Other Stories of Our Past

The 1918 Flu Epidemic in Thames

Kae Lewis

With special thanks to Catherine Dean, Althea Barker, Helen & Malcolm Doidge and David Wilton.
Edited by Kae Lewis.


It is not known exactly how the flu actually reached New Zealand, but the prime suspects are the ships coming to New Zealand carrying returned soldiers and war invalids from Europe and North America in October 1918. No other event has killed so many New Zealanders in such a short time. The First World War claimed the lives of more than 18,000 New Zealand soldiers over a four year period, but in 1918 the influenza epidemic killed almost 8600 people in less than two months.

Thames Star, 9 Nov 1918:
Board of Health Meeting
Precautions Being Taken
Another meeting of the recently constituted Board of health committee to deal with the influenza epidemic, took place at the Hospital Board's room yesterday. There were present Mr W.J. McCormick, in the chair, Messrs H. Lowe (Mayor), W. Danby, W. Baker, W. J. Hosking, B. Franklin, W. H. Newton, R. E. Rudman, R, Law, and G. A. Empson.
The chairman explained that at present the epidemic at Thames had not reached a violent stage, but it was quite time that certain precautions were taken. In consultation with the medical officers and Mr Franklin, they had come to the conclusion that inhalation stations should be fixed up at different points, where persons could be passed through. He called on Mr Franklin, the health inspector, to explain the idea to members. After hearing Mr Franklin it was resolved that inhalation stations should be arranged at Pollen Street, Central Shortland and Grahamstown wharves, and Shortland railway station, and these stations duly be advertised. The town and suburbs were split into three districts, Messrs McWatters and Newton to be asked to look after Tararu, Mrs Wilson and the ladies of the St John Ambulance to look after the centre. The Parawai district has not yet been allocated. Any ladies wishing to assist in Parawai are asked to communicate with Mr Tonge.
Several ladies offered their services in any capacity. The shortage of domestic help to those stricken with the disease was mentioned, and Mr Rudiman suggested that the technical cooking classes be asked to cook for those who were unable to get help. The closing of the High School, theatres and churches was discussed. Mr Rudman pointed out that the healthy conditions existing at the High School did not in his opinion warrant the closing of the school. It was decided that the committee, including the medical superintendent, visit the school. A committee consisting of the chairman, Messrs Franklin and Lowe will wait on the theatre proprietors re closing those institutions. It was also decided that an urgent wire be sent to the district health officer, to have all passengers leaving Auckland by boat for Thames or river ports passes through inhalation stations at Auckland. About 18 cases of influenza are reported from Kerepeehi, and the nurse in charge of the native districts has been despatched there, taking large quantities of preventatives.
The Secretary of the Board of Health, Mr G. Tonge, will be in attendance at the Hospital Board office tomorrow (Sunday) evening between 7 and 9 oclock, when those wishing to avail themselves of inhalation may do so.
Nurse McKinven, assisted by Mr Logan, put through the inhalation station at Kerepeehi over 200 persons, mostly natives, yesterday. All places of amusement, theatres, billiard saloons etc. were closed last evening by order of the Health Department. Over 85 persons passed through the inhalation chamber at the Hospital Board's room last evening. As a great many helpers are required just now, especially those with nursing experiences, volunteers applying to Mr Franklin, Health Inspector or Mr Tonge Secretary of the Board of Health, will be greatly appreciated. Already several persons have come forwards, including Mrs F. Davies, Mrs Wilson, Misses Hewitt, Ashman, Newton and McWatters, but many more are required.
One last operator of the telephone exchange, two messenger boys, and two gentleman operators from the local Post Office are at present off duty, suffering with influenza.
Five more soldiers, G.E. Wood, R.W. Perry, R. F. Daniels, P. Winters and E. H. Barker have died of influenza.'
Thames Star, 11 Nov 1918:
Assuming a Severe Stage
The epidemic throughout the town and district has reached such a stage as to be considered serious.
Several hundred cases have been reported, or which a number are serious.
Both doctors at Waihi having been stricken with the disease, the Waihi people asked for a Thames doctor to be sent, and Dr Derrick was immediately dispatched to that town.
The local doctors, Inspector Franklin and all members of the Board of Health are working long hours to combat the disease and taking every measure possible to relieve those afflicted. Owing to a call from Waikino on Saturday, Inspector Franklin and secretary Tonge proceeded by car there and gave the committee every assistance. They then went on to Waihi and assisted there, returning at daylight on Sunday. Inspector Franklin and the chairman of the Board of Health Mr W. J. McCormick, went yesterday by Government launch to Kerepeehu and interviewed the district nurse and many of the patients.
Mr Salisbury the schoolmaster is working hard and assisting the nurse in every way possible.
Last evening the Board of Health and Doctors Ritchie and Lapraik had a conference, when Mr Danby, on behalf of the Methodist trustees, offered the free use of the Methodist Sunday Schoolroom in Mackay Street as a hospital.
Later the building was inspected and was thought suitable and should it be found necessary, will be used.
The Board is requiring special nursing and domestic assistance at the hospital and would be pleased to receive any assistance in this matter.
A number of ladies have very kindly come forward and offered theie services. Mrs Davies, Mrs Johnson, Misses Hewett and Serpell are at the institution, while Mr W. J. Hall has placed his time and car at the disposal of the Board.
The doctors have requested us to make known that only serious cases should come to the hospital as the accommodation is now severely taxed. It is also impossible for the doctors to visit the country for some time.
Under instructions for the Chief Health Officer hotels, clubs, billiard rooms and all places of public entertainment are closed from today.

