In September 1902 part of the Thornton's Maungakawa Hill property was sold to the government for the sum of £4000 and they established the first open air sanatorium for Tuberculosus sufferers in New Zealand. The Thornton home was now officially called Te Waikato Sanatorium.
"It is difficult to imagine more magnificent scenery", said Dr Malcolm Mason M D, Chief Health Officer when reporting the results of his investigation to the Health Department.
Cambridge had already acquired the reputation as a resort for T B sufferers and a sanatorium operated at the foot of the Maungakawa hill. It was stated that the climate in Cambridge was much drier than in most parts of the North Island and meteorological instruments were installed to assess data.
The road, at the cost of £3000 had to be upgraded. Ruts and holes had to be levelled and bound with gravel and clay, and three of the worst hills were cut down.
Although the house was large, two more wings were added and converted into the administration block. Oil lamps were used at first but later replaced by electricity generated on the property. The water supply presented some difficulty at first but the government built a reservoir on top of a hill 40 feet higher than the sanatorium.
Opened on 11 December 1903 by Sir Joseph Ward, Te Waikato supplied a very desperate need in New Zealand and many sufferers saw their salvation in the opening of its doors. The Department of Health was besieged with applications. The treatment and facilities offered at Maungakawa were particularly suited to the treatment of early cases. One regulation made six months the limit of treatment, except under special circumstances. At the time of opening there was space for about thirty patients but it was obvious from the number of applications that this was inadequate. Further additions gave accommodation for over 60 patients with possibly some 160 later undergoing treatment annually.
So pressing were the demands of the applicants that the first patients were admitted in December 1902 (twelve months before the hospital was officially opened) and were forced to be housed in tents pending the erection of wooden shelters. The one-bed shelters (11' x 9') could be opened on three sides, were roofed in stained shingle, and one of them revolved so it could be turned away from prevailing winds.
The Matron, Miss Annie Rochfort's experience and foresight had been invaluable. In addition to the ordinary work of nursing and housekeeping, she organised the internal economy, furnishing, bookkeeping, correspondence and supervising the garden and farming operations. Miss Rochfort introduced handcrafts to her patients - now occupational therapy. Later a house steward was appointed to carry out the day-to-day running, and Mr Clifton saw to the dairying side of operations. Patients who were fit to work helped to build a workshop for themselves from which they turned out many useful articles. Beehives and nest boxes were made in the workshop from kerosene cases, as well as general maintenance to furniture.
The first medical officer, Dr Roberts of Cambridge, was distinguished for his unselfish and conscientious devotion to the needs of the sanatorium. He attended there in conjunction with his private practice in town and a great toll was made on his time. For this reason Dr Penreath replaced him in April 1904 as the first resident Medical Superintendent. A house was built for him a ¼ of a mile from the sanatorium.
During World War One (1914-1918) Te Waikato filled a desperate need in the Waikato to convalescent servicemen. To simplify administration the Cambridge sanatorium (100 beds) was restricted to male patients, and the Otaki Sanatorium (34 beds) to female patients.
Occupational therapy continued to be used with great success under Matron E Brown, and Colonel G M Scott the medical officer. Many old diggers recall the good deeds of the "marvellous Cambridge ladies". The cardigans and socks they knitted, the baskets of fruit and in particular the 'strawberry days'. Cambridge people did much in relieving the monotony and isolation of the patients by organising concert parties.
In 1922 'Te Waikato' closed its doors. The reasons for the closure were :-
- Difficulty of access and unsuitability of site.
- The buildings were out of date and would cost too much to upgrade.
- The Department's officers expressed themselves as "rather against sanatorium treatment".
- The cost of running was excessive.
In the Waikato Times 9 June 1922 J R Fow and Co Ltd listed the items put up for auction at the Cambridge Sanatorium. Included were - 1 two-storey house containing 25 rooms with large verandahs. A large number of hutments 11' x 9' and 33' x 11'. An electric light plant, kerosene engines, implements and vehicles from a nine seat coach, a konaki, a pig cart to horse clippers, covers and farm tools. 1000 lots of furniture including some very old English bedroom furniture, 50 hospital beds, 100 chairs, wheelbarrows, 6 colonies of bees and commodes.
The Russell Ward and four large shelters were removed and re-erected to form the Sunshine Ward at the Waikato Hospital.
The band rotunda is also in the Waikato Hospital grounds.
Now only one small concrete building is left from Te Waikato Sanatorium on the hill.
Researched and written by Eris Parker
Ref: Cambridge Museum Archives