Last December I visited the Connaught Hospital in Freetown, which is the main referral hospital in the city and has served as such for over a hundred years. I was shown round by Jane Gibson whose husband, Terry, had been working at the Connaught for nearly two years, before and throughout the ebola outbreak (see here for his blog in 2014). So, my first paragraph of this blog about the tour was to be a short history of the Connaught Hospital to set the scene. However, after referring to Wikipedia for some background information, I set off on a different trail: “Connaught Hospital was opened in 1912 by the Duke of Connaught, Prince Arthur. President Kabbah re-opened the hospital on May 5, 2006, alongside the Princess Christian Maternity Hospital (PCMH).” I googled Prince Arthur and found that he was the seventh and favourite child of Queen Victoria and in addition to a highly decorated military career was made Duke of Connaught.
However, he was also appointed Governor General of Canada in 1911 and remained there until after the start of WWI, so he couldn’t have opened the hospital in 1912 (good old Wiki!!). I recalled seeing old photographs of his visit to Sierra Leone.
This confirms he visited in December 1910. This visit was on his return journey, on board the Balmoral Castle of the Union-Castle line, from South Africa where he had opened the first parliament of the new nation state. With no further helpful information on the Connaught Hospital available on the internet I headed off to the National Archives.
Government accounts (Blue books) are a good source of information and I discovered that the sum of £636 7s 3d was spent on a reception for HRH Duke of Connaught on 15th December 1910. It must have been a lavish affair as that is the equivalent of £57980 at 2014 prices!
Evidence of his opening or renaming the hospital was harder to track down. In the Blue Book for the year 1910 the hospital was called the Colonial Hospital. Checking subsequent years it remained the Colonial Hospital. It was not until 1920 that new information came to light:
In April 1920 the Governor proposed to the Secretary of State that compensation of £10 each should be paid to the female nurses who lost personal effects in the February fire. In May the Chief Dispenser, Assistant Chief Dispenser, Second Class Dispenser and the Gate Keeper all applied for compensation too.
The accounts show £8820 spent in 1920, £18502 in 1921 and £12405 in 1922 on the new hospital but it is still called the Colonial Hospital. The Blue Book for 1923 is unfortunately missing, but in 1924 it is suddenly called the Connaught Hospital. In the same year a mortuary is added at a cost of £217 18s 7d. So at some point, probably in 1923, the decision was made to rename the hospital.
Many other sites and publications seem to repeat the erroneous Wiki information, but I tracked down a 1961 Government Information Service publication which claimed “Duke of Connaught visited Sierra Leone and laid the foundation stone of a hospital in Freetown which bears the name ‘Connaught Hospital’.” However Sierra Leone Studies 15-17 p188 (The Journal of the Sierra Leone Society 1961) tells us “visit of Duke of Connaught …. in 1910…. He laid the foundation stone of the present Law Courts …. After the destruction by fire of the old Colonial Hospital in 1920 the new building was named after him The Connaught Hospital.”
The stone from the Law Courts supports this statement, so this seems to be the most likely story, but does not explain why the hospital was renamed in this way!
One more strand may be relevant. From 1920 to 1924 the Duke of Connaught’s son, known as Prince Arthur of Connaught, was Governor General of South Africa. His wife, Princess Alix was a trained nurse and very active with the Red Cross. It is possible that they visited Sierra Leone at some point to or from South Africa – could the hospital have been renamed after them?
If anyone has further information, please comment below.
More on the hospital itself next time!