Dr GD Monteith: an unobtrusive wellington surgeon who became coroner, provincial surgeon and hospital superintendent.
Abstract: The first general surgical operation performed on an etherised patient in New Zealand took place early on the afternoon of Monday, 27 September 1847, at the recently opened Wellington Colonial Hospital1. The surgeon Dr JP Fitzgerald, M.D. was assisted by Dr GD Monteith and the ether was administered by JH Marriott Esq. Whereas the biographies of Dr Fitzgerald and James Marriott have been well documented nationally (2), little has been recorded concerning Dr Monteith. The following article has been compiled in an attempt to prevent the life and contributions of Dr Monteith from slipping into oblivion.

Key Words: GD Monteith, anaesthesia history
Article Type: Report
Subject: Surgeons (Evaluation)
Author: Newson, A.J.
Pub Date: 07/01/2009
Publication: Name: Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Publisher: Australian Society of Anaesthetists Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Australian Society of Anaesthetists ISSN: 0310-057X
Issue: Date: July, 2009 Source Volume: 37 Source Issue: 4
Persons: Named Person: Monteith, George Dalrymple
Accession Number: 204614247

Dr George Dalrymple Monteith arrived in Port Nicholson, New Zealand on 8 February 1840 on the 417 ton wooden barque Duke of Roxburgh, chartered by the New Zealand Company to bring immigrants to Port Nicholson. Somewhat unusually, Dr Monteith did not come by working his passage as ship's medical officer, but as a paying cabin class passenger accompanied by his wife Elizabeth and their four children (3). Obviously the family came to New Zealand fully intending to settle.

Little is known of Dr Monteith prior to 1840. He was born in 1808 and qualified Licenciate of the Society of Apothecaries in 1830 (4). An entry in the Bankrupt Directory lists a 'George Dalrymple Monteith apothecary of Brierly Hill' (then a small town a few miles to the west of Birmingham), having been declared bankrupt on 17 July 1832 (5). Whether this named bankrupt is Dr Monteith or his father is conjectural; in Georgian times English families traditionally named their eldest son after their father and Dr Monteith had certainly followed this tradition, since the eldest of his four children accompanying him to New Zealand was his seven-year-old son George Dalrymple Monteith (3).

On arrival in Port Nicholson, the first migrants established a settlement located less than a kilometre inland from the beach at the head of the harbour, naming it Britannia. Within two months of his arrival, Dr Monteith had completed construction of a temporary home from where he commenced his surgical practice. One of his first patients was a youth named Henry Eaton who was attended in April for a scalp laceration that had been inflicted during an altercation with nearby Maoris (6). The onset of the early autumnal rains converted the site of the Britannia settlement into a quagmire and the majority of settlers chose to relocate the settlement to a site some 12 km to the south, which offered adequate flat land suitable for housing and also provided a sheltered, deep-water harbour. The site chosen is now the present-day location of the suburbs of Thorndon and Te Aro in Wellington. During the winter of 1840, Dr Monteith took opportunity to visit the new settlement to purchase a section of land and to engage the services of a builder to construct a suitable family home. In the absence of any formed road between the two settlements at this time, conveyancing of all goods, stores and settlers was by sea.


On the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 August 1840, three boats were returning to the Britannia settlement from the new site, running ahead of a strong southeast wind. While approaching the shore, one of the boats capsized in the heavy surf and nine of the 12 adults on board were drowned; the second boat also capsized but a boat launched from the shore was able to rescue the occupants without loss of life. The third boat managed to land safely (7). Two weeks later another settler lost his life by drowning when he fell from his boat into the Hutt River. It appears that his overladen boat became caught in a fast running current, hit a submerged obstacle and the victim fell overboard, hitting his head on some rocks.

