Early life, and an 1850's medical career
William Henry Hadden was born in Wexford, in south-east Ireland, in 1827.
He was the fifth son and eighth child (of eleven) born to John and Eleanor [Evans] Hadden. His father, John Hadden, born in 1778, was a Methodist minister who died from pneumonia in 1842, just before the potato famine began to decimate Ireland's population, and although County Wexford was spared from the worst depredations of the "Great Hunger", the subsequent success of his family can not have come about without substantial difficulties. Not much is known about William Henry Hadden's early upbringing, beyond what is known or can be assumed from this bald statement of his family's circumstances, and what the record says about the hardships of life, and indeed, for many the daily struggle for survival, in Ireland at that time.
Although he became more widely known in Walhalla as Doctor Henry Hadden, within his family he always was -- and still is -- referred to as William. However, it's the honorific "Doctor" that is perhaps potentially a little more problematic to a 21st century reader, because his only training appears to have been as an apothecary, which on the face of it is an archaic term for what we would recognise today as a chemist, or pharmacist, or what Americans would characterize a little more pointedly as a "druggist". But in the mid-nineteenth century, it was at the same time considerably less and yet vastly more than that.
So the apothecary, then, was rather more like the poor man's doctor. How had the humble chemist achieved this stature?
Reflecting moves to regulate the medical profession that were taking place in Victoria at approximately the same time, "under the Medical Act (1858) the qualification of Licentiate of Apothecaries' Hall was included as one of the recognised qualifications needed to practice medicine in the British Isles, as well as open a Medical Hall or Apothecary Shop ... This remained the case until 1971, when the recognition was removed."04 And in its time, it was no lightweight qualification, either -- according to a letter to the British Medical Journal in 1869, examinations of the Apothecaries Hall Dublin consisted of three days of written papers at the end of the second year of professional study, and a further three days at the end of the fourth year, including individual verbal ("viva voce") examination before a panel of examiners.05
According to the Australian Medical Pioneers Index, in the early Colonial period there were some 70 LAH (Licentiate of the Apothecaries' Hall [Dublin and London]) and roughly 600 LSA (Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries [London]) members practising in Victoria.06 Dr John O'Connell, for example, who was one of only three approved doctors who were registered to practise medicine in Walhalla in 1868, listed his only qualification as a "Lic. Apoth. Hall [Dubl] 1852".
So there was nothing at all unusual about William Henry Hadden's decision to undertake training as an apothecary. If anything, having family in the trade already would at least have made his vocational direction a little clearer for him -- his brother David at Skibbereen had previously qualified, following his own apprenticeship in turn to another brother, John, and this was the avenue that Henry Hadden sought to pursue into the profession. We know nothing about any earlier education he might have had, and it is not clear what sort of financial arrangement, if any, was concluded to address the cost of his apprenticeship.
The medical "profession", such as it was then, was in fact a disorganized jumble of people of widely varying levels of skill, even among those with legitimate qualifications. A student paper from the University of Michigan partly explains the "wild-west" nature of 19th century medical practice as follows: "Part of the problem with educating and licensing doctors was in the conflicting struggle for rights and power between licensing bodies; there were nineteen of them in the United Kingdom alone. ... While some practitioners held university degrees from the most respected medical colleges of the world, some were apprenticed to apothecaries ... Still others were quacks and drug peddlers who practiced freely with no legal sanctions against them."07
An even more fundamental distinction, however, was the one between the three major branches of medical practice -- practitioners trained in England were nominally regulated by either the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Surgeons [and/]or the Society of Apothecaries, but in reality, "there was very little regulation. Early Victorian[-era] doctors often claimed that they were making great strides in clinical research and medical education, but ... there were few legal regulations over medical practice, and a wide variety of competing healers offered their services in a chaotic medical marketplace. And Victorian[-era] patients were less impressed with the progress of medicine than doctors themselves."08
In a paper on the introduction of surgical anaesthesia, Alison Winter wrote that "Medical students were caricatured in the press as drunken buffoons, and it was commonly said that doctors' ignorance and irresponsibility made them as likely to kill as they were to cure their patients."10 As a frame of reference among the general public, this assessment of their reputation is supported in a back-handed way by a comment that Henry Hadden was later to write to his mother regarding his fellow shipboard passengers: "There seems to be very little religion at all amongst the whole lot … for my part I never saw or heard such an immoral collection of people. Medical students are regular saints in comparison with them."11