Just as we go to press we hear that Mrs Brien of Tararu Road died at the Hospital this afternoon. Mr J. F. Twohill, son of Mrs K. Twohill, Thames died at his residence, City Club Hotel, Auckland. Mr Patrick Maher died at the Thames Hospital and Mr Thomas Maher died at Auckland. Mrs McKinnon, Rolleston Street died in hospital last evening.'
Thames Hospital 1915 - 1920.The entrance was in Baillie Street, which is now non-existent in that section. The hospital ran from now Court Street to Bella Street and the entrance faced up to the hills. Source: 'Thames Hospital, A Pictorial History 1868-1987' CD, Waikato Hospital Board.

Some of the Cemetery Records:
Edith Lavina BRIEN nee WILTON, died 11 Nov 1918, aged 41 years, Public Plot 1516, Shortland Cemetery
Ada Lucy BRIEN, died 18 Nov 1918, aged 16 years. Daughter of Edith Lavina BRIEN (above)
Patrick MAHER, died 12 Nov 1918, aged 49 years. Public Plot 2937, Shortland Cemetery
Thomas MAHER, died 12 Nov 1918, aged 0 years. Public Plot 2939, Shortland Cemetery
Emily McKINNON, died 12 Nov 1918, aged 36 years. Public Plot 2968, Shortland Cemetery
John Francis TWOHILL, died 12 Nov 1918, aged 36 years. Public Plot, Shortland Cemetery
Joe RADICH, died 19 Nov 1918, aged 24 years. Public Plot 3832, Shortland Cemetery

Thames Star, 14 Nov 1918:
'The energies of the Board of Health, assisted by the voluntary workers, are gradually overcoming the epidemic. Although three deaths occurred at the hospital last night, those of Mr J. Maher, Mr C.E. Wilton, Mrs Walker, there were no fresh cases reported this morning.
Up to 12 o'clock today, no report had come from Kerepeehi, so it is surmised that everything is going on well there.
Another six native cases are in the local hospital.
Mr Prussing and Mr E.N. Miller went on duty at the hospital last night so as to relieve the pressure on the present nursing staff. Mr W. H. Baker was to go on this afternoon. At the temporary hospital at Mr Watson's late residence in Queen Street, twelve beds and the necessary furniture have been provided in case of emergency.
Dr Ritchie was about again this morning. Doctors Lapraik and Derrick are going hard trying to get in as many visits as possible. To assist Dr Derrick, Mr W. Price is acting as his chauffeur.
We regret to learn that the Mayor, Mr H. Lowe, is at present down with influenza.
Mr Logan, the Government Drainage Engineer, who has been ill, is now improving.
Mr John Maher, the third son of Mrs Maher, Tararu, to die from influenza complications, died at the hospital this morning, aged 38 years. The influenza epidemic has reached a serious stage at Mangapeehi and Taumarunui in the King Country, but is only mild at Te Kuiti. Mr John McKenzie of Puriri died at the Taumarunui Hospital yesterday aged 49 years. The funeral will leave Mr McKenzie's late residence, Puriri at 2 p.m. tomorrow for Omahu Cemetery.
Mr Charles E. Wilton, the eldest son of Mrs Wilton, Tararu, and the husband of Mrs E. Wilton, died at Thames Hospital yesterday, 43 years of age. The funeral will leave the hospital at 10.30 am tomorrow for Shortland Cemetery.

Mr Edward Dabb, aged 62 years, died at his late residence, Wellesley St west, Auckland, yesterday. Mr Dabb is a brother of the Messrs Dabb, Tararu. The funeral of the late Mr Dabb will leave the Goods Wharf on arrival of the Wakatere about 2.30 p.m. tomorrow for Shortland Cemetery. The fact that the present epidemic is nothing more than pure influenza is strongly emphasised by Dr J.P. Frengley, acting chief health officer, who deprecates the rumours that the disease was other than it is stated to be. He urged that persons who are suffering from influenza should remain in their homes or rooms an extra few days at the convalescent period, in order to reduce the risk of spreading the disease. Above all, recovered persons should spend as much time as possible in the open-air and sunshine.'

Cemetery Records:
Charles Edwin WILTON, buried 15 Nov 1918, aged 43 years. Husband of Mrs E. Wilton. Public plot 3297, Shortland Cemetery
Elizabeth Hannah WILTON, buried 16 Nov 1918, aged 44 years. Wife of Charles Edwin WILTON. Public plot, Shortland Cemetery.
John MAHER, buried 15 Nov 1918, aged 38 years. Public Plot 2940, Shortland Cemetery.
Edward DABB, buried 15 Nov 1918, aged 63 years. Public Plot 0139, Shortland Cemetery.

Elizabeth Wilton, great-grandmother of numerous current Thames residents lost her daughter Edith Brien, granddaughter Ada Brien, her son Charles and daughter-in-law Elizabeth Wilton nee Aro, all dying of the flu in one fateful week.

