worked in contract practice for the dispensaries, to build up capital. Some who had no money or connections in the UK emigrated to the colonies, frequently to Australia. Colonial practice was thought to offer good prospects but the price was high with the sacrifice of friends and family.

So in 1888, Montagu had been qualified for five years. His profession was given as ‘surgeon’ on the Cheltenham Masonic roll 1887. The fact that he needed to ask his father for an advance on his inheritance, suggests that his income in Cheltenham was not adequate to support a family. Was the New Zealand trip an adventure for a newly married couple or was it a necessary means of earning enough capital to set Montagu up in his own practice on his return to the UK?.  It is also fascinating to speculate why Montagu and Ethel chose to emigrate to New Zealand. Ethel was born and raised in South Africa. Her mother and sister Mina, had returned there after Ethel’s marriage and Ethel’s brother William Pickering, was a director of De Beers and extremely wealthy. They could have settled in Kimberley. However they chose to go to the other side of the world where neither of them had family. I suspect that Montagu had been told that it was possible to make a good life in the relatively young colony of New Zealand. His brother Herbert had served a ships doctor, and his wife, Rosa was born in New Zealand, where her father Charles Pritchard had been a prominent solicitor in Christchurch. It is likely then that Charles Pritchard made the necessary introductions for Montagu to find a practice in Christchurch. 

On the 2nd of May 1890, Montagu deposited his diplomas as evidence of his medical qualifications with the Registrar of Christchurch District and applied to be registered under the New Zealand Medical Act. Six months later, presumably following a satisfactory probationary period, an advertisement was placed in the Local Christchurch paper by Dr H.H.Prins confirming that he had taken Montagu Lomax-Smith on as a partner.

 Dr Prins had built one of the largest and most successful medical practices in New Zealand. His obituary commented that the practice was too large and that his health suffered as a consequence, so that he had been obliged to take on partners from time to time. He also had a habit of falling our with his partners, and Montagu’s predecessor – a Dr Ovendon – was involved in a protracted law suite over money which dragged on for several years.  Henry Horsford Prins was born in 1835 in Ceylon, and got his medical qualifications in Calcutta and London. He was the only doctor at the Christchurch hospital for many years and was said to be ‘one of the ablest, most popular and most concientious physicians there has ever been in the colony’. He was generating enough money from his practice to run a stud farm and finance an interest in race horses, and was a prominent man in the executive of the Canterbury Jockey Club. By the time Montagu joined his practice in 1890, Prins was 55 years old and was coming towards the end of his medical career. He must have hoped that his new assistant would remove some of the burden of night calls and the busy medical practice. Montagu must have obliged and rapidly became well known in the colony. He was elected as Honorary Physician to the Christchurch Hospital in December 1890. There are many accounts of Montagu’s services in emergencies, traffic accidents and post-mortems in the Christchurch  local papers. In September 1891, an article entitled ‘a remarkable cure has occurred at the practice of Dr Lomax-Smith’ appeared in the Star and detailed the recovery of a patient from TB of the lymph glands. This seems bizarre to a modern doctor but in the days when income depended on attracting patients, self publicity was a vital part of the business of medicine.

New Zealand was still a young colony at the end of the 19th century. The Canterbury Association was formed in England in 1848 with the aim of planning New Zealand towns before the settlers arrived. The association bought land from the New Zealand Company and sold plots off to wealthy Anglican colonists who would act as leaders in the colony in the first few years. Farm workers, labourers and tradesmen had their passage payed for by the Canterbury Association. Twelve shiploads of settlers were planned to make a population of 15,000 people in Christchurch which was to be the capital of the colony. The first four ships sailed in 1850. By 1862, Christchurch was large enough to build the Christchurch Hospital. New Zealand’s first medical association was founded by Christchurch doctors in 1865, only 25 years before Montagu arrived in the colony. 

  Being relatively small, there was clearly a fascination with the doings of the local worthies in the local papers and ironically I know more about  Montagu Lomax  in New Zealand than at any other time in his life. He was involved in a frenetic whirl of social activity being a member of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, the Canterbury Jockey Club; the Pioneer Bicycle Club, the Canterbury Lawn Tennis Association, he captained the Christchurch cricket club, the football club, the chess club and he served on the committees of most  of them. He also belonged to the  golf club where he had modest success, but his wife, Ethel won the ladies golf championship in 1894.  He was a mason, belonging to the  Royal Standard Lodge no.61 where he would have rubbed shoulders with all the local movers and shakers in Christchurch. He also lectured regularly to the St John’s ambulance association, and spoke to the women’s institute on diverse subjects including  ‘Quacks and Quackery’, ‘Materialism or Theosophy’ and ‘Mathew Arnold, critic and poet’. In May 1896, he spoke to the Fabian society on ‘Woman and her Place’ which was thought to be progressive since he suggested that women should be allowed to share in municipal government and should have the freedom to choose any congenial occupation. The previous year, he had lectured to around four hundred women on ‘Woman in Her Emotional Relations’ when he had upset the audience by asking for a vote on the necessity of corsets. He used these lectures as a basis for his first book published in 1895 and entitled ‘Woman”. 