If this was mainstream medicine, then it should cause little wonder that complaints about medical "quackery" were commonplace, but "... these complaints came from so many different sources as to suggest that the problem was ubiquitous -- there was no single type of practitioner one could seek out who was sure to be trustworthy. There were 'quacks' with formal medical training and without it, in the metropolis and in the provinces, on the faculty of the universities, and engaged in private practice. Conventional doctors were accused of quackery, as well as people we might now identify as fringe or alternative therapists, such as homeopaths, herbalists, hydrotherapists, mesmerists, and hypnotists. But calling them fringe therapists would be anachronistic, because the situation was so chaotic in early Victorian England that they were not really marginal at all -- they were just part of the fray."12
And this was equally true in gold-era Victoria, where the relatively recently-established Medical Board "had no functions other than to register the qualifications of those who presented their diplomas or certificates, and from time to time to publish a list of them in the Government Gazette. As the Act was not stringent in its provisions, a great many persons were registered whose only claim to recognition was the fact of their having practised in the Colony for a certain period. In a Gazette list, date of January 1856, there were 416 names of recognised practitioners, many of whom had furnished no evidence whatever that they had either been educated or examined, and even of those who possessed British or other European qualifications the nature of them was not specified, the only indication being the particular mention of those possessing the degree of M.D."13
In the matter of prescribing and dispensing medication, "there was little difference between the doctor and the chemist in the treatment given or in the outcome. Both were largely ineffective in their attempts to combat the often fatal dysentery, typhoid and tuberculosis prevalent in the Colony. This was a situation that would remain until the germ-based theory of disease was understood and became the basis for treatment."14 On the goldfields, however, the trained apothecary was, if anything, an even more vital dispenser of medical care. "Linked to the doctor in a sometimes competitive relationship, he was the ‘poor man’s doctor’ who most people consulted, as his advice was free of charge ..." [His pharmaceuticals, of course, were not free.] "... The early pharmacists were generally from the lower middle class, frequently of Quaker background, and although some had special training, they were regarded more as tradespeople or shopkeepers, than as professionals. ... They were always subordinate to the medical profession, who were keen to have complete control of all prescribing and most dispensing."15
The path that any medical man took into the profession was thus one that more probably than not was dictated by simple economics: "Only those with the financial support of a wealthy family could afford the years of university study or attendance at a private anatomy school or teaching hospital that would provide an MD or admit them to the College of Physicians. For the great majority, until about 1850, apprenticeship to an apothecary or surgeon was the more usual way in which to undertake training as a doctor in Britain. The apprenticeship was arranged as a contract with a doctor willing to take on the responsibility of training a young man, who would learn by observing and assisting the doctor in his work, for a sum of between £40 to £60 paid by the apprentice’s family. The contract was a legal document that protected both parties from exploitation, and bound master and apprentice together for a set period with mutual obligations and conditions formally set down and witnessed."16
For those of more limited means, such as the Hadden family might have found themselves to be after the death of the Rev. John Hadden, "The informal route to becoming a doctor was the apprentice system. A young medical aspirant would be apprenticed to an established physician, called his preceptor. For a period of generally two to three years, the student, usually living in the doctor's home, would assist the doctor in every aspect of his practice. He would 'read medicine' with the doctor, go on all sick calls ('ride with the doctor') and perform all tasks assigned to him in connection with the case at hand. The apprentice ... was learning by observing and then, quickly, by doing. Between rounds of medical observation, ... the apprentice served as a sort of indentured servant, all for the sake of being able to emerge from his apprenticeship a full fledged physician. At the completion of his apprenticeship period, the student would be issued a certificate proclaiming him to be a physician. His career would thus be launched." This system was thought to provide advantages to both: "The student gained access to a respected and sometimes lucrative profession that carried with it social prestige. The preceptor, for his part, encouraged the apprenticeship ... the apprentice provided free labor, and served as a signal to the community that the physician was a source of knowledge and skill, capable of transmitting both to his students. Thus, the apprentice was a source of prestige to the preceptor."17
When I set out to validate Henry Hadden's precise medical credentials -- if any -- it proved too daunting a task for me, although on balance, it seems plausible that he would probably have been entitled to have called himself a "Lic. Apoth. Hall [Dubl]", as did Dr John O'Connell at Walhalla, years later. To begin with, I was oblivious to such nuances within the profession as those described above, and I had -- naively -- initially imagined that registration of all doctors has always been a concern of their professional bodies, so it was somewhat disconcerting to find that the Australian Medical Association (for example) only dates back to 1962; and its British equivalent, to 1952, and that that latter body (according to its website) “does not hold the register of doctors” in any case; and that even if it did, “membership records have not been kept”. I looked next to the Royal College of Physicians, and their website directed me to their equivalent body in Ireland, which I was somewhat surprised to learn has itself been under “Royal” charter since 1667.
