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William French Thurston

Dr William French Thurston was born in Camberwell, London, in 1842, the son of a master mariner. He did his medical training at Guy’s Hospital and qualified LRCP MRCS in 1866. One of his first jobs was as a ship's surgeon on a voyage to Australia.


He was a keen shot and became honorary assistant surgeon to the Middlesex Artillery Volunteer Corps in 1870.

 

In 1871 he moved to Bow in Devon, as Dr Staniland's assistant. He lodged at Winsor House with the Staniland family, including their eldest daughter Louisa, 17 at the time, whom he was later to marry. He took over Staniland’s practice and contract with the Crediton Poor Law Union in 1872. Later that year his mother joined him in Bow where she died that November.

 

Shortly after he had been appointed as Union medical officer, he reported a "nuisance", complaining that the building occupied by James Burrows (a baker) in Bow was "so filthy to be a nuisance and injurious to health", (and also that the slaughterhouse in Coleford in occupation of Mr Enderson was also a nuisance).

 

A few weeks later, at a Union meeting, the relieving officer for Bow reported that James Burrow had complied with the notice re removal of the nuisance in the town of Bow and that Dr Thurston had promised to do what was necessary to get rid of the nuisance found to arise from the water closet belonging to his house and contiguous to the premises occupied by James Burrow!


At the same meeting it was announced that there had been a complaint against Dr Thurston – that he had neglected to attend Mrs Fanny Gregory, a 73 year old widow living in Colebrooke, this despite having received two orders from the overseers. Mrs Gregory died. Thurston was subsequently called before the board and admonished. He expressed deep regret for neglecting to attend a pauper "from misapprehension of the law".

He then pointed out the health risks of siting of the Plymouth Brethren burial ground close to the reservoirs supplying Bow.


He joined the 18th Devonshire Rifles Corps, based in Hatherleigh, as Acting Assistant-Surgeon in 1873


In February 1874 he resigned as medical officer and public vaccinator for the districts of Bow and Colebrooke.


He married Louisa Ann Ellen Staniland in Kensington 1877. After a short spell working in East Meon, Hampshire, they emigrated to Australia in 1880 on board the “Windsor Castle”, leaving Plymouth on 23 April and arriving in Rockhampton, Queensland 91 days later. He was employed as the ship's surgeon on this trip.

 

The ship’s arrival was reported as follows: Total number 303 or 281½ statute adults ; 29 males and 31 females are married ; 84 males and 119 females are single ; 19 males and 18 females are children between 1 and 12 years of age ; and 2 males and 1 female are infants. Their occupations are : 109 female domestic servants, 93 farm labourers, 2 gardeners, 4 labourers, 1 mechanic, 1 builder, and 6 carpenters ; and their nationalities : English 107, Scotch 26, Irish 170. Dr. Thurston is Surgeon-Superintendent and Miss Brown matron. The hiring will begin at the Depot this morning at ten o'clock.

 

At the end of September, Dr Thurston took temporary charge of the Port Curtis and Leichhardt District Hospital in Rockhampton, pending his appointment as resident surgeon in November, a position he held for three years. He then took up private practice, but continued as honorary surgeon, a government medical officer and as assistant immigration officer as well as a magistrate.


In 1886 he was in trouble over refusing to assist 3 young sick Polynesian workers, one of whom died of arsenic poisoning. At the time he was both Medical Officer to the Yeppoon Sugar Company and the government-appointed Inspector of Pacific Islanders, responsible for their wellbeing.


He bought land hoping to find gold and was a director of the “Hit or Miss United Gold-Mining Company”. Evidently this was more of a miss than a hit as in May 1887 he ran into financial difficulties. He resigned from the hospital and left for Sydney.


The following year, bankrupt, he left Australia and his wife for good, turning up in San Francisco, USA. (His ex-wife Louisa died in Sydney in 1929.)

At first he worked in New York, where he soon married teacher Helen Kenroth, about 30 years his junior. She had been born in Jamaica. They had one son in 1891 and spent most of their life in Santa Monica, California. Dr William Thurston died there aged 91 in 1933, Helen in 1959.