Dr Monteith's response to these "melancholy deaths" was to forward a set of 'directions' to the editor of the settlement's weekly newspaper requesting their publication "for the guidance of the public generally for the treatment of cases of suspended animation, prior to the arrival of medical assistance". The editor complied with this request and commented that these directions "coming from a medical man it is entitled to confidence". Dr Monteith's directions read:

"After having taken off the wet clothes, endeavour gradually to restore the natural temperature of the surface by means of hot napkins or flannels, placing the body almost horizontally, the head being a little elevated, and, if possible make the patient swallow a few spoonfuls of some aromatic stimulant. Artificial respiration should at the same time endeavour to be kept up by breathing in at the mouth or nostrils of the patient, so as to inflate the lungs, and afterwards the air expelled by pressure made with the hand upon the chest. Holding ammonia and aether to the nostrils, tickling the inside of the throat with a feather, friction over the region of the heart with aromatic tinctures, aromatic vinegar or common table salt, hot bottles of water or heated bricks to the feet, hands, and arm pits, and boiling water in bladders or flannels dipped into it and applied to the pit of the stomach, and should be resorted to in rapid succession, to endeavour to kindle up the almost extinguished spark of life.

"It is too frequent a practice to hold the head of the patient downwards, to give vent, as is erroneously supposed, to a quantity of water. Such treatment tends only to the speedy loss of every chance of re-animation." (8)


These 'directions' do not reflect English resuscitative practices being recommended at the time of Dr Monteith's departure from Great Britain. Since its inception in 1774, the Royal Humane Society was the recognised authoritative body in Great Britain with responsibility for informing and instructing doctors and laymen concerning the care for the resuscitation of persons apparently dead from drowning. During the remainder of the 18th century, the Society published its recommendations which were prominently displayed in locations where drowning was frequent. Furthermore, these recommendations were subject to review and when appropriate, the original instructions were updated although continuing to emphasise the importance of prioritising commencing artificial ventilation: "The restoring of the action of the lungs is of the very first importance in all our attempts to recover the apparently dead" (9).

The first decades of the 19th century were associated with the introduction of a plethora of new ideas into medical thinking, not all of which were scientific and insofar as aspects of resuscitation were involved, the result was that paradoxically by 1837, the Society had completely dismissed the need for any form of artificial ventilation in its instructions for the resuscitation of apparently drowned or dead (10)!

Dr Monteith's recommendation for commencing artificial ventilation "at the same time" as rewarming the patient was thus contrary to current English practice--and in the formative decades in colonial New Zealand, where prompt medical assistance would be a rarity, this recommendation was particularly appropriate. In retrospect, the advice to commence artificial ventilation promptly was more likely to be successful in New Zealand than procedures performed according to the Royal Humane Society's 1837 instructions in Great Britain! Dr Monteith's inclusion of chest compression to assist expiration is perhaps a reflection on the understanding of respiratory physiology in the 1830s. Fatalities from drowning were to remain a distressingly frequent cause of death in New Zealand throughout the remainder of the 19th century.

The second interesting feature in Dr Monteith's 'directions' is his emphasis on avoiding wasting time trying to expel inhaled fluid from the respiratory tract--sound, practical advice, although unfortunately not to be universally accepted for many decades to come. The inclusion of this directive may indicate that he was writing from previous practical experience or possibly he had spent time during his training at some location where drowning was frequent.


The use of physical stimulation and application of chemical and herbal 'stimulants' is inbuilt into the history of resuscitation and 'stimulation' remained an important feature in all the Royal Humane Society's recommendations. However, Dr Monteith's selection of "ammonia or aether" justified comment, particularly in the 1840 colonial setting. The selection of ammonia is particularly practical. Women's fashion of the 1830s and 40s required 'tight lacing' of the female abdomen to produce a wasp-like figure with a profile resembling an hourglass. This fashion was intended to visually enhance the female bosom and to attract the male eye. The down-side to this fashion was the physiological insult inflicted on the cardiorespiratory system of the laced-up victim: "unbecoming floridity", "a vexacious tendency for the ankles to swell" (11) and "swooning". This latter event, more commonly known as fainting, was remedied by wafting a bottle of 'smelling salts' beneath the victims nostrils. 'Smelling salts', also known as 'salt of hartshorn' or 'sal volatile', were essentially a solution of ammonium carbonate and a perfume. A small dainty glass bottle of such was invariably present among the contents of ladies' handbags and on domestic bedroom dressing-tables. All druggists supplied a range of smelling salts.

