- Dr William Guybon Atherstone, M.D., M.L.C., F.G.S., F.R.C.S. Was one of the most celebrated and well known medical men in South Africa. He had an international reputation not only in the field of medicine, but also in the other sciences. When only 21 years old, he was Staff Medical Officer in the Sixth Frontier War under Col. (later Sir) Harry Smith, after which he returned to Europe to study at the Meath Hospital in Paris and at Heidelberg, where he passed his examinations with honours.
During the time that he was practising in Grahamstown, he made medical history by successfully amputating the leg of Mr Fred Carlisle, Deputy Sherrif of Albany in 1847, by using the new anaesthetic diethyl ether. This was the first use of this method in any British Colony.
Dr Atherstone was an extremely active man who, in addition to his medical profession and serving as the District Surgeon of Albany, had a wide range of subjects in which he was accomplished, such as music, art, astronomy, geology, botany and natural history. He had a wonderful collection of geological specimens, fossils and extensive notes. The huge saurian which he presented to the British Museum was named Tapio Cephalus Athersonii by Sir Richard Owen. The Doctor also made the dramatic announcement of the genuineness of the first S.A. diamond discovered by O'Reilly in 1867 at Hopetown. This 21 carat diamond was sold for 500 pounds to the Governor, P.E. Wodehouse. He devoted considerable time to the inspection of asylums in England in 1875 and did much to better the conditions of the insane in South Africa. While in Europe he was made a F.R.C.S. and a Fellow of the Geological Society, and Honorary Corresponding Secretary of the Colonial Institute. He was elected a Member of the House of Assembly in 1883, and was later raised to the Legislative Council, where he served for 10 years. He was the founder of the botanical Gardens in Grahamstown, which were originally on his property. The Scientific and Literary Society, which he also founded, later became the Albany Natural History Society, now the Albany Museum. p18-19; Some Frontier Families, by I. Mitford-Barberton & Violet White.
The Albany General Hospital
The hospital was opened in 1858 and functioned for sixty-four years before being succeeded by the Settlers' Hospital.
The Albany General Hospital must be seen as having played an important part in the story of medicine in Grahamstown. The first civic hospital in the town, it became, in a sense, "foster-mother" to those which followed it. From its wards went the first patients to four other hospitals as they arose - the Fort England Mental Hospital, the Victoria Fever Hospital, the Prince Alfred Hospital and the Settlers' Hospital.
Dr John Atherstone had made an appeal for a hospital for Grahamstown as early as 1829. It was turned down by the Supreme Medical Committee "in view of the salubrity of the climate, the absence of dangerous contagious disease, and the small population".
The next attempt was made in 1853 by Dr Devereux, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Grahamstown. He put forward the idea, raised funds, donated land in Beaufort Street, and even started on the building; but then he died and the plan was abandoned.
The next positive step came in 1854 when the Governor made a grant of land for the purposes of a hospital. This was an area of two morgen and fifty-two and a half roods in extent, and was bounded, as the Deed of Settlement stated, "northwards by Grey Street, southwards by the Town Commonage, and eastwards by Somerset Street." For many years funds were raised by quit-rents from this property, and when it was sold the proceeds went to the Hospital Endowment Fund.
A body known as the Board of Relief, aware, of course, of the grant of land, transformed itself into a hospital committee in 1855. By 1857 a management committee had been formed under the chairmanship of Mr F. Carsisle, the man whose leg Dr Atherstone had amputated, and a Deed of Settlement was drawn up. One of the provisions was that 'the hospital was to be open for admission to all sick, wounded or diseased persons irrespective of colour or religious beliefs.'
After some delays, the building was commenced. Its actual site has now been re-built upon, but it was situated a little back from where Lawrence Street, going up hill meets Hill Street, an area known as "Hills View". Photographs of the hospital show a long double-storey building with verandahs across the front of both floors, and prominent chimneys.
Lieut. General James Jackson laid the foundation stone, and the hospital was opened on the 25th September, 1858. It had cost £3,500 to build, and had twelve beds. There was a lay superintendent (Mr Mathew), two medical officers, Dr W. G. Atherstone and Dr W. Edmunds, a male nurse, and five other servants. The two doctors were paid an honorarium of £25 each a year for their services.