Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group


Medical Services

Beecroft and Cheltenham were founded at a time of tuberculosis, cholera and the plague in Sydney.
Clarice Green a 9 year old girl died of typhoid fever in Beecroft in 1897. Because of its altitude many people moved to Beecroft in the hope that family members could recuperate in the higher altitude and dry air. Families who gave this reason for moving to the district included the Coward, Holcombe, Nixon, Pierce, Seale, Skellett and Vernon families.

The earliest local medical services were provided by a friendly society branch that was founded by the local station master in 1895. This friendly society arranged for a Pymble doctor, Dr Walters, to see members on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  

General Medical Practitioners

Early doctors

The first doctor recorded as having a practice in Beecroft was an American Dr Cliff who practiced full time between 1903-1904. He was followed by Dr Mark Lidwell who built and had his surgery at ‘Lorne’ 63 Beecroft Road (now part of Arden  School). He practised between 1904-1912. He was followed by Dr Charles Rygate 1910 until at least 1914.

In 1913 Dr Arthur Christian Holt (1873-1942) established a practice on the corner of Copeland and Beecroft Roads. Dr Holt had attended The Kings School (1887-91)[1] was a keen sportsman playing in the 1st XV Rugby in 1890 and the 1st XI cricket in 1891 at The Kings School, tennis and after moving to Beecroft was an active supporter of Pennant Hills Golf Club which he re-founded by calling a meeting in 1922 and where he was a director from 1923-1928.[2]

Dr Ellen Wood

Dr Ellen Wood commenced practice in Beecroft in 1909. She arrived with ‘four horses and an up-to-date groom.’[3]

Ellen Maud Wood was the daughter of Joseph Holden Wood of Neutral Bay, an executive with International Harvester Co and his wife Jane (nee Forbes).[4] She attended Sydney Girls High School[5] before enrolling in Sydney  Medical School in 1891. She failed first year and repeated it in 1892. She entered and completed second year in 1893 and then enrolled in third year in 1894 which again she failed and repeated in 1895.[6] She did not complete her degree. At this point, her career looks remarkably similar to that of Dagmar Berne who upon being advised by the then Chancellor, Sir Normand MacLaurin, that he would not allow any woman to graduate in medicine, failed to complete her degree and departed for the United Kingdom.[7] Ms Berne obtained a LSA (London) in 1893 together with Diplomas from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Edinburgh, the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow and the Society of Apothecaries, London. Like Ms Berne, after departing Sydney Medical School without a degree Ellen Wood proceeded to the United   Kingdom. There she obtained a MLRCP et LRGS from Edinburgh and a LFPS from Glasgow, both in 1897.  

Dr Wood worked firstly at the Royal Free Hospital, London and then Coombe Lying In Hospital, Dublin before returning to take up appointment in Adelaide in July 1898. At the time no woman was allowed to be appointed to a residency position in New South Wales.[8] Hers was a joint appointment following the departure of Dr Kinmont. Adelaide Hospital paid Dr Kinmont 250 pounds per annum but when it jointly appointed by Drs Wood and Harriett Eliza Biffin[9] to the same single position it paid to each of them 100 pounds per annum.[10]

At the conclusion of their 12 month appointment in Adelaide, Drs Wood and Biffin returned to Sydney where they established a medical practice in 197 Elizabeth Street Sydney. This practice did not succeed and in 1904 Dr Biffin, with no family money supporting her, established a practice in Lindfield which she successfully conducted for many years.

Dr Wood, living in Balmain at this time, had already been appointed in 1903 as a medical officer for the Balmain United Friendly Society Dispensing Board[11] (which appointment she could have fulfilled while maintaining her practice in the City) until she was appointed as medical officer to Balmain Hospital in 1904. Her appointment to Balmain  Hospital was made not withstanding the British Medical Association (the forerunner of the Australian Medical Association) threatening to ostracise her if appointed.[12] She remained there until 1909 when she established a practice in the then semi rural Sydney dormitory suburb of Beecroft.[13]

Dr Ellen Wood commenced practice in Beecroft in 1909. Again, there appears to have been difficulties in gaining acceptance and patients with competing practices of male general practitioners because she left Beecroft in May 1910, with the Cumberland Argus saying that she “has shaken the Beecroft dust from her shoes.”[14] This time she did find a Dr Elsworthy to take over her practice – but he only stayed for 2 months.

Her experiences in trying to establish medical practices in Sydney were now put behind her as she attempted to establish her career in country locations. After leaving Beecroft, Dr Wood built her own private hospital in 1910 in Cooroy, Queensland.[15] She stayed there until 1914 when she accepted appointment as government medical officer in Murgon.[16] In 1915 she had a position in Nanango.[17] At some stage she re-located to Bungendore leaving there in 1926. She was the South Australian delegate to British Commonwealth League’s seventh annual conference in London in 1931[18] before being appointed as medical officer at Canungra District  Hospital in October 1934 – where she died the following year of pneumonia.[19]

Apart from what appears to be a peripatetic medical career her photograph shows her to be an Edwardian lady wearing pince nez. She was the daughter of a senior executive in Australia of a major international company and so came from an upper middle class background, she was a woman of faith, attending the local Presbyterian Church[20] (with one of her brothers a Minister of Religion)[21] and, like so many of her contemporary female colleagues (such as Dagmar Berne, Harriett Biffin, Iza Coghlan, Lucy Gullett) she remained single.


In 1903 the Progress Association discussed the need for a local hospital for consumptives.[22]

A hospital was located on what is the present Village Green during the time of the First World War.

Sister Margaret Howard built a cottage maternity hospital ‘Kirra’ in 1939 at 66 Beecroft Road. The building was demolished in about 2005.
Sister Howard was a triple certificated nursing sister and ran the 7 ward hospital with the assistance of her two sisters who acted as cook and bookkeeper.  

Stuart Braga (later a noted history teacher and Chair, Beecroft Cheltenham History Group) had a tonsillectomy in the hospital so that it obviously provided some surgery in addition to obstetrics.


Early dentists included:

William Morton in Copeland Road

  • Frederick Stephens in ‘Clutha’ in the eastern end of Hannah Street
  • Oswald Owen Seale initially from 1905 (when aged 23 years) from his parents home in Mindaribba’ Malton Road, then in 1909 in the two storey house vacated by Miss Long’s school on Beecroft Road and then from 1914 further up Beecroft Road.
  • Harry Vernon practised initially in Pitt Street in Sydney CBD but also had a surgery attached to his parent’s home, ‘Cranbrook’ corner Malton and Sutherland Roads.

[1] P Yeend
(ed) The Kings School Register 1831-1981 (The Kings School, Parramatta, 1982) p 143

[2] R Harper Golf in the Pennant Hills District (Pennant Hills Gold Club, Beecroft, 2000) p 30

[3] Cumberland Argus 2 October 1909

[4] Sydney Morning Herald 26 March 1927, 16 August 1939

[5] Brisbane Courier Mail 21 February 1935; Australian Town and Country Journal 25 February 1903

[6] Calendars of the University of Sydney 1891-1896

[7] M Hutton Neve This Mad Folly (Sydney, 1980) p 66

[8] Chronicle (SA) 25 June 1898 p17. Sydney refused residencies to women doctors at this time:
M Hutton Neve This Mad Folly (Sydney, 1980) p140.

[9] Harriet Eliza Biffin (1867-1939) was enrolled in Sydney Medical  School 1893-1897 and
graduated in 1898 having repeated her fourth year five times. Dr Biffin went on to be an early supporter of the Rachel Foster Hospital for Women in 1922 and an honorary physician at Mater
Misercordiae Hospital (North Sydney)

[10] Australian Town and Country Journal 2 July 1898 p18; Brisbane Courier Mail 23 June 1898 p5

[11] Sydney Morning Herald 24 February 1903

[12] Sydney Morning Herald 1 March 1904 p8

[13] M Hutton Neve This Mad Folly (Sydney, 1980) p160

[14] Cumberland Argus 14 May 1910 p 8

[15] Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser, 15 October 1910

[16] Morning Bulletin 17 January 1914 p 7

[17] Brisbane Courier 31 March 1915 p6

[18] Sydney Morning Herald 8 September 1931 p4

[19] Brisbane Courier Mail 21 February 1935

[20] Queanbeyan-Canberra Advocate, 2 December 1926 p3

[21] Sydney Morning Herald 16 August 1939 p14

[22] Cumberland Argus 14 March 1903

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