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William Lane Milligan

One of the first doctors in the colony, Milligan, was also one of the first two people to have a street named after him, along with Frederick Irwin, the first military commander.

MILLIGAN of Milligan-street was that Assistant Surgeon William Lane Milligan, regimental doctor to the 63rd regiment, who came to Western Australia with Governor Stirling in 1829 and was the original holder of two blocks of land on the south side of St. George's-terrace, opposite Milligan-street. Originally Milligan-street was continued across St. George's-terrace to the river, so that Dr. Milligan's land was on the street alignment, hence the name given to the street by Governor Stirling. At a subsequent date the southern portion of Milligan street from St. George's-terrace to the river was, like the same portion of Pier-street, de-roaded (as Americans would put it) and sold to the Anglican Bishop of Perth.

William Lane Milligan was no mediocre professional man as can be seen from a historic document he presented to the Colonial Secretary on July 6, 1830 - historic because it is the first written application from a doctor to practise his profession in Western Australia. Dr. Milligan attaches to this letter a list of qualifications He could write after his name the following degrees and diplomas: MD, M.R.C.S., M.R.C.P., L.M.; which translated into ordinary language meant that he was a doctor of medicine of the University of Edinburgh; a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England; a Member of the Royal College of Physicians, London; and a Licentiate of Midwifery. (The latter qualification does not, on the surface, seem to fit in with the ordinary duties of a regimental doctor but Dr. Milligan found the diploma of midwifery very handy on the second day after his arrival at Swan River when he was called upon to deliver the wife of Drummer Mitchell of the 63rd Regiment of a son on board H.M.S. Sulphur - the first white child to be born in the colony.) His army service be gan when he joined the 16th Regiment, but he transferred to the 63rd Regiment on February 8, 1827. He arrived in Western Australia with his regiment on June 8. 1829, and with that regiment left for Madras in May, 1834. After that, other personal particulars of him are lacking, except that on March 1, 1839, he transferred from the 63rd to the 17th Regiment.

IT was a tragic accident that brought Dr. Milligan to Perth. The surgeon appointed to the 63rd Regiment in the first place was Dr. Tully Daly, and he and his wife and five daughters sailed for the Swan River on the Parmelia, there being no accommodation for such a large family with the 63rd Regiment on H.M.S. Sulphur. At Cape Town, however, on April 25, 1829, Dr. Tully Daly and his eldest daughter, while returning to the Parmelia after an afternoon ashore, were drowned owing to the boat capsizing, and Governor Stirling was forced to apply to the authorities at Cape Town for another military doctor. At it happened there was a detachment of the 63rd Regiment in South Africa at the moment, and their surgeon, Dr. Milligan, was immediately transferred and embarked with his wife on H.M.S. Sulphur. Dr. Milligan accompanied his regiment up the river on June 18, 1829, to what was to be Perth, and after the tents of these soldiers had been erected at the corner of Barrack-street and St. George's-terrace, the Hospital Marquee was run up higher up the hill. It can be seen in the earliest sketch of Perth, drawn in 1829, and stood where the present Department of Industries is situated in Barrack-street, adjoining the Town Hall. This site is confirmed by an extract from a dispatch from Captain Irwin dated June 1, 1833, which reads: "The Military Hospital, now used as a Barrack, was not completed at the time of its erection owing to the difficulty of procuring lime for protecting the exterior walls." For the first building to be known as a "Barrack" in Perth eventually became a Guardroom for the soldiers, and was subsequently converted into the Police Court which functioned there until the present Police Court buildings were erected in Beaufort-street.

THE doctors of today have this much to be thankful for - they are rid forever of the scourge of scurvy. But this dread disease was very much in evidence at the beginning of last century, despite the blows dealt it by Captain Cook and others, and we find it rearing its ugly head in this newest of colonies, right at the outset. While Dr. Simmons, the Colonial Surgeon, was reporting that the civilian settlers were peculiarly free of disease, the soldiers were suffering badly from scurvy, and we find Dr. Milligan reporting that limejuice and fresh foods were urgently necessary to combat it, and to treat the soldiers already suffering from it in the Hospital Marquee. Strangely enough, however, the first medical certificate issued to a civil servant in Western Australia was for scurvy:

Mr. Sutherland is now labouring under symptoms of Scurvy for the cure of which disease Lime Juice is indispensably necessary. Perth, April 3, 1830. William Milligan, M.D.

