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Race for a vaccine

Page history last edited by Lenore Frost 2 months, 1 week ago

Time Travellers in Essendon, Flemington and the Keilor Plains


Death or Disfigurement

Moonee Ponds Medicos



Doctor's house, 1880-1981


By Marilyn Kenny © 2020


Ardconnell, circa 1977. Photo from a private collection.


The Race for a Vaccine


The grand house in Mt Alexander Road was besieged, hundreds surrounded the property. The crowd swarmed in at the windows, forced entrance through the back of the house and trampled the gardens. Multitudes received attention however many others still clamoured for service. During the two days of the siege the police were sent for on several occasions but even they had had difficulty maintaining order. When ordered to disperse, told that they could not be gratified, a mass of people still lingered. In frustration and anger the house’s brass plate was torn off. This identified the occupant, George D Dickinson, M. B. Ch. M. Ed M. R. C. S. E. : for thirty years the district’s doctor. The mob was demanding and believed he was withholding –a vaccine.


The Place


The house was Ardconnell and since being built in 1879 it had always been the doctor’s residence. It would remain so for the next seven decades though it would never again see such riotous scenes. Two storey in height, it occupied a block between Mt Alexander Road and Ascot Vale Road with dimensions of 90’ x 120’. The house  had a bay front, a dozen rooms as well as conservatories, coach house, men’s quarters, a dog run and was heated by furnaces.


Plan of Ardconnell, 1904. Eventually Dr Dickinson owned 2 properties adjacent to this and houses in Sydenham and Athol Streets plus vacant land in Epsom Road. In 1911 he subdivided this property creating a small shop on the southern aspect. Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works detail plan. 1609, Town of Essendon. Courtesy of State Library of Victoria.



The Partners


Dr Duncan Turner, August 1904, Table Talk


The first resident was Dr Duncan Turner, who was born 1839, in Loch Awe Argyle Shire. He was medically trained in Glasgow, Edinburgh (1865) and London (1869). In March 1877 he, wife Janet and their young family arrived in Victoria. Immediately Dr Turner set up practice in Moonee Ponds.


The Age 26 March 1877


Turner was a mature man and quickly established himself as part of the medical fraternity and took on official positions such as the Honorary Physician to the Benevolent Asylum in Hotham and that of Medical Officer of Health for the Boroughs of Essendon and Flemington-Kensington In most cases these appointments proceeded routinely. In 1880, however,  the Shire of Broadmeadows, under pressure to appoint a Medical Officer, was outraged when Dr Turner asked for £20 pa to perform the necessary duties. No appointment was made until two years later when the Shire found diseases such as scarlet fever becoming rife. A compromise was then reached with Dr Turner accepting £40 pa to cover the three Shires of Broadmeadows, Bulla and Keilor and the children of the poor suffering contagious disease. Within two years the practice was generating enough income for him to commission the building of Ardconnell. 


The Argus September 1879 Thanks to Alex Bragiola for the discovery of this notice.

Robert Cooper Bagot (1828?-1881), is best known for his career with the VRC.

He was also an engineer and designer and lived in Maribynong Road. 


The Victorian Branch of the British Medical Association (BMA) was established in late 1879 and Dr Turner became a member in 1882. He was of a scientific bent and gave a number of papers before the Association which were published and widely reviewed. His lecture on the treatment of typhoid gives detailed insight into the rigors of this condition. He gave accounts of the 300 cases he had treated in his Victorian practice and pointed out that his death rate of 5% was lower than the State average of 7% (approximately 500 per annum). Mrs Turner collected funds for good causes such as the Queens Fund. She was evidently of a retiring and modest disposition, appearing as a Puritan Lady at a Government House fancy dress ball, and wearing a brown dress with grey bonnet to a fashionable wedding.


Dr Turner had a special interest in diseases of the respiratory system. His skills in this area were recognized and in 1885 he was called in to treat a Vice Regal illness. He went on to have several Governors in his care.  By 1886 he decided to specialize, removed the family to a bayside suburb and set up a Collins St practice. He continued to contribute to medical literature and undertook two European tours studying treatment for consumption (TB) - the white death. He also visited Kalgoorlie and identified Lung Fibrous in miners, associating it with the inhalation of dust particles. Dr Turner became the driving force in the establishment of several sanatoriums such as those at Echuca and Macedon. He had a strongly held view, however, that Consumption was not contagious and advocated his position repeatedly. Duncan Turner continued in practice into his 70s and retained links with this district, a son Ramsay being married in Moonee Ponds in 1910 and grandson born in 1912. Dr Turner retained ownership of Ardconnell till 1900. He was buried in Macedon in 1918, a street there commemorating his name.