Thames Star 14 Nov 1918:
We regret to learn that the Mayor, Mr H. Lowe, is at present down with influenza.

Thames Star, 15 Nov 1918:
'We regret to have to announce that Mr Franklin, district Health Inspector, after working hard among the native cases, and generally throughout the whole outbreak, has now contracted the disease. Mr Franklin has worked most wholeheartedly in the cause, and it is to be regretted that his devotion to duty has had this unfortunate result. Everyone will desire his early recovery. The chairman of the Board is endeavouring to get an inspector to take Mr Franklin's place during his absence from duty. Members of the Thames Old Boys' Association willing to help in the hospital to relieve the nurses are requested to leave their names with the secretary of the association at once.
Miss Brenda Smith, Messrs E. Payne and J. M. Hogben went on duty this morning at the local hospital and Mr Shaw has offered his services to the Board. Mr Tonge, the Board's secretary left this afternoon for Turua, where some bad cases are reported among the natives. We are pleased to report that Dr Ritchie, although still confined to bed, is much better.'

Thames Star, 16 Nov 1918:'While Mr Tonge is at Tararu, Mr W. H. Newton is acting as secretary of the Board. Miss L. Price, Mr Wernham, Mr J. Lange and others went on duty at the hospital today. Mrs Urwin of Ngatea, who is a trained nurse, offered her services, and a car was immediately despatched to bring her to town. All grocer shops will close at 6 o'clock this evening.
Mr Lowe, Mayor, is making satisfactory progress.
The Native nurse makes a special appeal for clothing for natives at Kerepeehi.
All business premises are requested to close from 6 o'clock this evening until Monday morning.
There are no further influenza developments today in town. The worst cases are those from outside the district.'

Thames Star, 19 Nov 1918:
Position at Thames
Reports from the Board of Health this morning show that while a great many new cases have been reported recently, most of them took the necessary precautions and carried out the instructions of the Health authorities and so are progressing satisfactorily. Drs Derrick and Lapraik are working 'at top' getting in as many visits in the 24 hours as is possible. THere are several serious cases now at the hospital, but the doctors hope with ordinary luck to pull them through safely.
Since the first of the month (November) 86 were admitted to the institution, 18 of which proved fatal. About 16 deaths have occurred outside the institution. This out of a district of 15000 is a very small proportion.

Thames Star, 16 Nov 1918:
For some time the chairman has been endeavouring to get in touch with Matron Wilson. A wire has now been received that Matron Wilson contracted influenza a week ago while nursing at the camp hospital. Her condition has been serious, but she is now improving; also that the camp is over the worst.

There were several deaths at the hospital last night; mostly natives from the Hauraki Plains. As several of the nurses at the hospital are down, their places have been taken by volunteers.

Mr Tonge, who is working hard at Turua, reported at noon today that things are pretty good.

Several severe cases are reported from Ngatea, and the Board has arranged to send help.

Mr Stretton reports that although several have it, there are no serious cases. A request for lemons has been
complied with by Mr Hosking.

The district nurse came to Thames last night from Kerepeehi and interviewed the chairman. She considered that Kerepeehi was over the worst of the epidemic. The position there is that natives are arriving from all the surrounding districts thereby bringing new cases daily.

As in most cases an attack of influenza is followed by a worrisome cough, it is just as well that households should know of an excellent remedy which gives speedy relief. It has the additional advantages of being cheap, easily made and absolutely free from drugs of any description. The constituents are two ounces of cod-liver oil, two tablespoonsful of honey, and the juice of two lemons. The honey should be melted, then squeezed in the juice of the lemons, and all the oil. The bottle should be shaken before using the mixture, and the dose is one desertspoonful when the cough is troublesome. This cough remedy has been used by many during the epidemic, and has proved so efficacious that a request was made that it should be published for the benefit of other sufferers.


Thames Star, 19 November 1918:
'We sincerely regret to report the death of Sister J. E. Linton at the hospital yesterday. Sister Linton, who has been on the staff of the Thames hospital for many years, was a most efficient nurse, and until her indisposition untiringly attended to many influenza patients. All who at any time have been under her care at the institution will deeply regret her death. The funeral will leave the hospital at 10.30 am tomorrow for Shortland cemetery.'

Thames Star, 19 Dec 1918:
'On Nov 18, at the Thames Hospital, dearly loved eldest daughter of Robert and Emma Linton of Mangapiko, Te Awamutu, aged 30 years. - Deeply regretted.'

Thames Star, 20 Nov 1918:
'The funeral of Sister Linton was largely attended this morning. The chairman, secretary and all other available members of the Hospital Board, Messrs Hall, Baker and Hosking attended.The returned soldiers, who attended in uniform, acted as pall-bearers. The chief mourners were Mr Linton and Mr Cottie. The Rev. J. Milne conducted a very impressive service at the graveside.'

Cemetery Records:
Jessie Emma LINTON buried 19 Nov 1918, aged 30 years. Public plot 3465. Shortland Cemetery.

This Plot was Enclosed and Tablet Erected
By the People of Thames
In Grateful Remembrance
Sister Jessie E. Linton
Formerly of Thames Hospital
After Untiring Devotion to Duty
She Fell a Victim
and Died 18th Nov 1918
Aged 30 Years
In the Service of Humanity
She found the Inspiration of a noble Life.

