Fragility of life in the 1800s
DR JAMES Howlin served the people of Dalby and surrounds very well in the 1860s and 1870s. Many a time he had to make long rides to country districts and sometimes these were at night. With his limited skill and facilities, he was unable to save many who suffered serious injury. This must have concerned him greatly, especially those he knew well.
One of the best accounts of Dr Howlin’s long rides was in 1866. It began with the arrival of a man at his door imploring the doctor to accompany him to the mountains where his wife was suffering in childbirth.
The doctor set off with the husband for the 50km ride. They were too late as the woman was dying, having haemorrhaged severely. It’s doubtful if the doctor in those days could have saved her, even if he had arrived earlier.
They buried Gertrude not far from the settlement and the doctor made the lonely ride back to Dalby probably wishing he could have done more.
Eight years later he was again summoned back to the mountains, but this time it was a man severely wounded by an accidental gunshot.
The bullet had pierced his side and went through his lung after smashing a rib to lodge in the shoulder blade. Dr Howlin arrived late into the night and decided to operate by lantern light and the bullet was removed from the victim’s body.
When able to travel, the man was taken to the hospital at Dalby but several days later died from his injuries.
While a pioneering doctor such as James Howlin would have faced many tragedies suffered by his patients, it would have been more unsettling when close to home.
The doctor kept several horses as these were needed for long rides into the country. He employed a young South Sea Island lad to look after them. They needed to be fed and taken to water every day.
As the lad was young and inexperienced, the doctor warned him not to get on any of the horses.
One day in 1870 as he was taking one of the horses down across Marble St to water it at the creek, he decided to mount one. As it was already saddled he found that no problem.
He was almost at the creek when a dog ran up beside them, so he took off his hat and threw it at the dog, causing the horse to jump to one side. The lad lost his balance and fell off, but was unlucky to have his foot go through the stirrup.
This caused the horse to take fright and bolt, dragging the lad behind it. The stirrup leather broke after about 50m but when bystanders reached him he was unconscious.
Dr Howlin tended him the best he could but discovered his skull was fractured. He died a few days later. Apparently there were a number of South Sea Islanders in Dalby at the time and the locals noted the sad expressions on their faces as they proceeded to the local cemetery for the burial.