Furthermore, ammonium carbonate was also used in baking as a leavening agent and as such the agent would be present among the contents in colonial kitchens.

The availability of ether in the colonial settlements of Port Nicholson in 1840 however, was an entirely different matter. By 1840 ether was a well-established recreational and medicinal agent. As a medicinal it was being administered orally, topically and also by inhalation particularly for the relief of asthma and visceral colic: in non-anaesthetic concentrations ether is an effective and selective smooth muscle relaxant.

Dr Monteith and his family sailed from Great Britain in 1839, which was the year when Dr Jonathon Pereira, a physician at the London Hospital, published a two-volume text titled Elements of Materia Medica, the first major English text on pharmacology. This text was popularly received, subsequently becoming published in three further editions over the following decade. If Dr Monteith had access to the 1839 edition he would have noticed that 10 pages of text were devoted to ether--and represent an excellent indication of how thoroughly well known the properties of ether were at that time.

"Internal: The vapour of ether is inhaled in spasmodic asthma, chronic catarrah and dyspnoea, hooping [sic] cough and to relieve the effects caused by the accidental inhalation of chlorine gas".

Pereira describes two methods for administering ether for inhalation:

"It may be used by dropping some ether in hot water and inspiring the vapour mixed with steam or it may be dropped on sugar which is held in the mouth.

"When the vapour of ether, sufficiently diluted with atmospheric air is inhaled it causes a sensation of fullness in the head and effects analogous to those caused by the protoxide of nitrogen. If the air be too strongly impregnated with ether stupefaction ensures." (12)

The latter extract reflects the enigma of why the concept of inhalation anaesthesia continued to remain so elusive, when all the properties of ether were so well known.

Whereas most reputable pharmacists in Great Britain were capable of preparing samples of ether in their laboratories by the 1830s, the likelihood of ether being available at the site of a resuscitation for a victim of drowning in New Zealand in 1840 was very slender indeed. One possible source of ether at this time would have been among the contents of a medical chest. Ether was not usually included among the contents of family medical chests, although there was no standardisation for their contents. Settlers migrating to the colonies were encouraged to include a medical chest among their possessions but in general these items were restricted to the homes of the more affluent settlers. A more comprehensive selection of drugs and medicines was held on ships of British registration carrying over 45 persons. These ships, including whaling ships, were required to carry a medical officer and the contents of their medical chests did include ether (13). The Mission stations sponsored by the Church Medical Society also held supplies of assorted medicines and drugs which may have included ether.

The first pharmacist and druggist in the original Port Nicholson settlement was Dr William Johnston, a surgeon who arrived on 7 March 1840, but whether he included ether among the stock of medications that he brought out with him is not known (14). The following year the first professional pharmacist, John Sutton, arrived in Wellington. Sutton went into partnership with Dr Johnston and another surgeon, John Dorset. Sutton named their premises the Medical Hall, situated on the waterfront adjacent to Barrett's Hotel on Lambton Quay.


In late September of 1840, Dr Monteith and his family took occupancy of their cottage-sized house situated in Dixon Street in the district of Te Aro. Their small cottage was enlarged during 1842 (15) and remained the family's residence throughout Dr Monteith's lifetime.

When his family had moved into their cottage in Dixon Street, Dr Monteith announced that he had commenced a surgical practice by publishing a formal notice, which took the form of a visiting card, in the then local weekly newspaper The New Zealand Gazette & Britannia Spectator (16).


The following month in November 1840, a communication from the Directors of the New Zealand Company in London reached New Zealand, informing the agent that this new settlement was henceforth to be known as Wellington.