Jessie Emma Linton


The plot next to Jessie Linton: Public Plot 3464. Shortland Cemetery:

RITCHIE, Amy Edith
In loving memory of Amy Edith
Loved wife of James RITCHIE
died 16th Dec 1918 aged 30years.
Giveth his beloved sleep

Amy Ritchie was the wife of Dr Ritchie. She came from Manawatu and it is thought she may have been one of Jessie's last patients.



Thames Star, 22 Nov 1918:
'Mr R. LAW, who is a member of the Health Board, and who has been working hard in combating the epidemic, was admitted to the hospital last evening.
Nurse Maud MANNING, whose death took place at Narrow Neck on Monday, was trained as a nurse at the Christchurch Hospital, and had been engaged as a mission nurse among the Maoris ever since. She was stationed most of the time at Paeroa. When the epidemic broke out she volunteered for service at Narrow Neck, where she contracted the complaint herself.
Mrs Lidgard, wife of Mr James Lidgard, died at her late residence, Fenton St., Parawai, yesterday, aged 50 years. Mrs Lidgard leaves a large family to mourn their loss.
There has only been one death within the last 24 hours, and this was an extremely bad case when admitted, the patient dying 2 hours after admission.
The male section of the hospital is full but there is still slight room in the female wards. The Board of Health us making provision for the transfer of convalescents to the last Mr John Watson's house, where the convalescents admitted yesterday are reported to be making satisfactory (progress).
Up to date 103 have been admitted to the hospital. There have been 4 deaths since Nov 18.'

Cemetery Records:
Robert Alex LAW buried 24 Nov 1918, aged 49 years. Public plot 3654. Shortland Cemetery.

Annie Maria LIDGARD, buried 22 Nov 1918, aged 49 years. Public Plot 3679, Shortland Cemetery

Thames Star 3 Dec 1918:
One death has occurred at the hospital during the last 24 hours, a child from Hikutaia having died.
Messrs. McCormick and Hall and Nurse McKinven returned from the coast last evening. They report the district is fairly clear. The Maoris were all visited, and their health is generally good. The natives were advised to stay in their camps, and only one go out for food.
The native mortality at Paeroa is still high. Mr Franklin and Nurse McKinven are visiting Paeroa today.
Mr McCormick will leave for Auckland tonight, where he will confer with Dr Frengley on the epidemic. He will also see Matron Wilson who is at present in that city on the question of getting several trained nurses.
Thames Star 9 Dec 1918:
Matron Wilson, who has returned to Thames, is at present engaged in the re-organising of the nursing staff consequent upon the death of Sister Linton, the theatre nurse, and the influenza. Endeavours are being made to obtain two thoroughly trained nurses.


Nurse Mary Pennell of Paeroa died of the flu on 28 November 1918 in Auckland where she had gone to nurse her son Harold (a wounded returned serviceman) when he was stricken with the disease. She was a much loved and respected nurse in the Paeroa district for upwards of 40 years.


Thames Star, 12 Dec 1918:
Feeling reference was made at yesterday's Hospital Board meeting to the losses sustained by the death of Sister Linton and Mr Law, a member of the Board. Speaking of Sister Linton the Chairman said that every member would regret her loss. She was one of the most conscientious Sisters in any hospital in the Dominion.
He personally had no doubt she had sacrificed her life in an endeavour to do more than her duty. She has been on duty day and night and he had wondered how she could stand it. She has been working at such high pressure that when she was attacked, there was no hope for her to pull through. He was sure that everyone in the whole district would regret her loss.
Mr Law, continued the Chairman, was one of the Board's oldest members and had always been a conscientious and energietic worker, willing to do whatever he was called upon to do. In the early stages, the chairman had asked Mr law to visit Wakatewai, one of the hotbeds of the district, where the deathrate had been awful. It was not even in the Thames Hospital District, but Auckland had asked them to organise, and supplies were still being sent from Thames. Personally, the Chairman concluded, he felt that Mr Law had sacrificed his life for the cause.
Motions of condolence with the relatives of Sister Linton and the late Mr Law were carried in silence, all members standing.'

The following resolution was carried at THE BOARD OF HEALTH Meeting held on the 23rd Dec 1918
Proposed by Mr Lowe, seconded by Mr Danby: On behalf of the Residents of the district I move:
'That the profound gratitude and appreciation of the splendid organisation of the Chairman of the Board of Health, Mr McCormick, and the wholehearted devotedness to duty of the Officials and Nursing Staff during the recent Epidemic be recorded in the Minutes, and to add that, We feel it is entirely due to their almost superhuman efforts that the ravages of the disease were stayed, and that we escaped appalling disaster.'