Dr Turner’s empire as Medical Officer of Health eventually covered 235 square miles containing a population of 10,400. It is not surprising then that in 1881 he had brought another doctor his practice.


 Dr G D Dickinson 1904 Photo Table Talk


George Dixon Dickinson was born in 1854 near Durham, northern England. He undertook medical studies in London and Edinburgh, graduating in 1877. After a couple of years of practice he took a position as a ship's surgeon and made several trips to the Southern Hemisphere. In September 1879 he arrived on the Essex which lingered for six weeks in Hobson’s Bay. George took this opportunity to obtain a comprehensive glimpse of colonial experience. He liked the look of Australia, and was impressed with the people, and sanguine of a great future ahead. It also appears that he encountered Dr Turner and was recruited into his practice. He decided to cut the painter, and determined to throw in his lot with the people who lived in the sunshine beneath the Southern Cross. Dickinson, however, was under contract so returned to the United Kingdom with his ship. He made another journey on the Norfolk, the first steamer to sail direct from the UK to Wellington, New Zealand, returning via Sydney. After spending eight months at sea he arrived back in London in December 1880, only to pop onto the Cuzco as a cabin passenger, returning to Melbourne in February 1881.


By July he had been accepted as one of the 181 members of the Medical Society of Victoria (MSV), 85% of them British trained. Forty percent of the colony’s 400 odd doctors were members of the MSV. Northern Melbourne was particularly undersupplied with medicos, there only being the two practitioners in Essendon. Dickinson and Turner seem to have been in equal partnership and both lived at Ardconnell. The doctors drove out weekly to Broadmeadows and Bulla for visiting afternoons held at the local hotels. They also maintained rooms in Flemington. They were early adopters, erecting at their own expense a local telephone system, this only three years after the technology had been introduced.


North Melbourne Advertiser, February 1882.

Harry Byron Moore, who lived in Ascot Vale  Road was the founder of the Melbourne Telephone Exchange. He may have facilitated this innovation.  Peter Willoughby advises the Melbourne to Bendigo telegraph line, erected in 1856, went up Mt Alexander Road. The telephone lines were probably conveyed, legally or not, on these Government poles.


When Dr Turner left the practice Dr Dickinson brought in another partner.  Dr James Campbell was born in 1851, of Scotch origin though his family had migrated to Canada. He completed his medical studies at McGill University in Montreal in 1876 and was registered in Victoria in 1877. After arrival he worked at various rural locations. In 1883 he married at St Peters in Melbourne and he and his wife Florence later took up residence in Ardconnell. The couple had three children there, two of whom survived. In 1892 poor health caused him to remove to a country practice. Dr Campbell, however,  was overcome by his heart complaint and died aged 45 years, leaving an impoverished widow and two sons, one of whom became a doctor. James’ headstone in Melbourne Cemetery identified him as of Moonee Ponds.


A Lone Practitioner


Dr Dickinson continued on as a solo practitioner, his being one of the largest single practices in Victoria and the  most lucrative. He was Lodge Doctor to at least ten Friendly Societies and had a list of over 1200 families. He relinquished the Municipal Medical Officer's roles to Drs Flanagan and Thompson.


Dickinson was regarded as a scrupulous and conscientious doctor with a strong sense of duty. His was a strenuous existence, with long days of daily drudgery fighting illness being followed by invariable responses to the night bell. He coped by adopting a methodical and careful mode of living.  


A piano box buggy was a poplar and simple four-wheeled vehicle with one seat on a high side box tray.

The springs are set above the floor level which allows a lower centre of gravity, and easy entry.

Photo: Henry Ford Museum.  


His calls, however, were always made in a smart equipage. In 1890 Dr Dickinson exhibited his newest buggy in a procession of 200 vehicles at the Royal Show. This very light and handsome piano box buggy attracted considerable attention. It had been made to his own specifications by the prize winning local coach makers, Hanna and Anderson. The local papers recorded the types of vehicles made for the doctors including a Goddard buggy, a light Stanhope gig and a Whitechapel buggy all beautifully designed and with an elegance of finish. The doctor employed a coachman who was in his employment for thirty years. Dickinson’s other interests at this stage were in the breeding, sale and display of the Ardconnell strain of English setter dogs. He was also  a patron of the Essendon Horticultural Society.