Establishing a viable medical or surgical practice during the Wellington settlement's formative years was no sinecure. The majority of immigrants were young and virile, food was abundant and, apart from midwifery, few required surgical assistance (17). The European population was small, healthy and during the formative decades of colonial New Zealand few Maori lived in any of the major settlements (18). Furthermore, the town was also over-doctored; "The number of medical men were out of all proportion to the requirements of the settlement" (19). Additionally, those settlers who still remained contracted to the New Zealand Company were entitled to free medical care from the Company's two nominated doctors--Dr John Dorset, surgeon and Dr James Patrick Fitzgerald, physician. Consequently, apart from attending to midwifery or trauma cases and performing dental extractions, there was little medical work available for Dr Monteith or his colleagues. Many early doctors were forced by economic necessity to find supplementary sources of income, to which their medical practice became secondary (18). Pharmacy was a logical option, although Dr William Johnston had already chosen this option. Politics and commerce remained popular outlets, while some doctors abandoned medicine altogether, turning to the land and becoming farmers, others simply returning to Great Britain. By 1845 there were 13 medical practitioners in Wellington serving a population of 1620 (20).


A letter written in 1842 by a Wellington settler to his parents in England describes the plight of doctors in Wellington:

"There cannot be a finer climate or a more healthy or productive one in the world; as proof of this, the doctors are compelled to turn either farmers or publicans, as they have nothing to do but attend upon lying-in women." (21)

The doctor referred to in this letter was none other than George Dalrymple Monteith, who in May 1841 closed his medical practice and commenced proprietorship of the Freemason's Hotel, situated on Lambton Quay (22).


Dr Monteith remained an hotelier for two years. As such he was a popular and genial host, generously supporting community affairs, subscribing funds towards the construction of a time signal station for the port, the 'Scotch Church' and a hospital. He extended credit to many of his patrons, some of whom were slow to repay their debts, necessitating public notices appearing in the newspaper during October 1842 and again in March 1843, requesting payment for outstanding debts.


In April 1843, Dr Monteith sold his proprietorship of the Freemason's Hotel and after a brief visit to Nelson in May 1843 (23), possibly to explore the possibility of establishing a surgical practice there, he returned to Wellington and once more formally notified the public that he had commenced a surgical practice in the township (24). Dr Monteith was a popular figure within the community and his practice not only survived but appears to have developed into one described as "large and successful" (19).

As the population of Wellington increased, the Te Aro area developed into the centre of the town's mercantile community25 and the location of the Military Barracks, which included a Military Hospital. In 1846 at the age of 38, Dr Monteith was granted a commission with the rank of Ensign in the Te Aro Militia and he regularly attended the Military Hospital in an official surgical capacity.


News of the use of ether as an anaesthetic reached Wellington in a consignment of English mails delivered via Sydney early in July 1847 (26), three months prior to the opening of the Wellington Colonial Hospital on 15 September. The hospital building was located in Pipitea Street in the Thorndon area which was developing into the Governmental district of Wellington, being the location of the church, government buildings and the courts (25). The Wellington Colonial Hospital was the first of a quartet of hospitals financed by government funds--the other locations being Auckland, Wanganui and New Plymouth. Two months prior to the opening of the Wellington Colonial Hospital, Dr GD Monteith was appointed Assistant Superintendent while Dr JP Fitzgerald was appointed Surgeon Superintendent. Dr Fitzgerald had arrived in Port Nicholson eight days ahead of Dr Monteith and the two had quickly become close colleagues, their ages differing by five years. Dr Fitzgerald had been appointed Coroner for Wellington in July 1841 and in his Coronial capacity, he frequently used Dr Monteith's surgical skills for cases requiring autopsy. The harmonious professional partnership between the two doctors was further reinforced by their non-medical involvement and support for a number of the Wellington community's educational, recreational and social organisations.


On Monday, 27 September 1847, Dr Monteith accompanied Dr Fitzgerald and Mr James Marriott to the Wellington jail, which was located in Te Aro. Dr Fitzgerald's responsibilities as Superintendent of the Hospital included medical care of prisoners in the jail and it was here that Marriott administered ether to an unnamed prisoner while Dr Fitzgerald, in his capacity as superintendent, extracted, somewhat incompletely, a tooth from a prisoner. Unfortunately the tooth shattered but the patient declared, perhaps diplomatically, perhaps resolutely, "that sensations were pleasurable" (27).

