Dr Francis Douglas

One of the stories from the 2011 project: Who were they? People who shaped Victor Harbor and for whom our parks and reserves are named.

photo of Francis Douglas Reserve

Francis Douglas Reserve is off Battye Road between Ridge Avenue and Clair Avenue, Encounter Bay.

Francis John Douglas was born in Glenelg, South Australia on 10 September, 1873, the son of William Selby Douglas and Mary Beviss, née Poole. He qualified in medicine at Adelaide University in 1897, after which he worked on the Great Northern Railway for a short time. In 1900, he joined the 3rd Contingent of the South Australian Bushmen’s Corps, and served in South Africa. On his return from the Boer War, he heard that Dr O’Leary was selling his practice in Victor Harbor and bought it for £250.

Soon afterwards, on 19 February 1903, he married Margaret Clerk Robertson, daughter of John Robertson, in her parents’ home at Golden Grove. Very soon, the newlyweds travelled by train to Victor Harbor.

It has been said that a large group of locals waited at the Railway Station for the couple’s train to arrive. When it stopped at the station, instead of the young couple alighting from the train, Dr Douglas’s coachman Fred Dormer stepped down. Fred explained that he had met the Douglases in Pt Elliot with a pony and trap. The doctor and his wife had then driven on to Victor Harbor, while he caught the train!

Francis and Margaret first resided at Stranmore before building their own home with an attached surgery in Crozier Road (Woolworth’s car park now occupies the site). The large practice stretched from Victor Harbor to Currency Creek, across to Willunga, and down to Waitpinga. The doctor covered the shorter distances by bicycle, and the places further afield by horse and buggy. Later, he owned one of the first cars in Victor Harbor. As well as running his practice, the doctor was the district’s Sanitary Inspector (later Health Inspector). In 1917, he commenced his call for a new sanitation scheme for the town.

Six children were born to Francis and Margaret between 1904 and 1916: three daughters and three sons. From the time of their arrival in the town, the Douglas family became involved in the affairs of the district, in the church, and with sporting bodies, thus playing an important part in the development of Victor Harbor.

Dr Douglas, along with Paul Cudmore, founded the Victor Harbor Golf Club in 1911, initially with nine holes, on land rented for £8 per annum.

In 1908, a private hospital run by Sisters Gill and Sweetapple opened in the town. It was mostly for women giving birth: more serious cases were taken to Adelaide. By 1919, after Dr Graham Shipway returned home from World War I, there were two resident doctors in the town.

By the mid 1920s, with the population growing, a public meeting was called to discuss the building of a new hospital. Dr Douglas was on the Committee that moved quickly to bring the idea to fruition. A site at Encounter Bay was purchased for £350, and a fundraising drive of £6,000 commenced for the building. The Government agreed to subsidise at 1½ to 1. The new hospital became known as the Southern District Hospital. It consisted of nine wards, an operating theatre and an x-ray department. The foundation stone was laid on ?23 March 1929.

After practising for 52 years, Francis Douglas, the beloved physician, retired to Adelaide in 1954. He died at Gilberton on 30 January 1964, aged 90 years. His wife pre-deceased him by two years, and died at Gilberton, aged 85 years, on 20 June 1962. A memorial window to Dr and Mrs Douglas was installed in St Augustine’s Church in Burke Street, Victor Harbor in May 1967.

Today, the community of Victor Harbor is well provided for medically. It has two hospitals: one public, which includes an extended X-Ray Department and Dialysis Section, and one private (or community) hospital. Both are serviced by a helipad for quick transfers to Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide when required. There are also two medical clinics with a large number of doctors and visiting specialists, a health service, and support groups.

Acknowledgements

  • Settlers Around the Bay, Anthony Laube
  • Victor Harbor: From Pioneer Port to Seaside Resort, Michael Page
  • South Australian Births, Deaths and Marriage records