|Nurses and midwives in training, circa 1880-1890. Courtesy of the State Library of Victoria, H2005.34/100.|
One of the early Registrars in Flemington was Dr Joseph Paterson. Despite the regulations requiring the registrar to record the names of accouchers or midwives, who attended births, Paterson failed to carry out his duty and neglected to record any women who attended births, even if there was no doctor present. The "No Medical Attendant" listings in the Doctors' Index are due to Paterson recording this instead of recording who *did* attend the birth. Likewise, it is notable that of all the births he attended himself, no women attendants were recorded. Whether there were any at all will remain a mystery.
Paterson was not only a misogynist, but he took his fee for a duty only partially performed. He may not have been a particularly competent doctor, either.
In 1861 he was called to attend Agnes Dick who claimed to have taken strychnine. A neighbour, Mrs Kelleher, who was noted around the district as a nurse and midwife, was the first person called. Mrs Kelleher sent for Dr Paterson. The symptoms Agnes displayed were pain in her bowels, back and limbs, and she also fitted just before Dr Paterson arrived. Mrs Kelleher may have told Paterson that she agreed with Agnes that she had taken strychnine. Paterson however decided Agnes was suffering from 'mental excitement', a well-known medical phenomenon of the time. He gave her "something in a tablespoon" and left. He returned an hour and a half later, just before Agnes died.
Paterson appeared at the inquest and stood by his initial diagnosis of "mental excitement", and fellow doctor John Dunbar Tweeddale backed him up. The inquest jury was not so sure and requested examination by the Government analytical chemist, Dr John Madacam, who duly reported strychnine in the contents of the stomach.
Paterson's reputation didn't seem to suffer from this misdiagnosis, and he was shortly after appointed the first Health Officer of the new District Borough of Essendon and Flemington. More details about this case appear in my book Murder and Misfortune on the Mount Alexander Road.