That same day in the early afternoon, Drs Fitzgerald and Monteith and Mr Marriott, together with a small number of observers including a newspaper reporter, assembled at the recently opened Colonial Hospital. An elective surgical operation had been arranged which became the first surgical operation performed on an etherised patient in New Zealand. The operation was performed by Dr JP Fitzgerald who was assisted by Dr GD Monteith and again, as with the dental extraction performed that morning, the ether was administered by James Marriott. The surgeons excised a fibrocartillaginous tumour from the patient's scapular region. The ether administration was uneventful and at the conclusion of the operation when the patient regained consciousness the surgeons, patient and observers were all suitably impressed (28). The patient was a Maori chief named Hiangarere who had come to Wellington from Waikanae, some 40 km distant, probably at the instigation of The Reverend Octavius Hadfield, a Church Missionary Society missionary based at Otaki and who was currently a patient of Dr Fitzgerald's in Wellington. Hiangarere made an uneventful recovery and was discharged from the hospital on 7 December. Hiangarere was an influential Maori chief and was a signatory to the Henry Williams copy of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This was the first administration of ether for a general surgical operation performed in colonial New Zealand, and interestingly, Fitzgerald, Marriott and Monteith had quite unknowingly followed a pattern that commenced in Boston and then followed in London and Sydney--namely, they chose to use ether first for a dental extraction before proceeding to use it for a general surgical operation.

The reason why Dr Monteith did not administer the ether on this occasion, nor at the jail, is that the ether inhaler that was used was constructed by James Marriott--a multi-skilled artisan; engraver, telescope manufacturer, metal turner and a maker of optical instruments (29). He was an active dramatist and actor as well as a skilled optician and engraver (2b,c). Reliable professionals with skills for the repair and maintainence and manufacture of ship's compasses and telescopes were essential requirements in the community of all major sea ports during the era of sailing ships.


At this time pharmacists prepared ether by distillation of the vapour produced from mixing alcohol with sulphuric acid, then redistilling the liquid two or three times to remove residual contaminants. Shipping companies were hesitant to include corrosive chemicals in their ship's cargo and charged excessive freight rates for their transport. The consequence was that in 1847 sulphuric acid was virtually unavailable in Wellington, so the pharmacist John Sutton was unable to manufacture a local supply for the Colonial Hospital.

The source for the ether used on this occasion was Sydney, where two wholesale druggists were trading at this time, CM Penny and Ambrose Foss, one of whom supplied the ether used by James Marriott. This explains the 82-day delay between the arrival of the first news of the use of ether in surgical operations and its first administration in Wellington (30). Trans-Tasman shipping schedules indicate that an order from Wellington to one of the Sydney druggists could be dispatched and delivered within this timespan.

Other duties performed by Dr Monteith in his capacity of Assistant Surgeon at the Hospital included that of Public Vaccinator, a service available gratuitously at the hospital (31). The current Governor, George Grey was acutely aware of the dangers of any outbreak of smallpox among the Maori population and to encourage them to become vaccinated, he had allowed himself to be inoculated in public by the Auckland Provincial Surgeon, Dr William Davies, in the presence of a number of influential Maori chiefs (32).


At approximately 0130 hours on Monday, 16 October 1848, Wellington was subjected to a severe earthquake followed by a prolonged period of strong after-shocks. The severity of the disturbance was such that every brick building in the town was damaged and no chimney remained intact. The damage to the two-storeyed Colonial Hospital was extensive and patients were evacuated to a number of nearby houses, including the large residence of the late William Wakefield, whose home functioned as Government House whenever the Governor visited Wellington. Similarly, the Military Hospital was so extensively damaged as to be unusable and patients were moved to the jail. By mid-November some temporary repairs to at least one of the ground-floor rooms of the damaged Colonial Hospital had been made, allowing the Colonial Hospital to be used for an elective above knee amputation performed by Dr Fitzgerald who was assisted by Dr Monteith (33). This surgical operation was reported in the two Wellington newspapers, both of which mention Dr Monteith's role as assisting Dr Fitzgerald, but neither of the newspaper accounts make any mention of a third person being present. Nor do they make any reference to any type of anaesthetic! This omission is doubly disappointing since there is the possibility that this patient, James Burton, a blacksmith, could have been one of the earliest in Wellington to receive chloroform for his anaesthetic. News of the use of chloroform as an anaesthetic had been printed in a Wellington newspaper seven months previously (34) but there is no account of the use of chloroform in Wellington in any of the local newspapers for the remainder of the year. The first reported use of chloroform in New Zealand took place at the Auckland Colonial Hospital on Tuesday afternoon, 27 June 1848 (35).


