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Bush Doctor Pioneers

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Bush doctor pioneers. Early Bingara Hospital
An early photo of Bingara Hospital

Bush doctor pioneers

Farming pioneers stand tall in our folk law.

Following the explorers, they cleared the bush, planted crops and grazed their animals.

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Settlements sprung up, merchants moved in, and towns were created.

We immortalise them and they will always be our heroes.

But, what of the doctors who went bush? Rarely do these bush doctor pioneers get a mention.

Who were these men of the 1800s, the ones who disembarked in Sydney and headed bush? Travelling by horse or sulky, they followed the bush tracks over 600 kilometres to Bingara and other settlements.

Yes, these bush doctors of the pioneering days, are also heroes. Their stories should be told, and their names remembered

Bush doctor pioneers.

Following the arrival of squatters in Bingara from the 1830s, a few scattered buildings sprung up. And, without the discovery of gold in 1851, it would have stayed that way for many years.

However, gold changed that overnight, thousands arrived.

The demand for goods and services attracted others, including doctors.

At first transient doctors drifted in, staying for short periods, and drifting out. With no Medicare and little cash, very few people could afford to pay the doctors. A barter system operated to help everyone survive.

In 1869 Bingara was advised it would get a new a new hospital, and this changed things dramatically.

New hospital

Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser on Tuesday 16 July 1889 announced a new hospital.

The journalist said: 

‘Tenders are shortly to be called for the erection of a hospital, the plans, etc., being now prepared.

This will be a great boon, as at present Bingara is without a doctor. Several having taken a short spell there, but they soon retired. The latest being Doctor Souter.’

At the time Bingara was well on the way to becoming an important service centre. And with a new hospital about to be built, it was critical to attract a doctor.

The town was successful and Dr Gunther Nagel arrived.

Dr C.J.G. Nagel Bingara’s first doctor.

Australian Town and Country Journal, 3 August 1889 reported on the good news

‘Dr C.J.G. Nagel has been selected as medical officer out of eight applicants. He comes among us as highly recommended as a clever surgeon, and a genial gentleman.’

If one disregards the fleeting doctors before the arrival of Dr Nagel, he surely qualifies as Bingara’s first doctor.

Following are some of the situations he faced over many years. It was during a time of little technology, isolation and he had to deal with what-ever came his way.

It appears that his determination did not waver.

Bush doctor pioneer stories

November 1889

‘Dr Nagel got a nasty fall the other night while returning from Piedmont Station.

The night was dark, while cantering along his horse fell taking all the flesh from his knee and sustaining other injuries. The doctor escaped with a shaking.’

Source; Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 9.

November 1889

‘On Wednesday, the 16th, we were startled by hearing that a son of Mr. Baldwin, of Bangheet, had been thrown from his horse. The lad had mounted a young horse, which had reared up and fallen on the youth.

Doctor Gunther Nagel was sent for, but before the doctor’s arrival the boy succumbed to the injuries received.’

Source: Maitland Mercury and Hunter General Advertiser, Thursday 21 November 1889.

March 1890

A report in the Sydney Mail and News South Wales Advertiser, March 22, 1890, described the financial challenges.

‘Dr. Nagel is doing a good business as far as work is concerned; but the majority of the patients forget that doctors require payment, which makes the financial returns small.

 If an improvement does not take place, I feel sure Bingara will be again without a doctor.’

August 1890

It is obvious that Dr. Nagel was dedicated to both the hospital and improving the health of residents. This is illustrated by the following newspaper report:

‘The medical officer for the Bingara Hospital, C.L.G. Nagel, Esq., M.D., gave a lecture last Wednesday evening.

The lecture was titled “Some Common Australian Diseases”. The Mayor, Mr. J. Byrnes, took the chair. The lecture was very interesting, and there was a very fair attendance.’

Source: Sydney Mail and News South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 16 August 1890.

September 1890

‘William Neal, who had his eye taken out by Dr. Nagel, the hospital doctor, is fast recovering.

The wardsman of the hospital is laid up.’