Thames Star, 24 Dec 1918:
A meeting of the Board of Health was held at the Hospital Board Office, where there were present Messrs McCormick (Chairman), Lowe (Mayor of Thames), Towers (Mayor of Paeroa), Danby (Chamber of Commerce), Baker, Hosking, Hall, Robinson, Newman (Hospital Board) and Franklin (Health Inspector).
The Chairman reviewed the whole epidemic. He said: The epidemic started at Thames about the 28th October, when the first case, a man from p.s. Wakatere, was admitted to the Hospital. The next and most serious cases were brought to the Hospital early in November from Thames and river districts following the return of excursionists from Labour Day celebrations and the Avondale races. Immediately following the admission of the first case to Hospital, I conferred with the acting medical superintendent, and discussed the advisability of taking steps to prevent the spread of disease. The board met on the 6th November. To this meeting the Mayor, President of the Chamber of Commerce, County Chairman, Sanitary Inspector and Doctors Derrick, Ritchie, and Lapraik were invited.
The Chairman explained that it had been decided to close the Hospital and the District Homes to the public, and so far as practicable to isolate them. This had proved very effective with respect to the District Homes, as up to the present not one case of influenza has been reported. As a result of the conference it was decided to establish (1) inhalation chambers, one at the Hospital Board room, one in the center of town, Shortland Railway Station, Shortland Wharf, and one at the Goods Wharf; (2) issue circulars advising the people what steps to take to assist in combating the disease; (3) that schools and pictures, and all places where crowds foregather should be closed. The inhalation stations were largely availed of by the public, the average daily number passing through were from 1500 to 2000.
During the period from October 28 to December 21, 160 influenza patients were admitted to the Hospital. Of these 100 have been discharged, 41 died, leaving 19 remaining at date. There were 30 European and 11 Maori deaths. These were the most serious cases sent from all parts of the district, the understanding with the doctors being that the bad cases only should be sent to the Hospital, and that preference should be given to those having no homes, and people whose homes offered little facility for efficient nursing. Owing to the desire of the Board to admit as many urgent cases as possible, steps were taken to prepare for the opening of auxiliary hospitals. The Methodist Sunday School, St James Hall, and the residence of the late Mr Watson were placed at the Board's disposal, the latter being opened as a convalescent home. Mrs Miller was placed in charge, and proved a great assistance in relieving the main hospital.
Temporary hospitals were established at Paeroa, one for Europeans, and one for Maoris. Admissions to the European hospital were 49, discharged 44, deaths 1, and 4 transferred to the Thames Hospital.
Maori Hospital: Admissions 75, deaths 14. Both these hospitals were closed on the 14th inst. At Patetonga a Native hospital was opened. Admissions 16, deaths 5 and 11 transferred by special launch to Manaia on the 15th inst., and the hospital closed. Mrs Deane was in charge of the European Hospital at Paeroa and Nurse Knock of the Native. Mr Miller was in charge of the Patetonga Hospital and was ably assisted by Miss Newhook.
The approximate cost of medicines, provisions, temporary hospitals, and equipment which was sent to all parts of the hospital district is £1400.
In addition to the above mentioned Native hospitals, a large number of Natives were nursed in their own settlements, viz., Kerepeehi, Waitakaruru, and The Thames Valley, Kerepeehi being the first and most seriously affected. The District Native Nurse was despatched there on the 7th November. On that date there were 18 cases, which had been conveyed there by contacts from Auckland. On the 10th inst. the Chairman and the Sanitary Inspector visited the district, and conferred with the Native Nurse, and found that practically the whole of the settlement, and the surrounding district, were down, about 100. Fifteen of the worst cases were conveyed to the Thames Hospital. In this district Messrs Stasell, Salisbury, Ward, Kidd and others ably assisted the Native Nurse.
On the 23rd November the Chairman and Mr Hammond proceeded to Waitakaruru and conferred with Mr Stretton who had been looking after the Natives there, and found a large number of cases, some of which were very serious. Seven deaths had occurred, and several bodies remaining unburied, and arrangements were made for the burials. Medicine and food were given. Mr Hammond was left in charge. The Chairman returned to Thames, and arranged with the Native Nurse to proceed there at once. A further four deaths occurred, and she remained until the settlement had been cleared of the disease. Mr Stretton and family rendered valuable assistance to the Natives of this district during a very trying period.
The Natives in the Thames Valley were looked after by Mr Wayne and other assistants, and good work was done. Supplies of medicine and other necessities were sent from the Board.
Whakatiwai settlement, which is a part of Auckland Hospital District, was catered for by this Board at the request of Dr Frengley. Mr Heron having been sent from Auckland to take charge, he was ably assisted by Mrs Coxhead, Mr Stubbs and others.
In reponse to a call from Mr Mills, County Council Chairman, for advice and assistance for Turua, the Secretary was despatched on the 15th November. He found three serious cases, which were sent to the Hospital. One died before admission. In company with Mr Mills, many visits were made (both Natives and Europeans) and an inhalation station was opened.
A number of the smaller settlements in the River districts were visited by Board members (Messrs Hosking and Hall) and arrangements were made for their protection. Medicines and other requirements were supplied from the Board.
The Natives along the Thames Coast were visited by the Native Nurse and Chairman, and were advised as to the precautions, and treatment necessary for influenza.
Owing to a recurrence of the epidemic at Karangahape, a section of the people felt much concerned, and meetings were held with a view to having a temporary hospital opened. Following a request from Mr Murray, secretary of the local committee, I proceeded to Karangahape on 14th inst, and conferred with the Committee, Mr Poland, M.P., and Mr Grace, Chairman Ohinemuri County Council, being present. After hearing their views, I informed them that arrangements were being made to send several trained nurses at once, and that after they had an opportunity of visiting the patients, and ascertaining the actual position, I would then bring the medical superintendent, and confer with him on the spot, as to the advisability of opening a hospital, but at the moment, and with all the information before me, I would not agree to opening a hospital. Three fully-trained nurses, and three assistants with a considerable knowledge of the nursing profession, had been sent. On the 19th inst. Dr Ritchie and myself went there to confer with the nurses, after which 14 homes were visited by the doctor, and about 40 people were examined. The doctor agreed with the opinion formed on my first visit, and that the method adopted was the quickest and most efficient in the circumstances. The method adopted was to nurse the people in their own homes, the nurses going from house to house giving expert advice, administering medicine, and generally seeing that the patients were properly attended to. The bad cases that would not suffer by being moved, and who would benefit by hospital treatment, have been sent to Thames and Waihi Hospitals. During the past 10 days, eight cases were removed, and the position is considerably improved.
The Board wishes to express its heartfelt sympathy with all who have suffered loss by the hand of death during the trying period through which we have passed, and to express its sincere thanks to the band of willing helpers who have rendered such valuable and self-sacrificing services to the people of the Thames Hospital District, also for the many donations for money, fruit, food and clothing received.
Continuing Mr McCormick said that while splendid work was done by so many workers, it would be unfair to individualise. While there were 120 cases in the hospital, nearly all serious pneumonic ones, one nurse could only look after two patients. The Boy and Girl Scouts did invaluable work, while the Ministers of the Churches worked day and night.
Mr Lowe moved the adoption of the report. In seconding, Mr Towers said he was glad the chairman had not discriminated. With few exceptions, everyone had worked loyally. Speaking for Paeroa, he was pleased with the attention received from the Board and its Chairman. Assistance was given at all times, and no one could have been more obliging. The adoption was carried unanimously.