He presented a paper at the fourth intercolonial Australasian medical conference at Dunedin in February 1896, where over a hundred medical men were gathered for the week from Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand. The paper is referenced under ‘Smith, ML’  in the Index-catalogue of the Library of the Surgeon-General’s Office, National Library of Medicine (U.S) as ‘The Philosophy of Disease – a study in pathogenesis’. I can’t find a copy of the paper itself, but the title suggests he was already starting to connect his theosophical beliefs with his medical observations and practice.

In between his medical and committee duties and sporting activities, his family was growing. A second son, Armine Montagu was born in 1891 and a daughter, Mary Cecile in 1895. Ethel had also made herself a life in Christchurch, being a scratch golfer, captain of the women’s rowing club, a good tennis player. She was involved in amateur dramatics and her name featured in many of the local newspaper’s reports of ‘fashionable weddings’ and social events.

In 1892 the sanitary conditions on some of the wards at the Christchurch hospital were so bad that Montagu refused to place any of his surgical cases on them. He described himself as instrumental in the campaign to close the wards for a four month period and called for a Royal Commission to enquire into the matter. From his letters to the paper, it sounds as though the hospital board sacked him since ‘they thought it a simpler method to dispense with my  inconvenient services  than to have all the fuss and worry of a public inquiry’. However, Montagu outwitted them and the local paper reported that ‘On Saturday morning a deputation from the medical staff of the Christchurch Hospital (consisting of Drs Lomax-Smith and Stewart) waited upon the Hon. W.P.Reeves’. The doctors discussed the requirements of the hospital with the Government Minister, especially as affected by the recent closure of one of the wards. Montagu later reported that the public interest was roused, and the hospital board was changed. He was presumably reinstated, since he then started to raise  funds for the Nurses Home at the Christchurch hospital with the aim of encouraging a better class of nurse and modernising training and nursing services at the hospital.  In 1894, the foundation stone for the Nurses Home was laid and Montagu was asked to speak at the ceremony in his capacity as chairman of the hospital medical staff. His career as a driving force for change and improvement had begun.

In 1893, Montagu’s father, the Reverend Thomas Smith died and probate was granted to his mother in July 1893. Montagu inherited the rents from several parcels of land in Weston-Super-Mare and Birmingham. It isn’t clear whether he sold the UK land but he had enough money to buy a new house in Christchurch on 1st May 1894. I found details of the house from its bill of sale, some two years later and it was a splendid affair. It was said to stand on about one and a quarter acres of ground with pretty gardens, a vinery, an orchard, a kitchen garden and a deep artesian well. It contained 12 rooms fitted with every convenience and comfort, with new stables, 2 stalls, a loose box, man’s room, harness room, coach house and loft. It seems that that Montagu was making good money from his general practice and his post as honorary surgeon to the Christchurch Hospital, although his father’s inheritance would certainly have helped.. 

He offered consultations twice a day at his new  home and in his town consulting rooms. At this point he was still working for Dr H.H.Prins, but their four year contract expired in October of 1894. A notice in the local paper recorded that the partnership was dissolved, and Montagu continued his GP practice alone.

Sometime towards the autumn of 1895, Montagu Lomax-Smith made a formal complaint to the hospital Board about the conduct of the house surgeon , a certain Dr Murray-Aynsley who he alleged was often drunk on duty and neglected his patients.  The Board asked Murray-Aynsley to resign but two of the remaining house doctors also threatened to resign  in protest at Murray-Aynsley’s harsh treatment. A written slanging match was conducted between Lomax-Smith and Murray-Aynsley through the pages of the Lyttelton Times. Eventually, in April 1896, the Christchurch Hospital Board were forced to open a formal enquiry into the matter which was conducted in public and fully reported by the New Zealand papers. After four sittings, the  Board agreed that the complaints against Murray-Aynsley were justified and that he should be asked to send in his resignation to take effect on July 11th 1896. The Board formally thanked Dr Lomax-Smith for the services rendered by him to the board in connection with the enquiry and for the manner in which he discharged an unpleasant duty ‘in a very gentlemanly manner’.