A very helpful archivist there explained that “registration of medical qualifications was only introduced in the United Kingdom in 1858 with the Medical Act of that year, and earlier graduates still practising in the UK were required to register ... Before the Medical Act of 1858 there were a number of ways to gain a medical qualification, including studying at one of Dublin’s numerous medical schools, gaining a medical degree from a university or taking the licentiate examination of this College, which only a small proportion of Irish doctors took. Since many Irish doctors took their medical degrees outside of Ireland, it would be quite difficult to establish when and where he [ie, Henry Hadden] registered.”18
By a remarkably fortunate coincidence, however, when I mentioned in acknowledgement that I thought he had trained as an apothecary, she wrote back in a subsequent email that "It is interesting that you mention the possibility of Dr Hadden training as an apothecary, as I have just received the records of the Apothecaries Hall of Ireland. I have checked their registers and found a William Henry Hadden from Skibbereen, county Cork, who at the age of 15 in 1843 applied for his apprenticeship certificate from the Apothecaries Hall. He was unsuccessful and reapplied the next year, when it was granted"18 -- although to date I have not received any confirmation of his ever having been awarded a certificate for actually completing that apprenticeship.19
At that time, such an apprenticeship would certainly have been a trial by fire, however, because Skibbereen -- and most of County Cork generally -- lost approximately one third of its population in the 1840's due to the famine and resulting disease and emigration. According to the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, the famine is "now recognised as the worst humanitarian disaster of 19th century Europe", and one that was felt nowhere more acutely than it was in Skibbereen, which was one of the worst afflicted areas in the whole of Ireland -- in 1846 and 1847 (in the midst of Henry Hadden's apprenticeship years), between 8,000 and 10,000 unidentified bodies were buried at just one site, now known as the Abbeystrewry Famine Graveyard at Skibbereen. Because of a shortage of coffins, "coffins with hinged bottoms were used to carry the corpses to the graves, from which they were dropped into the earth, and the coffins were then ready to bear the next body, which could be repeated indefinitely".20 During those two horror years, more people died in Ireland than did servicemen from all British Empire countries in either of the two World Wars. Across the country, "By 1850, at least one million people had died in terrible conditions while another million emigrated as refugees. It is estimated that a further half a million births did not take place as a direct result of 'The Great Hunger'."21
The famine would surely have provided an additional stimulus for Henry Hadden to consider seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Like many of his contemporaries, he would have known that he faced a struggle to find his footing while starting out among the already-swollen ranks of his professional colleagues, many with better qualifications than his. Inevitably, he soon found himself deciding whether to stay at home and strive to establish his professional reputation, or strike out for the imagined status and prosperity that he felt would surely ensue as a relatively bigger fish in the far smaller pond of the colonies. Glowing newspaper reports and letters home from earlier migrants painting lyrical pictures of the fortunes to be won there, particularly in 1852, would have caused him, like thousands of others, to turn his eyes towards Victoria's goldfields.
Also like many, however, to some extent he saw this romantic venture as nothing more than a means to a far more pedestrian end, namely, his eventual triumphant return to his homeland. Geoffrey Serle describes a substantial tide of young professional immigrants arriving in Melbourne in the early 1850's, of whom he says that “the great majority rushed off in a spirit of high adventure to make their fortunes and return home as quickly as possible.”22 The young Henry Hadden's first and only letter home will show that this was clearly his intention, also. And confirming that this was not an isolated phenomenon, a genealogical website treating emigration from the Isle of Man, for example, suggests that mid-19th century migration to the Australian and other goldfields was in many cases a matter of men seeking a quick fortune, "with the intention of return", even if they eventually ended up in many cases "sending for their family to settle there."23 One such example was Walhalla's own early storekeeper and undertaker, William Callow, who was born on the Isle of Man in 1821.
"Initially, it was the promise of a fresh start in a new society and in a less crowded profession that most likely attracted the early emigration of doctors. However, following the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851, the promise of ‘striking it rich’ on the goldfields became a major drawcard — as it was for thousands of others from all walks of life who came to the Colony. The experience of young Richard Tracy, MD, from Dublin was typical of those of many of the medical men drawn to the Victorian goldfields at this time. Tracy initially tried his luck on the Bendigo diggings, but finding little reward for his hard labour soon abandoned his efforts. He did, however, stay for a while to provide medical assistance for the miners from his calico tent."24 He was duly listed as a registered practitioner in the 1856 Government Gazette, but by 1868 had retreated to a practice in the new medical precinct at the already-fashionable top end of Collins Street in Melbourne.
For whatever reason people choose to emigrate, it is rarely if ever a decision that is made lightly, and one that almost always benefits the country of their destination, and this was certainly true as far as medical migrants in particular were concerned. Whether pushed or pulled, or both, and whatever it was that drove them to leave their homes and families to travel to the other side of the world, "it is evident that the early practitioners generally proved to be men of considerable energy, drive and vision." 25 Henry Hadden was clearly setting sail among a very esteemed company.
© 2012 Bernard Bolch for the Walhalla Heritage and Development League.
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