Dr Monteith's surgical skills as an autopsy surgeon indicate that he was a careful, thorough and logical thinker. In this forensic surgical capacity, Dr Monteith became associated with two Supreme Court trials for murders that took place in the Wellington district, both of which received widespread coverage throughout the colony on account of their brutality.

On the morning of Friday, 23 March 1849, the blood-stained bodies of John Branks and his three children were discovered in their one-room rural house. The bodies of the children were lying on a bed and the body of their father was in a sitting posture on the floor. Beside his body was "a large American axe, part of the handle of which was broken off" (36). Branks had suffered multiple wounds to the head, face and neck. Dr Monteith was instructed by the Coroner to perform a post mortem examination and presented his findings to the Coroner's Jury, whose verdict was Wilful Murder by person or persons unknown, although a Maori youth who had been attempting to sell a pocket-watch belonging to John Branks had already been arrested on suspicion of the murders. He was also wearing items of Branks' clothing.

At the Supreme Court trial, Dr Monteith presented his findings, using notes made at the time, "and also by means of a skull which he produced". He described in detail a total of eight deep wounds that had been inflicted on Branks' face, head and neck, carefully describing each wound. The first that he described "extending from cheek to cheek and dividing the face"; another of the wounds "was immediately above the right ear extending to the right side of the forehead, three inches in length, dividing the bone and wounding the brain" another "[a] very deep wound to the back of the neck dividing the arteries and vessels on the right side" (36).

The fate of this family brought particular sadness to the community since some 16 months previously, Branks' wife had died in the Colonial Hospital from tetanus. She had been assisting her husband tree felling when a branch fell onto her leg causing compound fractures of both ankles (37).


Barely a year later, the Wellington community was again shocked by "A murder so revolting, so brutally cold blooded and inhuman as to make us disbelieve that men molded in the form of their maker could be found capable of committing such a gross enormity" (38). Once again, Dr Monteith was involved in his capacity as a post mortem examiner. The decomposed body of a young adult male was found in an empty beef barrel, which had been concealed underneath a pile of lumber on a ship that was temporarily laid up in Wellington Harbour. The ship was the General Palmer, a 532 ton barque, homeward bound from Melbourne when struck by galeforce winds and heavy seas in the Southern Ocean, causing major damage to the hull's structure. The crippled ship reached Wellington where the local agent for the ship paid off the crew and arranged for the trans-shipment of remaining cargo to other homeward-bound ships. While awaiting surveyors' reports and instructions from the ship's London owners, the General Palmer was placed under the care of a ship keeper, John Ellis who had been a junior member of the crew. Ellis lived aboard and communicated with the agent daily at pre-arranged times by a code of flag signals. Once a week the ship keeper came ashore to collect his wages and provisions.

On Monday, 25 March 1850, a local boatman contacted the ship's agent informing him of a disturbance he had heard coming from the ship during the previous weekend and that he had seen a number of persons on board the ship. When the ship's agent visited the ship the following day there was no sign of Ellis. The police were notified and following a search of the ship, the clothed body of Ellis was discovered in a disused beef barrel into which the victim had been placed head-down. The Coroner was called immediately and he summoned a jury, who were taken on board the ship to view the body of the victim. The Coroner then adjourned the Inquest and requested Dr Monteith to conduct an examination of the body, which revealed that three different types of wounds had been inflicted upon the victim.

The first wound was one that had severed the carotid arteries, trachea and oesophagus. There was also a contused wound under the right side of the jaw and two extensive fractures over the right eye and centre of the forehead. It was Dr Monteith's considered opinion that these two wounds were probably inflicted by an instrument such as a hammer. In addition, the victim had been shot through the cheek and Dr Monteith considered that although this wound would have eventually been fatal, it would not have been so for some hours. Dr Monteith surmised that the victim, Ellis, had been shot first and then as he struggled, his murderer closed with him and inflicted the other multiple wounds (39).

