Ebenezer Halley literally worked himself to death.
Not many doctors were willing to open a practice in the wilds of New Zealand goldfields, ministering to the roughest of men and travelling on horseback to rude huts or just a tent all over the countryside.
But Ebenezer Halley did. What he saw led him to push for more comfort than the surroundings could offer.
So, in 1861, he set up a cottage hospital in Tuapeka. The first major gold rush in Otago started the same year and with it came a wealth of injuries, along with men falling down and or getting blind drunk.
Thousands had rushed there hoping to make a fortune.
Ebenezer was born on April 25, 1836, to Rev Dr Robert and Rebekah Halley in Middlesex, England. If the name seems familiar it’s because he was the grand nephew to the man who the Halley comet is named after, Edmund Halley.
A doctor for the area was badly needed. There was no chance of anyone seriously ill or injured being taken to Dunedin which was reached by a rough bridle track.
As a doctor, he was called out at all hours and he willingly went, off to find his patient. And travel he did, during snowstorms or at night, up mountains and across rivers.
His original horse Jordan was replaced with a horse as well known as he was, Smuggler, who had been owned by someone who liked to stop at pubs. Whenever Ebenezer went past a pub, Smuggler would stop and take some persuading to keep going.
He had his hands full with patients, from frostbite to broken bones, not to mention stabbings during fights or avalanches and landslides.
It was also a time of bushrangers and bandits. Ebenezer however was considered immune. He had treated everyone at one time or another.
There wasn’t much he wasn’t called upon to do, even extracting teeth regularly.
His dedication to his duty was what he was known for.
While helping someone at the hospital in November 1875, he became infected with septic poisoning. Already exhausted by overwork he became ill himself and died on November 20, 1875 aged 39.
His funeral was huge, so well respected was he, and was by far the largest Tuapeka had ever seen.
He is buried in the Lawrence Cemetery, Clutha District with the words “ Erected by the numerous friends of Ebenezer Halley, MRCS in affectionate remembrance of his many kind acts during a long residence in Tuapeka district.”
Picture by Marcelo Leal.
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