Mr. Sutherland was at the time a surveyor, but later became the first Colonial Treasurer of the Colony. In the above case it is satisfactory to know that he got the lime juice and was promptly cured of his scurvy. For carrying on the duties of Medical Superintendent of the Colonial Hospital Dr. Milligan was granted an extra allowance of 10/- per diem, and a few weeks after its opening was given the services of an assistant at 5/- per diem, Dr. Alfred Green. The only other reward he appears to have received was a grant of 2,060 acres on December 15, 1830.

AS the Medical Superintendent of the first Colonial Hospital, and virtual Colonial Surgeon for the first years of the colony's existence, in addition to his position as Military Surgeon, Dr. Milligan had every opportunity for testing the healthiness of the new settlement. As a result he reported to the Government in 1831 his opinion that "under the natural conditions of the atmosphere fevers are almost impossible and other ailments completely unknown." But for all that he was kept busy, for accidents were common and the archives of the colony show many a post-mortem examination carried out with rare skill by this accomplished doctor. It is appropriate then that the street which commemorates him, Milligan-street, should cut across St George's-terrace, right in the very heart of Medical Perth where a score of doctors carry on the work he initiated a century and ten years ago. Dr. Milligan was accompanied by Mrs. Milligan on his transfer to Western Australia from South Africa, but the only reference to this lady is a tragic one. On February 21, 1830, we read of the birth of a son to "Dr. William and Elizabeth Sybil Milligan" But it lived only four days. In the "Fremantle Journal and General Advertiser" of February 27, 1830 -- the very earliest newspaper to function in the Colony, and which was written in long hand and sold for 2/6 per copy! - we read the announcement of the infant's death. Cygnet [Cyril Bryan], 'Perth Names, 9: Milligan of Milligan-street', West Australian, 24 September 1938: 5.

News and Notes, West Australian, 15 June 1939: 16.

Perth Hospital Beginnings. "Cygnet" writes: "The Perth Hospital, under the name of the Colonial Hospital, first began to function on June 1, 1830. Its first Medical Superintendent was Dr. William Milligan, the surgeon to the 63rd Regiment, who on the first day the soldiers came to Perth (June 18, 1829) had already erected a military hospital, in the shape of a marquee, about the centre of the present Cathedral-avenue. A year later, on June 1, 1830, Dr. Milligan (in the absence of the Colonial Surgeon. Dr. Charles Simmons, at Augusta) was also called upon to erect a civilian hospital. and this also began its existence in a tent. pitched, it is believed, on the block of ground Immediately west of the Celtic Club. The genesis of this Colonial Hospital Is graphically sketched by Dr. Milligan himself in a report to Lieutenant Governor Stirling, dated August 1, 1830: 'In the month of June (1830) three unfortunate individuals were discovered to be at Perth in a state of utter destitution and greatly exhausted from bad food, a scanty allowance of it, exposure to the weather, and scurvy. They had been dismissed their master's service for misconduct, were for some time without employment, and latterly almost without food. His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, on being informed of their situation, ordered a tent to be provided and that they should be supplied with all the comforts their cases required, as well as medical attendance. This step, at - once so prudent and so humane, has led to the establishment of a hospital in which many now find a retreat who, with out such an institution, must have perished from want and disease.'

References and Links

Cygnet [Cyril Bryan], 'Perth Names, 9: Milligan of Milligan-street', West Australian, 24 September 1938: 5.

See also: Colonial Hospital.

Royal Perth Hospital Museum.

Wikipedia page for the doctor

Wikipedia page for the street


Garry Gillard | New: 10 June, 2018 | Now: 13 June, 2018