THE Bega District Hospital, built with a lot of community help, was opened in 1899 and was a godsend for the poorer classes in the district when they became ill or injured. The committee of management was made up from the more prominent men in the community.
ELLEN Clarke was appointed as the first matron of the hospital. For many years she had a fruit and confection shop in Upper Gipps Street, and also sold cakes and pies.
Although she had no formal nursing training she had assisted Bega's only medical men, Dr Shiels and Dr Evershed, as a midwife and nurse when patients were nursed at home. Her husband, Robert, who was described as bluff, bulky, bearded and cheerful was wardsman. Presumably they lived in the only bedroom for staff on the site.
It is not known how many nurses were on staff but a photo taken not too long after the opening has Mr and Mrs Clarke in a group with four nurses, and in another early photo three women are obviously nursing staff and another looks like the servant. Names of three members of the nursing staff were Miss E Bell, Miss L Hill and Mrs W Atfield.
Nurses were being trained in the colony from 1868 when the first school was started at the Sydney Infirmary by five Florence Nightingale trained nurses from England, but it is doubtful that any nurses at Bega Hospital in its first decade had any training.
At the hospital's annual general meeting reported in the Bega Standard of January 31, 1890, the Board was very gratified by the institution's operations and satisfied with the manner in which the matron and wardsman had conducted their ward and general duties. In recognition of faithful service during the year a gratuity of five sovereigns to the matron was recommended.
The Board thanked Dr Marshall for his careful attention to every requirement of patients, but it was agreed that further honorary duty could not be expected and financial arrangements must be made for medical services.