Queen Mary Hospital

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Tue 15 Jul 2014 22:57
Queen Mary Hospital, Hamner Springs.
We left Mabel and bimbled in the direction of the thermal springs to reconnoitre for the morrows hot soak, still bothered that once hot, I will have to stand up in freezing air and pretend not to be cold. As we neared our target, we saw a green sign for the Queen Mary Hospital that said visitors welcome.


In we went. We could see from the site map the footprint of the grounds was pretty big, but nothing could have prepared us for the surprise of it all, the fact that the buildings, although needing much TLC were not in that bad a condition.
Our first look.
The Queen Mary Hospital played a role in the lives and wellbeing of many New Zealanders. It was established in Hanmer Springs in recognition of the benefits of the thermal springs as well as the healing qualities of the alpine environment. The area around the hot springs including the Queen May Hospital grounds was proclaimed a reserve in 1860 and became nationally recognised as a government spa resort after baths were built in the 1880’s. Development of the grounds commenced around the same time with extensive tree planting and a later focus on ornamental garden beds.
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Maori on ara pounamu (greenstone trails) were the first to enjoy the thermal water, as a rest stop on the long journey to the West Coast. The first known European discovery of the thermal area was in April 1859 by William Jones, a farm manager from Culverden, who was drawn to what appeared to be "a remarkable fog". The village was named after Thomas Hanmer an early settler. Early development was hindered by inaccessibility, the first Waiau Ferry Bridge blew down in a strong nor’wester and wasn’t replaced until 1874. Our view as we crossed the bridge today, so much haze in front of the mountains.

In 1879 an iron bathing shed set up on the site and a manager appointed and the first proper swimming pools were dug. A bathhouse was created in 1883. Invalids and injured servicemen have enjoyed the curative mineral waters.

In 1902 the Government planted a wide variety of introduced trees at Hanmer Springs as an experiment for New Zealand’s fledging plantation logging industry. Today, Hanmer Forest is unique in New Zealand as a near-natural woodland of European trees.



While, from the outset the thermal pools were used for recreational swimming, they were early recognised for health rehabilitation. Treatment included both swimming in and drinking of the thermal waters. A Sanatorium was opened in 1897 to accommodate visitors of fragile health who were taking the waters, this building burnt down in 1914, the day after World War One was declared. In its stead, the Queen Mary Hospital for Sick and Wounded Soldiers – Soldiers’ Block, was opened in 1916 as a military hospital to treat shell-shocked servicemen. This was followed by facilities to treat women with nervous disorders in 1926 – Chisholm Ward. From 1928, the now predominantly female staff was housed in the Nurses’ Hostel. The Soldiers’ Block was upgraded during World War Two to again care for returning servicemen. In 1960 the control of the Queen Mary Hospital was transferred to the Hospital Division of Mental Hygiene for the treatment of alcohol and drug dependency. The Queen Mary Hospital finally closed in 2003 when government funding was withdrawn. In 2010, as a result of community and Council efforts to protect the site, 5.3 hectares and three nationally significant buildings were vested in the Hurunui District Council to be managed as an historic reserve.

The Soldiers Block.
As we approached the building it looked in perfectly good repair and we expected to see people bimbling around, as we got closer it was sadly clear this was a very abandoned place. In 1914 Duncan Rutherford offered The Lodge Hotel for use as a convalescent home under military command for the treatment of shell-shocked servicemen. The success of the temporary home confirmed the value of an association with the special healing qualities of the thermal pools and was a prime factor in the choice of Hamner Springs for the South Island Military Hospital. This led to the construction of the specially designed Queen Mary Hospital for Sick and Wounded Soldiers on the Government Sanatorium site in the Thermal Reserve.
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Then and now.
The building was designed to maximise the benefits of fresh air and sunlight and holds national significance as one of the only two remaining hospital buildings of this design and the only one remaining on its original site. The hospital remained under military control until 1921 when it was handed over to the Department of Health with Dr. Chisholm – formerly Lt. Colonel, continuing as the Medical Superintendent.
Like its sister hospital in Rotorua, the ward accommodated two hundred sufferers of shell shock and neurasthenia in two octagonal rooms connected by a corridor. Features of the rooms were a central nurses station and a lantern roof designed to let fresh air and sunlight into the ward. The gardens feature rhododendrons and azaleas thought to be over a hundred years old.The hospital treated patients with hypertension and anxiety as well as some joint disabilities. From 1943, the hospital focused on treating functional nervous diseases, and from around this time also became involved in treating alcoholics. At the end of this building we could clearly see into the modern Spa.


This is what I have to brave tomorrow. I don’t mind the getting in, being warm and trying the hot pools, even the sulphur pools, it’s the standing up in the biting cold........
Nursing staff 1933. The Hostel lawn in 1950.
The original nursing staff were male and lived in the village. When the treatment of women patients began more suitable living conditions were required for female staff. The building type is rare nowadays but continues a four hundred year old tradition of the use of Georgian style for a hospital building. The Hostel provided fifty six single rooms with shared bathroom facilities. Adjacent kitchen was the large south-west corner where a terrace gave access to the grounds. A variety of communal living spaces opened out to the west where the attractive and spacious outdoor area was an important feature of the environment to create homely conditions for the nurses.
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Today. Bear looking in the kitchen window. The kitchen still had plates stacked by the sink and looking from the kitchen to the far end of the Hostel.
Two of the sad entrances.
At the far end of the Nurses Hostel we found a lovely orchard. We could see the final building off in the distance.
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We walked over to the last building and worked our way past many rooms, all with sinks and cupboards until the last one which was a bright and airy kitchen.
Then we saw the building from the front. What a wow.
We had crossed the site and now stood by Jacks Pass Road.
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Very chic hotels with an amazing backdrop.
Back to the main door, where we could see another green sign.
The building of a large block to house female patients suffering functional nervous diseases represented a phase in the hospital’s development from a military facility to a specialist complex for the general public. This became known as the Chisholm Ward in honour of the long-serving Medical Superintendent Dr. Percy Chisholm. The building was designed in the Arts and Craft Movement style with an architectural approach taken to health promotion providing access to fresh air, sun and a calming landscape as essential elements. A belief that women patients should be afforded more privacy resulted in a much cosier setting than the military hospital built ten years earlier with mostly single rooms, each with their own washbasin, being provided. The building outlook was planned to enhance the therapeutic environment with beautiful views over expansive lawns and gardens to the mountains beyond. Later an internationally recognised facility for the treatment of drug and alcohol dependencies up until 2003.
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Bear on the front verandah and looking through some windows.
Although mid-winter, the garden still looks well tended and neat.
The view from the front door cannot be argued with. 


As the automatic lighting came on we bade this amazing place ‘farewell’ and wish it luck.