A Time of Change


Dr and Mrs Randell 1907 in modern De Dion transport.

 Photo courtesy of Lonetester HQ,  Dr Allan Elliott Randell (1871-1941) 


A turning point in George Dickinson’s life may have been 1899. He was 45 years of age, single, working hard, leasing his house and with no dependents.  In January 1899 he stood as  best man to Dr. Allan Elliott Randell in his marriage at Mymiami to Lizzie Locke, daughter of a prominent Essendon family. Six months later Dickinson experienced a severe illness which took him from his practice for a period. This may have given him time and reason for reflection and change. In 1900 he purchased Ardconnell to add to his property portfolio then in 1902 acquired Sherwood. This was 300 acre estate on the Somerton Road, Greenvale about ten miles or a two hour drive from Essendon. The property had a permanent water supply and he had this pumped to create flower gardens and lawns. The homestead was renovated and improved and he invited local groups and friends to recreate themselves there.


Sherwood, Somerton Road, Greenvale. The homestead had eight rooms. There was a separate

caretaker’s cottage, milking sheds and stables.  The property eventually became the

headquarters of the Oakland’s Hunt. It is currently a reception centre.


One of these groups was The Commonwealth Ladies' Rifle Club (CLRC) which had been formed in February 1901. In 1903 the Ladies enjoyed the first of what was to become an annual picnic to Dr Dickinson‘s country home. They rapidly consumed the dainties of the season on a thick sward under the shade of a wide-spreading old gum tree, while a string band discoursed delightful music, relieved occasionally by a phonograph. Shooting competitions then followed, Dr Dickinson donating and presenting the valuable trophies.


The CLRC at Dr Dickinson’s country residence 1903. Up to 100 members and friends travelled to the

property on wagons and privately. It was a full day, leaving early in the morning from Essendon Station,

returning well after dark. Photo: Punch December 1903.


James Hearn, 1884, described as a big sandy complexioned man, six feet six

inches in height (198cms). Photo: Memoirs of a Stockman.


On 19 July 1904 there occurred an unexpected death of one of Dr Dickinson's patients. He was James Hearn, pastoralist of Fletcher St, Essendon. Aged 62, Hearn had contracted pneumonia and within a few days had succumbed to the illness. Pneumonia was a leading cause of fatalities and was known as the 'Captain of the Men of Death'. Although the cause of pneumonia was known to doctors, its course could not be influenced in any way by medicine. Dr Dickinson’s account, paid by the estate, was £230.  


Hearn was of the one of the more influential pioneer families, being a son of Louisa Hearn, the sister of William John Turner ‘‘Big ‘‘Clarke  and hence a cousin to Baronet Sir William Clarke.   James resembled his uncle who trained him up from his teens in the pastoral business. In 1870 illness caused Big Clarke to move to Roseneath in Woodlands Street where Hearn was living. For the next three years he was his uncle’s companion and supervised his care.


Hearn, fourth from left back row, on the Council of the National (Royal) Agricultural Society, pictured 1885. Local men in photo include Thomas Brunton, flourmiller, of Gooparl in Ascot Vale; John Murray Peck of Cobb and Co; Mayor of Essendon 1871,  Thomas Learmonth;  and William Learmonth, pastoralist of  Newhall in Moonee Ponds. Dr Dickinson in 1883 was on the Committee of Management of the Essendon Flemington Institute with  Peck  and Brunton. Photo The Australasian September 1935.


In 1873 James married Agnes Boadle, daughter of another early settler family working the Prospect Hill property, now known as Bundoora Park. Two sons were born but in 1879 Agnes died aged only 28 years. The children then lived with his mother Louisa Hearn at Thorngrove in Sydney Road, Brunswick (near Stewart St), while Hearn attended to his many pastoral pursuits. He was a renowned horseman, an enthusiastic member of the Oakland’s Hunt and aficionado of the poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon. In 1886 Hearn remarried, his bride being Mary Helen Boadle, his 27 year old sister-in-law.[1] The couple lived initially at Roseneath then at Uardry in Fletcher Street. The couple had two sons and a daughter 1887-1893.


