Morpathia: The latest article about the Morpeth Dispensary - Dr Dutt settles in

In December 1886, Dr Aroon Chunder Dutt – a Cambridge graduate and an Indian national from Bengal – was appointed as House Surgeon to Morpeth Dispensary, out of a field of no less than 44 applicants, by “a large majority of votes”.
The Dispensary garden. The pent-roof shed was the privy. The low roof to the right was the coal store.The Dispensary garden. The pent-roof shed was the privy. The low roof to the right was the coal store.
The Dispensary garden. The pent-roof shed was the privy. The low roof to the right was the coal store.

In April 1887, Morpeth was visited by a severe epidemic of measles. There were 41 cases and 15 deaths. With the exception of a single adult, aged 61, who died of chronic bronchitis and cerebral haemorrhage, all the deaths were of young children, eight of them under the age of two.

Amongst the causes of death, often in combination, were: measles, bronchitis, diphtheria, scarlatina, croup (five cases), malnutrition and ‘collapse’.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“In connection with this,” added Dr Dutt, “I may mention that many of the above cases could have recovered if placed under better hygienic surroundings and careful dietary. Poverty, neglect and want of good food carry off more patients than the disease per se.”

Robert Jackson, House and Sign Painter.Robert Jackson, House and Sign Painter.
Robert Jackson, House and Sign Painter.

The Dispensary was never a rich charity. At the Committee meeting in June, with the Hon. & Rev. F.R. Grey in the chair, estimates were received for eight windows, typically just under £15 with oak sills, all in, or £14 with redwood or fir. Mr Robert Creighton asked where the money was coming from, but it was resolved that the repairs were necessary. Mr Greenwood, the treasurer, said there was £80 in hand and £30 would come in shortly.

If you wanted treatment at the Dispensary, you had to get a ticket from one of the subscribers, but following a decision to print the year on the tickets, so that they ceased to be valid after year-end, people were finding that they couldn’t get tickets, even though there were subscribers with unissued ones.

An appeal had gone out, however, and Mr Greenwood now had 72 tickets, which he distributed amongst the Committee members present. This would represent 12 guineas’ worth of subscriptions, and so must have come from several different subscribers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The chairman now reverted to a serious matter. People had been asking him about the House Surgeon’s absence from Morpeth during the measles epidemic; he was sure, he said, that the House Surgeon would give a full and satisfactory explanation.

The same shop today.The same shop today.
The same shop today.

Dr Dutt explained that an examination at Cambridge, which could not be postponed, took him away for a week, but that Dr Douglas had kindly undertaken to look after the practice during his absence.

He never, he said, “wished to be discourteous to the Committee in any way, and that he always intended to abide by the code of printed rules. ... After some discussion the House Surgeon’s explanation was considered quite satisfactory and the meeting separated.”

In July, the Committee decided to have the garden looked after, which always seems to have been in an untidy state. As had become customary at this time of year, Dr Dutt asked for leave of absence for three weeks, which was granted. He said that a chair was wanted in the sitting room, but the Committee resolved to have the existing one repaired.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Soon after this, the Morpeth Herald had some cheerful news to report. Dr A.C. Dutt (as with most doctors then, ‘Dr’ was a courtesy title – he wasn’t actually an MD) had gained his MB (Cantab) with a thesis on The Oetiology and Treatment of Goitre.

The Herald also gives us a flavour of what it was like living in the middle of Morpeth at that time. Morpeth Police Court was hearing a case of fighting near the Dispensary:

“P.C. McKechnie said on the 7th of July he was on duty in Bridge Street when he heard a great disturbance in Dispensary Lane. He went up and saw two fighting, but as he came they went away.

“He heard Mitford say he would fight some other person on the Stanners, and he followed them down and could see them fighting. On the same night about 12 o’clock he observed a large crowd in the Market Place, and going forward got hold of Mitford, who had been fighting with another man.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dr Dutt seems to have slipped easily into the social life of Morpeth. In August, there was an unusually large attendance at the Grammar School’s athletic sports, one of those present being Dr Dutt. Later in the month, there was a lawn tennis tournament between six gentlemen from Cullercoats and Whitley and six members of Morpeth Lawn Tennis Club, at Morpeth.

The weather was good and there was a fair gathering of spectators. Dr Dutt was partnered by Mr T.H. Brown; they won one game and lost another.

In October,

“The House Surgeon desired permission to have the housekeeper’s bedroom papered and whitewashed. The Committee inspected the room and granted permission. Mr Creighton and Mr G.O. Wright were deputed to superintend the repairs. ... The House Surgeon expressed a wish to have the signboard taken down from the front of the house. The Committee endorsed the wish.”

Taking down the signboard did not prove to be a straightforward thing, but it was ordered to be inspected and removed if possible.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In the face of so many unwelcome expenses, help was on the way. On the 18th of October, St James’s harvest festival (which is also the feast of St Luke – who, of course, was a physician) offertory and collections were given to the Dispensary.

On the 30th, Hospital Sunday, collections on behalf of Morpeth Dispensary and the medical charities of Newcastle were taken at the Congregational Church, which raised £3 5s 8d, and at St George’s Presbyterian Church where, “The collections amounted to, after deducting the usual church expenses, £14, being £4 more than last year.”

The deduction of a small amount for church use was regular practice at St George’s. The other churches seem to have turned over their collections in their entirety.

At the November committee meeting, there was a discussion on whether Choppington was in the neighbourhood of Morpeth, as a patient had been attending from that place. The Rules of 1884 said that, “The Institution is established for the medical and surgical relief of deserving poor persons of the town and neighbourhood of Morpeth.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

What exactly the neighbourhood was is undefined and this is symptomatic of the fact that, despite the intentions of the founders, it was rare for Dispensary patients to come from outside Morpeth. I don’t know what they decided, but Choppington is in Bedlingtonshire and therefore firmly within the original area of benefit.

It also emphasises the dichotomy between the subscribers, who even now were largely from the landed gentry, and the patients, who with few exceptions were the poor of Morpeth.

Mr Creighton said that Robert Jackson had undertaken to paint the area railings, water barrel and door to coal cellar for 10/- and had signified his desire to be an annual subscriber of 10s to the Dispensary.

Tickets again: “The Committee desired that whenever a ticket is issued it should be signed by the person to whom it is originally issued.” Note that “the person to whom it is originally issued” meant the subscriber, not the patient.

Related topics: