|Fact & Fantasy: A History of Tavistock & District||Physicians - Page 138|
Physicians of Tavistock
The preparation of a history of our village, undertaken as a centennial project, prompts us to consider many aspects of the life of the people who lived here one hundred years aloe. The general health of the people of that period is a matter which immediately commands our interest.
Due to lack of authentic records, our knowledge of the actual state of the public health in Ontario at that time is rather meagre, but we have reason to believe that it was not good. It has been established that the gross death rate was about 40 per 1,000, compared with the present rate of 7.5. The expectancy of life at birth was probably not more than 39 or 40 years. Dr. A.D. Kelly, retired General Secretary of the Canadian Medical Association, writes about conditions in Ontario in 1867, in an article published in the Ontario Medical Review, July, 1967. He states that "the birth rate was high, the infant mortality rate was astronomical, maternal deaths were common and mortality from epidemic and endemic typhoid fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever, pneumonia, tuberculosis and smallpox was substantial." It is unlikely that conditions in Tavistock and vicinity were much better than in other parts of the province.
In the very early days of this community, it is probably that much of the care of the sick was rendered by people who had received no formal medical training, but who, by reason of a natural inclination and practical experience, had acquired some degree of proficiency in the treatment of common ailments. The settlers no doubt welcomed with great hope the first qualified doctor who came to establish a medical practice here, but we must remember that the resources available to him in treatment of illness and prevention of disease, were pitifully inadequate in comparison with the drugs, antibiotics and surgical techniques in use at the present time.
It has been said that Dr. Preiss, from Hamburg, Germany, was the first doctor to practise medicine in Tavistock. There is, however, no available record of the date of his arrival and no authentic information has been found about his work in the area.
In the office of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, located in Toronto, there is a copy of the Medical Register of Upper Canada, in which is recorded the name of Dr. John Adams of Tavistock. He was a graduate of the Eclectic Medical College of Pennsylvania and in 1869 was granted a license to practise in Ontario. After coming to Tavistock, Dr. Adams married Miss Louisa Staebler of this village. After a considerable period of poor health, he finally died on January 16, 1878, at the age of thirty-six years. He was buried in the Zion Evangelical Cemetery, where a stone still stands to mark his grave. For some of this information we are indebted to Mrs. Mary Wittig, one of our elderly citizens, who still has a keen memory of people and events of many years ago.
According to a statement in the Historical Atlas of Perth County, published by H. Belden Company, in 1879, there were at that time, three physicians practising in Tavistock. They were Dr. John Ross, Dr. James Skirving and Dr. James P. Rankin. In a copy of Der Canadische Kolonist, published in 1883 by J.H. Schmidt, Stratford, Ontario, there are Professional Notices (Geschafts Karten), inserted by these three doctors, all of whom were of Scottish origin. Each no doubt recognized the importance of gaining the confidence and goodwill of the people of German ancestry in the community.
Dr. John Ross attended medical college in Pennsylvania at the same time as Dr. John Adams and both graduated in 1869. Dr. Ross practised for a time in Michigan, but came to Tavistock in March, 1878, after learning of the death of his friend, Dr. Adams in January of that year.
J. Ross, M.D.
John Ross was one year old when his parents, Mr. And Mrs. Alex Ross, came from Ross-shire, in Scotland in 1842 and settled in the Township of Nissouri in Oxford County. After attending local schools, John taught school for several years, before he began the study of medicine in Pennsylvania. We do not know how long he lived in Tavistock, but it is known that he was still practising here in 1883.
Dr. James Skirving obtained his medical degree about 1865, in Glasgow, Scotland and was associated with the Allen Steamship Company for a time before coming to Canada. Belden's Atlas of Perth County gives 1870 as the date on which he settled in the county. Although it is recorded in Toronto, that his license was issued by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, on November 2, 1880, we know that he was practising in Tavistock in October, 1878, with an office in Zoellner's Apothecary Shop. He lived in H. Roedding's house on the east side of Woodstock Street North, south of the present site of the Francis Furniture Store. Mrs. Edward Roth (nee Emilie Fuhr) recalls going with her older sister to see Dr. Skirving at this house.vAlthough he was reputed to be rather generous, at times, in his personal use of whiskey, he was, nevertheless, highly regarded by many of the prominent citizens of that period, for his medical and surgical ability. In those days, when roads were poor, the doctor sometimes travelled on horseback to visit his patients and a story is still told about Dr. Skirving riding through the country in reckless fashion with hair and coattails flying in the breeze.
Dr. Skirving died in Tavistock on November 21, 1884. It is said that he had no church affiliation and for this reason there was a problem regarding a place for burial when he died. Due to the influence of some of the members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, who had been his friends and patients and respected the doctor for his many fine qualities, he was buried apart from other graves, in a corner of the cemetery which is associated with that Church. There a small metal marker has been placed in the memory of one who made a worthwhile contribution to the welfare of this community.
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