At the conclusion of the Inquest, the Coroner made reference to "compliment Dr Monteith for the very able manner in which he had placed the account in front of the jury. He stated that owing to the decomposition that had taken place, the examination was made under circumstances of great difficulty" (39).

Three weeks later, the suspect was located working on a farm some 90 miles north-east of Wellington having been employed on a casual basis. He was in possession of some of the victim's clothing and personal items. At the Supreme Court trial held in Wellington the suspect, William Good, alias William Hill, alias William Anderson, was found guilty and was subsequently hanged on 19 June 1850. He was an escapee 'from a nearby Colony' and had previously been dishonourably discharged from the Army in India following court martial.


Approval for the introduction of Provincial Government in New Zealand had been granted by the Westminster Government late in 1852, although this news did not reach New Zealand until the following year. Six provinces were created in the Colony, each with its own elected Provincial Council headed by a Superintendent. The appointment of Superintendent for the Wellington Provincial Council was awarded to a former physician and Edinburgh University graduate, Dr IE Featherston, M.D. The Colonial Hospitals were now renamed Provincial Hospitals and the title of Colonial Surgeon was similarly changed. Soon after its establishment in 1854, the Wellington Provincial Council established a Medical Board, to which Dr Monteith was appointed (40), and two years later he became its President.


Dr Monteith's wife Elizabeth died on 19 July 1854 aged 45, leaving him to care for his family, the youngest of whom had been born in 1849 (41). A few weeks later, his friend and long-term colleague Dr JP Fitzgerald, suddenly resigned his appointments of Coroner, Wellington Provincial Surgeon and Superintendent of the Provincial Hospital, and on 17 August 1854 he and his four children left New Zealand (42). Following his departure, Dr Fitzgerald's appointments were all awarded to Dr John Dorset, who had been instrumental in Fitzgerald's resignation. In contrast to Dr Fitzgerald, Dorset's medical talents were at best somewhat mediocre and were always secondary to his aspiration to political greatness--ambitions that fortunately were never to eventuate. Within the space of 12 months of accepting Fitzgerald's appointments, Dr John Dorset was formally relieved of his Coronial responsibility on the authority of the Superintendent of the Wellington Provincial Council, Dr IE Featherston, who awarded the Coronial appointment to Dr Monteith. Although construction for the replacement for the damaged Colonial Hospital had commenced in 1851, progress was particularly protracted. The new hospital was located in Pipitea Street, on the same site as the earthquake-damaged Colonial Hospital, but was built on one level, constructed of timber (totara and rimu), contained five wards and had a capacity for accommodating a total of 40 patients.


The first patients were admitted to the Provincial Hospital late in 1854, although the building was not finally completed until the following year. In October 1856 while visiting Nelson, Dr John Dorset suddenly collapsed and died. His appointments of Provincial Surgeon and Superintendent of the Provincial Hospital were granted to Dr GD Monteith.

During his appointment as Coroner for Wellington, Dr Monteith adjudicated over eight Inquests.


Throughout his life, Dr Monteith was consistently active in the affairs of Wellington's growing community--but he seems to have taken no interest in becoming involved with political matters.

He appears as a quiet natured and popular man being "highly esteemed by all who knew him for his uniform kindness and gentlemanly manners" (43). Dr Monteith was an active foundation member of the Wellington Horticultural and Botanical Society and served on its Committee, which was particularly active during the early formative years of the settlement. The Society was formed in 1841 and many settlers who joined as members had brought out their own seeds or cuttings of plants and most settlers included a garden in the grounds at the rear of their homes. Most of the community leaders and doctors, including Dr Monteith, were members of this Society and participated keenly in the Society's competitions.

Dr Monteith was also active in supporting and subscribing to the establishment of the 'Mechanic's Institute' which was championed by JH Marriott. By 1847 the Institute was based in its own building, functioning as an educational facility for adults, offering a lecture room, a lending library and a space for a small museum. It also became the centre for scientific and literary groups and was renamed the Athenaeum.

