Steve on Sunday

10 January 2021

Greetings fellow sea and water watchers,

I wonder what all you coastal types do when you are not allowed on the beach, but then again I suppose that other than the surfers no seaside resort resident actually goes to the beach. So I could answer my own question by replying situation normal except it isn’t really, is it? It’s the NEW normal, which in my opinion is not even worthy of commenting on or about. Old normal, new normal, soon to be normal, was normal. Our grandparents would be turning in their graves if they could. That would be a genuine new normal! Or new abnormal. Or new paranormal.

The death in the Cape this last week of one of Kimberley’s better known authors, Maureen Rall, who wrote a classic book on the early female pioneers of the diamond fields some two decades ago, got me thinking about another woman who lived and worked in early Kimberley and who should also be remembered as well as her good friend Sister Henrietta Stockdale is today. This lady, whom the majority of the twelve readers of this column have never heard of, is one Mary Hirst Watkins.

What Sister Henrietta did for nursing, Mary Watkins did for midwifery. (Please google Sister Henrietta for further information.)

A short tribute to Mary Watkins:

Mary Hirst Watkins was born in Chelsea, Middlesex, England in 1836, the eldest child of seven to Charles Watkins and Esther G Watkins (nee Hirst). Her father’s family (Watkins) were originally Welsh and she was raised in the Puritan faith as a Baptist.

The Hirst side of the family originally came from Yorkshire, England, her grandfather being a Captain John Hirst of the Royal Horse Guards (The Blues). Captain Hirst married a Miss HA Hankey in 1809.

Her mother Esther died when Mary was young, and being the eldest child of a large family, she had early training in a life of unselfish devotion to others. Her siblings were Simeon Hirst Watkins (born 1837), Emma (1842), Julia (1845), Arnold Hirst (1852), Harold (1857), and Charles Hirst Watkins junior (1859). Younger brother Arnold came to Kimberley as a medical doctor, was a prominent personality and became a Member of the Cape Parliament.

Her first job in England was as a teacher for young boys and then became a “lady pupil” at Guy’s Hospital in London during 1882. Sadly she became very ill and was an invalid for ten years. During this period she came under the influence of the Reverend Fox, an Anglican minister, and was confirmed in her chosen denomination by the Bishop of Gloucester.

She embraced the Church of England totally and was entirely devoted to the sacramental life therein, “…her own life being hidden in it, with a perfect faith and true deep joy, such as we seldom see attained to.”

By 1884 she was in Kimberley working as a nurse in the Kimberley Hospital, and after leaving the hospital for a few months, returned in 1885 and stayed for nearly ten years, qualifying as a nurse in 1887, and became a member of the British Nurses’ Association in 1890 as a trained nurse. This qualification was recognised by the Colonial Medical Council and she was admitted to the Register for Trained Nurses in 1892. (The Cape Parliament had the previous year, 1891, passed the Medical and Pharmacy Act No. 34 which amongst other things, provided for the registration of nurses and midwives). Miss Watkins was thus one of the first registered nurses in the world.

It was then that she became interested in the science of midwifery and in 1894 passed the Colonial Medical Council examination, undertaking the work among the Sisterhood for whom her great friend Sister Henrietta Stockdale did so much. Sister Henrietta Stockdale assigned Miss Watkins to district midwifery duties in 1893 and the local doctors and Sister Henrietta supervised her midwifery training. Sister Henrietta then appointed her to be in charge of midwifery training in Kimberley and through her personal dedication and inspiration, generations of midwives were trained to give the highest standard of care in maternity and child welfare, not only in Kimberley but throughout Southern Africa, making her truly, one of South Africa’s ‘greats’.

In the seven years she was conducting mifwifery she personally attended and nursed over 600 women. It was during this period that she went to England as the delegate of the Colonial Medical Council at the conference held for the International Women Workers. At the same time she passed the examination of the London Obstetric Society, then the highest certificate available for midwives in the British Empire.

In Kimberley she trained midwives, some 43 pupils passing under her tutelage.

Mary also “took up” the ladies’ hostel scheme in Kimberley when illness forced her retirement from full-time midwifery training and the success of the scheme was entirely due to her labour in this regard.

All the while she attended each and every day the early morning service at St Cyprian’s Church, perhaps the greatest part of her life being the co-founder of the Women’s Guild.

Mary Hirst Watkins died on Sunday 20 August 1905. The following morning her body was taken early to St Cyprian’s at the time for the service she so loved to go. The funeral was at 4pm that afternoon, the church being packed to capacity.

“The body was then taken to Dutoitspan cemetery, and laid to rest there. The lovely spring flowers sent covered the grave all over, and all round in a solid mass.”

Everyone loved her.

The chief mourner at the funeral was her younger brother, Dr Arnold Hirst Watkins, a foremost citizen of Kimberley and the then Cape Colony.

Sister Henrietta Stockdale on the death of Mary:

“I know you will grieve for me when I say that the terrible blow I have seen coming so long has fallen on me. My dearest Miss Watkins died this morning. It was all just as she would most have wished – “all Sacraments and Church blest things” round her, and Dr Watkins and I close by her. She was taken ill with a very severe form of influenza going about, on Wednesday night. I saw from the first moment it was hopeless, and she died at 3.50 this morning. Except to lie down for a few hours each morning I scarcely left her, and I am so glad I was able to be with her. She lies now in the room next to this one, looking so sweet; but oh, that cold smile is not like the loving one which always greeted me for twenty-one years whenever I saw her. She was always looking out for my return if I was away but ten minutes. We twice said yesterday that although there had been much sadness in the daily failure of strength this winter, the winter had been a happy one, for I had sat with her in the Common Room whenever I could, and we were always happy together. For twenty-one years we have lived together with scarcely a thought apart, and except once for about a day some eighteen years ago, not a shadow of coldness on our love and trust for one another. Her pupils, the Guild, the Hostel, a great scheme in the new Midwifery Bill in England (the paper appointing her Instructress of Midwifery throughout England was lying unopened on the table when she died), all her stamp work which brings us in such a lot of money every year, her work in the house here of helping me in everything and doing it ten thousand times better than I can – there is not a corner of the house which has not a sign of her work in it, this made, that covered, something else mended. Then all her patients in the town. Who is going to do all her work, I don’t know. I only know S. and I can’t, and yet we must do our poor best to follow her who made an act of devotion of everything, who did everything with a thoroughness and finish I never saw in anyone else’s work but my own mother’s, and who was loved by everyone. Yesterday the house was beset with people down to a poor consumptive [African], who dragged his aching limbs three miles to ask how she was, and then turned round and dragged them back again. I am taking to-day for my sorrow and then I shan’t make much moan afterwards, for time will make no difference. I shall mourn for her and miss her all my life. During this last month she does seem to have done so much, and all the time her life was ebbing away – our store grows in Paradise.”

Together with Sister Henrietta Stockdale and Mother Emma, Mary Hirst Watkins was reinterred in the St Cyprian’s Cathedral grounds in 1984.

Have a good week.

I thank you.

By Managing Editor

Highly respected, Writer, Blogger, Wildlife Conservationist, Hunter and Father.......