Fresh air, a cure for TB

Fresh air, a cure for TBPatient chalets at the Te Waikato Sanatorium, Cambridge, 1903​

In September 1902 part of the Thorntons' property on Maungakawa Hill in Pukemako, including the homestead, was sold to the Government for £4,000 to establish the first open-air sanatorium for tuberculosis sufferers in New Zealand.

“It is difficult to imagine more magnificent scenery,” said Dr Malcolm Mason, Chief Health Officer, when reporting to the Health Department.

At the time, a sanatorium already operated at the foot of the Maungakawa Hill. Cambridge had the reputation as a haven for tuberculosis sufferers because its climate was considered one of the driest in the North Island.

The road to the summit of Maungakawa Hill was upgraded at a cost of £3,000. Although the Thornton’s homestead was large, two more wings were added. The Government built an electricity generator on the property as well as a reservoir for fresh water.

Once the Te Waikato Sanatorium opened in 1903, the Department of Health was flooded with applications from patients. The maximum period of treatment allowed was six months, except under special circumstances.

Initially the sanatorium could handle up to 30 patients, but with the addition of numerous one-bed chalets, this was increased to 60. At the peak of its operation the institution treated 160 patients annually. The one-bed chalets, measuring just 3.35 x 2.75m could be opened on three sides for 'open air treatment'.

The Matron, Miss Annie Rochfort, managed the nursing and housekeeping, as well as furnishing, bookkeeping, correspondence and supervising the garden and farming operations. She introduced handcrafts to her patients. Dr Roberts of Cambridge was the first medical officer. He was replaced in 1904 by Dr Penreath who became the first resident Medical Superintendent at the sanatorium.

During the First World War the sanatorium was commandeered as a convalescence hospital for servicemen, with its capacity increased to 100 beds. Occupational therapy continued under Matron E. Brown, and Medical Officer Colonel G.M. Scott.

Many war veterans recalled the good deeds of the “marvellous Cambridge ladies” who provided knitted cardigans and socks and baskets of fruit.

In 1922 Te Waikato Sanatorium was closed. Today, all that remains of the sanatorium is one small concrete building.

Fresh air, a cure for TB

Edited excerpts from the book 'Waipa Home of Champions: Celebrating 150 Years'. Written and produced by historians Richard Stowers and Kingsley Field.

Page reviewed: 13 Oct 2017 1:05pm