Source: Sydney Mail and News South Wales Advertiser Saturday 6 September 1890.

December 1890

‘Last week a Mr. McAlice, a contractor, met with a very severe accident through a fall from his horse. He is now in the hospital under the care of Dr. Nagel and progressing favourably.

Shortly after Mr. McAlice’s accident another old resident of the district, Mr. Reeves, a farmer on the Horton, was brought into the hospital.

He was suffering from internal injuries through being thrown out of his spring cart.

Slight hopes were entertained of his recovery.’

Source: Maitland Mercury and Hunter General Advertiser, Tuesday 16 December 1890.

July 1891

The following report gives an example of the tricky situations bush pioneer doctors faced.

The Sydney Mail and News South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 25 July 1891.

‘In July, a wonderful operation was performed at our hospital on a young married woman, 26 years of age. The mother of three little children.

The operation was performed by Dr. Nagel (Bingara), Dr. Henry (Warialda), and Dr. Wade (Barraba). It was for a hydatic cyst in the abdominal cavity (not connected to the liver).

The cyst was a colossal size, its largest circumference being about 4ft (122cm).

Twenty quarts (22.7 litres) of foetid pus came away, containing hundreds of small cysts of an average size of large plums.

The disease was of four years standing, and medical advice was never sought, although the patient was often laid up.

She struggled with her work (being very poor) up to within a few days of her admittance to the hospital.

She is now doing well.

Many critical cases have been dealt with during the 18 months of the existence of the institution.

More than 50 cases have been relieved and cured. But during that time, if nothing had been done but the saving of that young mother’s life, it would have proved its usefulness.

The public ought to subscribe to it far more literally than they are doing.’

May 1891

It was debated for quite awhile whether to publish the following story. However, the people are nameless and it illustrates the desperation this young person would have felt.

Also, the sad thing is that young people today continue to commit suicide for much the same reasons. Fear, despair, a sense of no future, guilt etc.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser Saturday 23 May 1891 reported:

‘A sad case of suicide occurred at Keera station on Friday night week.

The deceased resided with her parents (employees) on the station, and on the particular night retired to her bed about 8.30 p.m.

But, previous to so doing, she took a cup of water into her room.

Not long after being in bed, a younger sister, being alarmed at the demeanour of the poor girl, rushed in for her parents.

They came, and the girl put her arms round each of their necks, and said,

“Good-bye!”

She mentioned to them that she wished to see a young fellow who had been on the station, as all her trouble was through him.

They carried her into another room, but she only lived a few minutes.

Her hands and feet were working in the one convulsion to the time of her death.

The post-mortem examination held by Dr. Nagel showed that she died from some active poison, probably strychnine.

Her remains were brought 17 miles and interred in the cemetery at 9pm on Sunday night. The scene presenting a mournful appearance in the darkness.’

November 1891

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser reported on Saturday 7 November 1891:

‘Influenza has taken hold in Bingara.

The school had to be closed as the teachers were attacked, and there are a number of them very low.

Alderman H. Miller’s life was despaired of for many days, but he seems at present to be recovering slowly.

Dr. Nagel is almost run off his legs, attending the sick. Almost everyone who has been seized with the epidemic considers his special attack to be the worst and most severe of the lot.’

October 1894

‘Dr. Nagel was called upon to give expert evidence at the colonial inquest into the death of David John Callaghan.

He died as a result of a coach accident at Myall Creek.’

Source: Armidale Express 26 October 1894.

 June 1895

‘Dr. Nagel resigned as Medical Officer and vaccinator for the district of Bingara.’

 Source: Armidale Express 7 June 1895. In July 1895,

 Dr. Guy Chamberlyn Cory from Catherine Hill Bay replaced him.

What happened to Dr Gunther Nagel?

At the time of writing, it seems that Dr Nagel departed Bingara following his resignation. He is not listed in the burial records and no online references have been found.

Regardless of this, he remains the most important of our bush doctor pioneers. He arrived at a critical time, stayed for at least sixteen years and his dedication to the community was very significant.

Hopefully, at a later time we can complete our knowledge of this great man.

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