James Hearn entailed most of his £75,000 estate to his children, leaving Mary a lump sum of £100 and £300 pa whilst she remained a widow. She only drew once on this annuity as on the 31 August 1905, George Dixon Dickinson married Mary Helen Hearn at her mother’s home. Mary and children moved to Ardconnell.  


The CLRC picnics continued after Dr Dickinson’s marriage, though he now had a hostess. Mary‘s sister Jessie Boadle was a particularly keen member. This photo from 1902 shows the Ladies in workaday dress, and names the women. Jessie is seated with white blouse, tie and straw boater. The President, seated centre on the carpet, is

Mrs Catherine Guinn.  Photo: The Argus June 1942.


Now aged fifty, Dr Dickinson was a home owner with a wife, three step children and a country retreat. Sherwood continued to absorb his interest and energy. In 1908 he created a reservoir with four acre water surface. He introduced irrigation to thirty acres, imported special fertilizing equipment grew lucerne as a crop and transformed ordinary land into rich pasture. All this labour of love came at a heavy cost. The cattle raised there, however,  regularly brought high prices at the Newmarket sale yards. Dickinson also established a highly valued horse stud and bred Corriedale sheep.  He was lauded as a scientific farmer. An article on his methods was published in April 1914 in the Journal of Agriculture and syndicated throughout the country.




The war affected Dr Dickinson earlier than most. His 28 year old solicitor nephew, Leonard Taylor Dickinson, serving with the British forces, was killed at Ypres in November 1914. Mary Dickinson’s 27 year old son, Dalzel Hearn, left Australia in early 1915 to enlist in the British Royal Field Artillery, transferring later to the Royal Air Force. Many of her nephews also enlisted and served with the AIF. These included Essendon born and educated Ferguson Boadle, a son of the elder of her twin brothers. Her son and all her nephews returned but Fergus sustained an injury that left a lifelong severe incapacity. Both Fergus and Dal are commemorated on the St Thomas Church and School Honour Boards.



The Scythe Bearer


On 4 November 1915 newspapers carried advertisements for the sale of Sherwood’s stock, vehicles, equipment, crops, furniture and sundries. This was a clearing sale of Dr Dickinson’s haven. A few weeks before he had been felled by a paralyzing stroke. He had lingered at home in a bad state and was to die in harness on 5 November. Obituary notices referred to his popularity and his having a sincere bond of sympathy with patients. He was described as a ray of sunshine in the sick-room, inspiring confidence, always with a cheery word and was easily able to engage in pleasant conversation. He was blunt with those whose illness were self-induced and direct when confronting the incurable. There was also reference to his stealthy acts of charity. His £14,000 estate was left to Mary Dickinson who vacated Ardconnell to live with her daughter in Fletcher St.  





The Royal Children’s Hospital Archivist advises that Dr Dickinson’s plaque has not survived. It was common to mark larger donations to the hospital with framed scrolls, enamelled and brass plaques and stone tablets which were affixed to cots, equipment and wards. Photo: RCH Archives, Child in Cot, 1910. The Children's Hospital 1900.


Within a few months the community decided that they needed to memorialize Dr Dickinson. Council supported a public meeting at the Town Hall which formed a committee. It was decided that funds be collected to endow a cot at the Children’s Hospital. This perhaps was to honour his work in vaccinating generations of children. The appeal raised £150, sufficient to endow a surgical ward. On the 22 September 1916, in the presence of local and hospital dignitaries the brass plate was affixed over the door of the ward. The plaque bore the following inscription.   


The Dr Dickinson Memorial Ward

From subscriptions by friends and patients to perpetuate the memory of the late

Dr George D Dickinson of Moonee Ponds

Obit November 5 1915.


 Helen Hearn was engaged to an AIF Officer who returned with a severe head wound. After his death she married pastoralist, Henry Irvine Guinn.  His mother Catherine was first President of the CLRC. Mary Dickinson died at the Guinn’s country property in 1931, leaving an estate of £17,000. Photo: Table Talk, September 1925.


By Marilyn Kenny © 2020


Article continued at Death or Disfigurement


See also Irene Stelling and the Commonwealth Ladies' Rifle Club.



[1] Marriage with a deceased wife’s sister was legalized in Victoria in 1872 but not in the United Kingdom till 1907.


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