Wairau Hospital Fever Ward

Last Modified: 29-5-2022 22:58


Wairau Hospital Fever Ward
Wairau Hospital Fever Ward
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Designed by Wellington architect John Sydney Swan, construction of the Wairau Hospital fever ward began in 1898.

An initial public fundraising effort was made that combined with a government subsidy, raised 74 pounds, however being insufficient to build the fever ward, was transferred to the hospital board general funds.

In June 1897 an impassioned plea by Mr. Frank Shaw was published in the Marlborough Express requesting construction of a fever ward to help deal with a worsening outbreak of diphtheria in Marlborough that was resulting in widespread school closures.

Approval in principle by the Wairau Hospital Board for construction occurred in July, with the suggestion that it be erected as a memorial to Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee by the people of Marlborough.

Much of the cost of construction was funded by public subscription.

Dr. Cleghorn suggested the ward should comprise of four rooms in addition to a kitchen, a bathroom, and a room with disinfecting equipment.

Initially, tenders were called for in April 1898, but concerns about the cost resulted in a request for revision of the architectural plans with revised plans approved in June 1898 with amendments to reduce the costs to a budget of 650 pounds to remain within the means of the hospital board, with only a single ward to be built rather than the originally proposed separate male and female wards, and tenders were called for, with a single tender being made and accepted.

The contract for construction went to Mr. D. Wemyss. Construction was delayed by two months by lack of sufficient seasoned tōtara timber locally, which had to be obtained from Wellington.

Construction was largely completed in May 1899, although the ward had already received its first patient before being fully completed.

The Fever Ward was not without controversy.

In September 1897, The Poultry Association voted to make a five pound donation towards the fever ward, however after a poultry show failed to be as profitable as expected, the association claimed financial hardship and asked for their donation to be returned. Given a government subsidy provided to fundraisers, this set the funds back by eleven pounds as the subsidy on the donation was also lost, causing much local ire, and some rather derogatory letters to the editor about the Poultry Association.

In 1899, an irate letter to the editor of the Express (by a Pākehā reader) calls out what appeared to be a blatant act of racism, where a member of the hospital board had suggested ‘the maoris’ [sic] not be admitted to the new fever ward, in spite of having been generous contributors to its fund-raising.

Evidently the proposal to refuse access to Māori was rejected, as a news report from September 1899 records the death of one Mrs. Stafford, ‘one of the natives from the Wairau Pah’, in the fever ward. She was only 20 years old.

Issues with access for members of the public throughout Marlborough who had contributed to the cost of construction were not limited to Māori. Separate hospital boards in Picton and at Wairau meant that Marlborough residents north of the Wairau were being refused use of the facility in addition to the rest of Wairau Hospital, and dissatisfaction at this state of affairs led to a proposal to amalgamate the Wairau and Picton hospital districts in 1901.

In 1907, tenders were called for ‘small additions to the fever ward’.

In 1915, the Wairau Hospital Board voted to install electrical lighting.

In 1920 records show that the fever ward was insured for 625 pounds, with 75 pounds to cover contents.

Towards the end of its life at the Wairau Hospital site, the fever ward took on a different role as an administrative building.

In 2007 the fever ward was relocated to Brayshaw Park, with the intention of using the interior to recreate a Victorian era classroom.

The Fever Ward is listed as a Category 2 Historic Place, one of relatively few historic buildings in Marlborough.


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Cookson, C. (2022). Wairau Hospital Fever Ward. Retrieved February, 27, 2024, from