Thames Star, 19 Aug 1922:
To The Editor,
May we through the columns of your Journal draw attention to a movement to erect a suitable headstone over the grave of the late Sister Linton, in the Shortland Cemetery. During the epidemic, Sister Linton, then on the local hospital staff, worked unceasingly in combatting the disease; worked to the utmost limit of her strength and then fell a victim.
Those associated with the hospital during that trying time will know of the truly heroic service of this splendid woman, and it is felt that her grave should not be neglected. It is intended to raise the sum of £20 by means of subscriptions limited to 2s 6d and the list will close on August 31. They have been distributed to the following businesses from where subscriptions will be received. Mrs Coad, Mr Townson, Mr Danby, Mr Rowbottom, Mr Scott, Mr Bonguard, and there are also lists at the Borough Council Chambers and the Hospital.
It is anticipated that the money raised will be sufficient to erect a tombstone and place the plot in order. Miss Stewart, formerly matron of Thames Hospital will have charge of the work of collecting in Auckland. The late Sister Linton trained here. Two of her brothers fell in the Great War and she too, practically gave her life in the service of her country during the epidemic. It surely is fitting that the town should pay a tribute to the memory of this splendid woman.
We are etc.
C. H. DERRICK, Queen St
J. W. PRICE, Rolleston St.'

Thames Star 14 Sep 1922:
Tribute To Her Memory
At yesterday's Thames Hospital Board meeting a letter was received from Mrs C. H. Derrick, who asked for the co-operation of the board in erecting a tribute to the memory of the late Sister Linton.
Mr Hall: I think we really ought to do something in this case.
The chairman: It will have to be by members personally subscribing.
Mr Hall: we knew this sister; she practically died on her feet.
The chairman said that Sister Linton had completed her time, but worked on during the epidemic until she dropped. It was possible that was more than the amount would be collected than was required for the headstone and he understood that it was intended, if possible, raise sufficient to place a cot in the hospital as well.'

Thames Star, 21 Sep 1922:
'The ladies who interested themselves in securing funds to put in order the grave of the late Sister Linton have met with a most generous response, and the sum of £43 10s has been collected. In addition the cemetery trustees have made a gift of the plot. A contract has been let for the construction of a concrete wall and the provision of a memorial stone bearing a suitable inscription. The surplus funds will be devoted to the purchase and equipment of a children's cot in the local hospital. The ladies cannot thank each individual subscriber, but they have expressed their pleasure at the promptness and generosity of the response made to the appeal for something suitable to mark the grave of a very noble woman.'

Jessie Emma Linton's name was also added
to the WWI nurses plaque which until recently
hung outside the entrance to the Board Office,
in the old wing of the Thames hospital (now demolished).


Staff on duty at Thames hospital during the flu epidemic were:
The acting-Matron, Sister Fanny Maria Warren (Graduated as a State Registered Nurse Aug 1917)
Sister Jessie Linton (Graduated as a State Registered Nurse Aug 1917)
Nurse Lenore M. McKenzie (Began training 10 Sep 1915)
Nurse Isabel Vincent (Began training 1 Dec 1915)
The night Sister, Nurse Maude T McGruer (Began training 18 Feb 1916)
Nurse Annie Morrison (Began training 18 Feb 1916)
Nurse Kathleen Corbett (Began training 13 Mar 1916)
Nurse Annie Greener (Began training 31 Mar 1917)
Nurse Annie O'Shea (Began training 1 Jul 1917)
Nurse Dorothy R. M. White (Began training 21 Aug 1917)
Nurse Margaret McMillan (Began training 19 Oct 1917)
Nurse Margaret Balydon (Began training 17 Nov 1917)
Nurse Gladys May (Began training 20 Dec 1917)
Nurse Lorna B. Kenderdine (Began training 20 Jan 1918)
Nurse Nellie Sing (Began training 11 Apr 1918)
Nurse Doris Arnold (Began training 17 Jun 1918)
Nurse Annie McLoughlin
Nurse Marion Elizabeth Bates