Levees hosted by the Governor or in his absence by his Lieutenant Governor to Honour the Queen's Birthday were a social highlight when leading members of the military, naval and civilian communities were formally presented to the Queen's Representative. In Victorian times these were strictly 'gentlemen only' occasions and Drs Monteith, Dorset and Fitzgerald were regular guests. Unlike Great Britain, these functions in New Zealand were held in the early afternoon.

In 1851 Dr Monteith took an active role in founding the Wellington Philosophical Society. Together with Walter Mantell, they were responsible for obtaining the Governor Sir George Grey's consent to accept nomination for Presidency of the Society. Additonally Mantell and Dr Monteith were instrumental in securing appropriately qualified members to accept nomination for the Committee (44). The Society, like most such scientific bodies at that time, was predominantly male, although "Ladies may be admitted as members of the Society but they will have no share in the management of the Society" (45). Walter Mantell served as the Society's first Secretary. He was an enthusiast in natural history and as the son of Dr Gideon Mantell, a respected palaeontologist and geologist, Walter Mantell was able to communicate with leading English scientists. In 1867 the Society amalgamated with similar bodies in Auckland and Otago to form the New Zealand Institute, which in 1933 became the Royal Society of New Zealand.

On a less formal note, Dr Monteith was one of the first amateur photographers in Wellington. A small number of his photographs taken on 'damp plates' have survived and offer a unique insight to early colonial Wellington (46).


Late in 1859, Dr Monteith became subject to epileptiform seizures, which became more frequent over the following year and his mental state deteriorated. He resigned from his appointments of Hospital Superintendent and Coroner (19) but delayed resigning from his appointment of Provincial Surgeon until October 1861 (4), although for a considerable time prior to then this duty was fulfilled by Dr C France, a practising surgeon and accoucheur (47). Dr Monteith's mental state deteriorated to the extent that he required full-time 24-hour supervision and nursing care until his death, on 1 July 1862 (17), aged 54 years. He was buried in the Bolton Street Cemetery beside his wife.

Accepted for publication on May 11, 2009.


(1.) Newson AJ. New Zealand's first general anaesthetic. Anaesth Intensive Care 1975; 3:204-208.

(2.) a) Scholfield GH, ed. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Vol 1. Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington 1940; 1:258 [JPF].

b) ibid 1940; 2:55 [JHM].

c) Oliver WH, ed. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Vol 1 (1769-1886). Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington. 1990; 1:128-129 [JPF]; 271 [JHM].

(3.) List of Passengers. New Zealand Gazette. 1840 May 2; 3 (col. 3).

(4.) Wright-St Clair RE. Medical Practitioners in New Zealand 1840-1930. Wright-StClair, Hamilton, New Zealand 2003; p. 271.

(5.) Elwick G. The Bankrupt Directory: A Complete Register from December 1820 to April 1843. Simpkin Marshall, London 1843; p. 287.

(6.) Deposition. New Zealand Gazette & Britannia Spectator. 1840 May 30; 3 (col. 2).

(7.) Editorial. Melancholy event (untitled). New Zealand Gazette & Britannia Spectator. 1840 Aug 29; 2 (cols. 2,3).

(8.) Monteith GD. Correspondence. New Zealand Gazette & Britannia Spectator. 1840 Sep 19; 2 (col. 4).

(9.) Kite C. An Essay on the Recovery of the Apparently Dead. C. Dilly, London 1788; p. 139.

(10.) Trubuhovich RV. History of mouth-to-mouth ventilation. Part 3: the 19th to mid-20th centuries and "rediscovery". Crit Care Resusc 2007; 9:221-237.

(11.) A Lecture on Tight Lacing. Punch 1846; 11:238.

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(13.) Johnston W. Advertisement New Zealand Gazette. 1840 May 30; 2 (col. 1).

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Department of Anaesthesiology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand

This paper was presented at the ASA/NZSA Combined Scientific Congress, Wellington, New Zealand on 14 October 2008.

* M.B., Ch.B., F.A.N.Z.C.A., D.A., Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer.

Address for reprints: Dr A. J. Newson, Department of Anaesthesiology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.
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