Montagu may have won his case, but he might also have locked horns with the wrong man.  John Murray-Aynsley was secretary and subsequently president of the New Zealand branch of the British Medical Association. Several letters of support to the papers mentioned his commitment to the Christchurch hospital and his diligence in training the nursing staff.   John moved to the much smaller town of Eketahuna to work in general practice and the local directory commented that the doctor’s removal to Eketahuna necessitated his resignation from many of these positions, but he still has a good deal of extra work besides his private practice’. The loss of a prestigious job in the main hospital for the colony must have been professionally devastating, and socially embarrassing having had his reputation sullied through the press. From his obituary, it sounds as though he never recovered, moving from New Zealand to Scotland and then to a practice in Ireland, before returning to New Zealand where he died aged 57. 

John Murray-Aynsley was the grandson of Lord Charles Murray-Aynsley a peer of the realm in the UK, nephew of Charles Murray-Aynsley, Vice Admiral in the Royal Navy, and son of Hugh who was an ex- Member of parliament in Canterbury.  Hugh Murray-Aynsley was a wealthy merchant and an influential founding father of the Christchurch colony. Both father and son were masons  in the same lodge as Montagu in Christchurch. John was the same age as Montagu, and also belonged to the same golf club and football clubs and the Philosophical Institute where they would have shared the same friends. Did friends take sides? Certainly some letters to the local press suggest that they did. The writers used pen-names which was common practice at the time, but there are quite a few commenting on the disgraceful  public criticism of a fellow doctor by Dr Lomax-Smith. The papers reported that Dr Fox resigned from the hospital at the same time as Murray-Aynsley in protest at his shameful treatment at the hands of the Hospital board and Dr Lomax -Smith.  It is tempting to speculate that Hugh Murray-Aynsley would have made Montagu’s life difficult following the Christchurch hospital scandal. 

At any rate, on 29th July 1896, the following advert  appeared in the local Christchurch papers: 

sale house

Further adverts appeared over the course of the next few weeks making it clear that Lomax was selling up lock stock and barrel, he even auctioned off his surgeon’s appliances. The house proved difficult to sell, and adverts placed later in the year put it up for rent. On 7th August 1896, the Lomax family set sail from Lyttelton bound for London, and never returned to New Zealand.

From an outsider’s point of view, it seems crazy to throw away the busy life they had built for themselves. Ethel and Montagu seemed to have integrated well into the Christchurch community. They were well respected, and Montagu was clearly well known in the colony. His name was still being used to advertise treatment for hydatid disease in 1902, six years after he had returned home to the UK. Judging by the description of the house and contents, he was earning good money. It is  hard to understand why Montagu decided to make this step, since he must have known that he was going back to an uncertain future in England. The bill of sale for his goods and chattels describes them as having been ‘purchased within the last few months and is in condition equal to new’, which suggests that he had bought his new house intending to settle permanently in the colony. I can only speculate from a distance of over 130 years, but I suspect that the fight with Murray-Aynsley was a pyrrhic victory, and that he may have been blackballed by Murray-Aynsley’s family and friends such that they made his position untenable.

This then raises the question of why Montagu tried to expose Murray-Aynsley’s behaviour. Perhaps an incompetent doctor being drunk on duty shocked Montagu, and he believed he had to protect patients from this man. Perhaps Montagu, coming from the new middle classes, and whose father was a tanner-turned vicar, felt disadvantaged by John Murray-Aynsley’s aristocratic background. Perhaps Montagu was confident in his ability to put matters to rights after his success with improving the sanitary conditions at the hospital, and the building of a new nurses home. However the latter, were battles against an impersonal system where public opinion could be safely mobilised through the press. The Murray-Aynsley battle was personal, and using the papers to put his side of the argument, and defame another doctor was a dangerous game with serious consequences for both parties. It was an important lesson, which he would draw on some thirty years later as a whistleblower against the appalling conditions within the British lunatic asylums.

On the surface, It would appear that he sacrificed his comfortable life, his status, and his  income on the alter of conscience. I would love to know if Ethel ever forgave him, because their life was never quite the same again. 

The New Zealand papers noted that the Lomax-Smiths were given a rousing  send off by their many friends as they left New Zealand  for the UK on the R.M.S. Rimutaka on 8th August 1896. They must have kept kept in touch with friends in the colony since the New Zealand papers published a number of his poems which had appeared in the British press. Montagu and Ethel were also invited to London on 21/3/01to attend a farewell afternoon gathering to bid farewell to Lady Ranford who was returning to New Zealand. The guest list contained a number of ‘Sir’s and ‘Lady’’s so he was still acceptable in society five years after having left the colony and this might go against my suspicion  that he had been blackballed.

Yet there may have been other reasons for returning home. Mary Smith, Montagu’s sister was taken ill, and died in May 1896, aged only 47. Guy was 7 years old in 1896, the usual age for starting at public school. Armine was five years old and it must have been clear by this stage that he was not quite normal.

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