When the epidemic struck in November 1918, most of the nurses were still in training and had very little experience. At that time, Matron Margaret Wilson was called away to run 'the camp hospital', probably in a rural Maori community hit hard by the epidemic. With the Matron away, Sister Fanny Warren who had graduated as a State Registered Nurse only 15 months before was the most senior sister available and became Acting-Matron of Thames Hospital. Sister Jessie Linton who died in the early stages of the epidemic was the Theatre Sister, and Nurse Maude McGruer, a student nurse, was the Night Sister. So far, there has been no record found of any other State Registered nurses working in Thames Hospital during November 1918. It is known that 'three fully-trained nurses, and assistants with a considerable knowledge of the nursing profession' were sent to out-lying districts to help with flu cases, and if they were from Thames Hospital, this would have further reduced the staffing levels. Many of the experienced staff nurses from Thames Hospital had become Army Nurses and were overseas nursing the wounded from World War I at the time of the epidemic. Their names are listed on the Thames Hospital ROLL OF HONOUR plaque pictured above.

Thames Star 12 December 1918:

Referring to the splendid work done by the nurses at the hospital at the Hospital Board meeting, Mr McCormick said that seven out of eight second year nurses and the whole eight of the first year nurses had contracted influenza. The work had been very heavy, as all the worst cases of septic pneumonia from all parts of the district, had been brought in. For a time, they had to rely on considerable outside help. They had passed through one of the most trying times in New Zealand's history and it had been most creditable the way Sister Warren, the Acting-Matron, and the nursing staff had carried on. The only possible complaint he could make was the long hours they kept on their feet. He wished to express the Board's appreciation of the work the whole staff had done. Those who remained on their feet were invaluable and those who were ill resumed their duties almost before they were fit.

The Board decided to record its appreciation of the work of the Acting-Matron and the nursing staff on the minutes.
Nurse Isabel Vincent.

Isabel Vincent was born on 10 Jan 1894 at Rangiora, Canterbury. Despite her mother's opposition, she commenced her nursing training at Thames hospital on 1st December 1915, passed her certificate in January 1919 and was formally registered as a RN in March 1919. During 1919, she moved to Auckland where she nursed Oliver Doidge, a Thames man who lost his eye in WWI. In his diary, Oliver refers to her as Sister Vincent. They were married on the 18th April 1922 at St Paul's Church, Auckland. Oliver Joseph Doidge was born in Thames, NZ in 1896. They had three sons and one daughter. Oliver was a civil engineer with NZ Rail and died in 1971.

'My grandmother was one of (the flu) nurses. She attended the 1950 reunion of nurses as Mrs O. Doidge, but at the time of the epidemic she was Nurse Isabel Vincent. I have attached a photo of her in her nurses uniform. She married in 1922 so it must have been taken earlier than that.

When I was a child she told me about her experience during the epidemic. Isabel was a great believer in will power, ‘pulling yourself together’. She said that during the epidemic when the nursing staff thought someone was dying, they pulled the curtains around the bed to give them some privacy. When she became ill with the flu, she woke one evening to find the curtains drawn around her bed. She was only 24 years old, and at that moment she determined that she had no intention of giving in and dying. She lived a full life and died in 1980 at the age of 86.'

Helen Doidge (personel communication).

Thames Star 20 Nov 1918:

Nurses Corbett and Vincent have been removed to the convalescent hospital.

Thames Hospital Board Minutes 5 February 1919:

Re Nurse McGruer. As this nurse had done good work during the Epidemic, he had instructed the Secretary to give her a bonus of £5. Pro Mr Hosking. That the Chairman's action be approved. Carried

The photo (above) was amongst the belongings of Sister Isabel Vincent (Mrs O. Doidge). Since the photo is unlabelled except for the signature 'Yours sincerely Maude' it remains unidentified. However there is a good chance that this nurse is in fact Isabel's fellow flu nurse, Nurse Maude T. McGruer. The two nurses started their training at Thames Hospital within a few months of each other and may have been close friends. In this case, given that Maude is not wearing an RN badge, the photo must have been taken during her training between Feb 1916 and Aug 1919. We would be very pleased to hear from anyone who could help us identify Nurse Maude.

Another photo (above) from the collection of Sister Isabel Vincent. It too is unlabelled except for: Yours sincerely AO'S. Once more we are guessing that this might be another of Isabel's fellow flu nurses, Nurse Annie O'Shea. We would be pleased to hear from anyone who can help us more positively identify this photo.

This photo, above, is also from Sister Isabel Vincent's collection and appears to be signed N S..g and dated 4/4/22. We assume she is another of Isabel's fellow flu nurses, Nellie Sing who graduated RN in July 1921.

The above photo, which also comes from Sister Isabel Vincent's collection, is a group of nurses from Thames Hospital. Seated in the centre is Matron Margaret Wilson who resigned from her position as Matron and left Thames Hospital by May 1919. The photo is tentatively dated sometime between December 1915 and March 1919. It is thought that Isabel Vincent is the nurse standing in the back, far right. It is likely that many of the nurses in this photo were flu nurses. Once more we would be pleased to hear from anyone who can help us identify any of them.


From The Thames Star 2 June 1950:




People who have been patients in a hospital, especially those who have been inmates for any length of time, may often, in after-years, wonder what became of the nurses that served them. As far as the Thames Hospital is concerned, the answer to such queries may be found in the coming week-end, when a reunion, sponsored by the Thames branch of the New Zealand Regstered Nurses' Association, of all nurses who served in the hospital, will be held...

Through the 'Flu

Although this is a general reunion of all nurses ever to serve in the Thames Hospital, for a small group it will be more than this - it will be a reunion which will call forth memories of several months which must be counted among the most terrible of their nursing career. These nurses will be those who served in the hospital through the influenza epidemic in 1918.

For this group of 16 nurses, most of whom hope to be present, these were months of horror - months when cemeteries were half-filled with those who died. There were no porters, and those 16 had to perform every duty, including the carrying out of the dead. The matron, Miss Margaret Wilson was away, and the acting-matron, Sister Warren through those long nights and days when as many or more died than lived, never missed a duty.
With her was the night sister, Sister McGruer (now Mrs Stewart) who stayed on duty all the time. One of the nurses at that time who still lives in Thames says she cannot recall seeing Sister McGruer having a meal. The others in the band were Sister McKenzie, Nurses Kathleen Corbett, Vincent (Mrs O. Doidge), White, Sing, O'Shea (Sloane), Bayldon (mrs McMillan), Arnol (Mrs Norton), Kenderdine, McMillan (Mrs McPike), Green, McLoughlin (Mrs McCarroll), Bates and Morrison. Much must be owed by the community to these and the other nurses all over the Dominion who served through this period, one of the darkest in recent medical history. As a small token of appreciation from Thames, the business people are presenting these nurses with sprays.
The medical superintendent, Dr Walsh, was ill in Trentham Military Camp during this period and the acting-superintendent, Dr Ritchie, whose wife had died in the epidemic, was himself not well.
The sixteenth member of the band, Sister Linton, died in the earlier stages.

The townspeople flocked to the aid of the hospital and many of them did work of the most menial kind without seeking payment or recognition. One of the many was the late Miss L. Price, who worked in the laundry, day and night for months on end. Another helper was Mr R. M. Taylor, who was then apprenticed to Mr W. Bongard. On the death of the dispenser, Mr Taylor was sent to the hospital to take over the dispensary. In spite of the dearth of porters, the nurses had one ray of light, and that was in the services of the engineer, Mr Alex Sommerville. Today, over 30 years later, one of these nurses still remembers his work gratefully and speaks of the debt owed by nurses to him for carrying out tasks which were beyond his duty.

In June 1950 a nurses reunion was held at Thames Hospital and those ‘flu nurses’ present still had vivid memories of the 1918 influenza epidemic. ' In those days nurses rose at 4 am to do their duty.' They spoke freely of the epidemic ‘I nearly died,’ whispered May. The sixteen nurses, with the exception of McGruer, all went down, but Sister Linton was the only nurse who did not recover.' Another recalled 'Remember the soldier from Trentham with meningitis. He was here when the flu struck the hospital. Got pneumonia on top of that, but' amazed, 'he recovered.'

A Group of Flu Nurses Get Together Again 1950

A GROUP OF THE 'FLU NURSES' who were on the staff of the Thames Public Hospital during the 1918 epidemic, snapped at afternoon tea in the Nurses' Home on Saturday during a nurse's reunion. They are (from left to right) Back row: Mesdames A. McCarroll nee McLoughlin (Thames), C. Stewart nee McGruer (Taihape), O. Doidge nee Vincent (Christchurch), Miss D. White (Auckland), Mesdames McPike nee McMillan (Thames), A. Sloane nee O'Shea (Whangarei) and Miss N. Sing (Hamilton). Front row: Mesdames R. Andrews nee May (Thames), A. Brocklebank nee Greener (Huntly), F. Homersham nee Kenderdine (Auckland), R. McMillan nee Bayldon (Auckland) and Miss I. Buckton (Auckland), who was not a 'Flu Nurse'.

We would love to find other photographs of Sister Jessie Linton or any of the 'Flu nurses' in their nurses uniform to add to this article, and would be very pleased if someone could help us. Contact The Treasury.


1. The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, Vol X, Issue 3, July 1917, page 131.
2. The New Zealand Gazette 1917 Register of Nurses.
3. Cemetery Records from The Thames Coromandel District Council website
4. Electoral Roll, New Zealand.
5. 'Nurses of Thames Hospital, A History of Registered Nurse Training at the Thames Hospital' by Althea Barker (unpublished manuscript).
6. Flu Nurses: Thames Star 9 June 1950.
7. NZ Gazette 1933 Volume 1, Nurses Register (copy at The Treasury).
8. Nurses Register 1901 - 1920 (CD from Colonial Books).
9. Nurses Training Schools - applications for Registration- Thames Hospital 1909-1943. Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
10. Kai Tiaki Nursing Journals (from Paperspast).


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