William Armstrong



At the first "Land Sales" in Drayton in 1850, Dr. Thomas Benjamin Hopkins bought two allotments 1 and 2 of Section 3 (5 acres). He had two buildings erected. A large one of pit-sawn timber to be used as a residence and a smaller one which was to serve as a hospital. (This was little more than a consulting room, though a patient immobilised by a broken limb or concussion was cared for by the doctor with assistance from some capable local resident in the township.) I do not know when the name "Bellair" was bestowed on the residence.

When Dr. Colin Buchanan came from Sydney to succeed Dr. T.B. Hopkins in 1851 he was agreeably surprised to find that the residence was made of pit-sawn timber and it, "was a much better building than some of the slab and bark structures in the township.” Dr. Buchanan had two sons, James, born in Sydney, and Colin Robert, born and baptised in Dray ton . It appears that the family returned to Sydney about 1853.

Years later, James Buchanan returned to the Downs and worked for his uncle, Gordon Sandeman at Felton and eventually became General Manager of James Tyson's properties.

Dr. Charles Patrick Glissan practised in Drayton from 1854 until 1865. but did not occupy the residence. Dr. Wyndham Armstrong began practice in 1854 but died in 1855.

Dr. William Armstrong, a brother of Dr. Wyndham Armstrong, came in 1856 to take over the practice but Government Regulations prevented him at times from using the hospital.

The Glennie Diary states: "On 21st March 1857 Keong moved into Dr. Armstrong's hospital to be instructed and baptised." On 31st May 1857 Glennie baptised George Arthur Keong and four infants one of them being a Keong.

During 1858, the doctor's residence was occupied by the wife and family of Stephen Meehan the owner of the Downs Inn. At the end of November and the beginning of December 1858, Archbishop Polding (Sydney) and Dean Rigney (Brisbane) spent three days in Drayton and conducted a three day Mission at "Bellair". The ceremonies concluded with Confirmation.

In 1859 Dr. William Armstrong married Miss Beit a sister of William Beit of Westbrook. They lived at "Bellair", originally the home of Dr. T.B. Hopkins. On 15th July 1860 Rev. B. Glennie baptised an Armstrong child and in 1862 a second child was born

In 1859 a meeting was held at Drayton to discuss building a new hospital. After much discussion it was decided to open a Benevolent Home in Toowoomba. This was done, the opening date being 23rd June 1859.

Dr. Armstrong continued to reside in Drayton where he was coroner, magistrate and a capable public benefactor. Much of his work was done free of charge.

On 1st August 1861 Dr. Armstrong opened a private hospital at Drayton and continued his work there as medical officer until 1867.

The "Darling Downs Gazette" dated 13th November 1867 stated "Dr. Armstrong can be consulted at the surgery lately occupied by Dr. Burke next to Messrs. Limmer, Rees and Robinson (in Toowoomba). On 27th November 1867 the "Darling Downs Gazette" reported "W. Armstrong has tendered his resignation as magistrate of the territory which has been accepted." Dr. Armstrong then moved to Toowoomba where he continued his medical practice.

Mr. and Mrs. S.H. Lawton and family occupied "Bellair" in later years. The. family consisted of seven daughters and three sons, namely Ada, Mary, Mona, Nellie, Linda, Mildred and Amy and James, Herbert and Ralph. Mona and Ralph began teaching at the Drayton School-. Mona (a well-known artist) became the wife of Robert Alexander Elliott. Linda married Rev. W. Worley and Mildred was Mrs. Blaydon Binney. James who died recently aged 92 years was one of the original Anzacs who always attended the Anzac Day Ceremonies in Toowoomba.

In 1910 "Bellair" the home of the Drayton Lawton Family was replaced by a new "Bellair". The new building occupied the space in front of the old "Bellair" being in use until about 1913. Old "Bellair" was then demolished taking with it many memories of early Drayton.

In 1920 "New Bellair" was moved en masse from its Drayton site to Margaret Street Toowoomba adjacent to the Club Rooms in Mylne Street.

The new building had been erected in Drayton by one of the sons, Bert Lawton, and the work of moving was done by Harry Theiss and some of his sons, the well-known, Theiss Brothers of Drayton.

H.A. Frawley. Rosevale Street. Drayton. 1981.


In 1857, Dr. Armstrong had taken the position of honorary surgeon and gave his service to the poor of the district free of charge.

This was the doctor's first connection with the institution and it continued for a great number of years. Indeed to Dr. Armstrong is due much of the credit for the existence of the Hospital in the early days, as it was owing to his generosity and self-denying efforts that any such institution was carried on, no matter in how primitive a form.

At the time when the Gazette article was written (1899) Dr Armstrong was still living in-Toowoomba. The Gazette referred to him as the "oldest medical practitioner on the Downs".

Dr. Armstrong must have had a tough time in those early days. He used to complain about his bushman patients having got to Drayton, would visit the pubs first, and having spent their money, would come to him penniless and considerably worse for their carousals.

He was a very resourceful man, and grew the first crop of opium poppy at Drayton to supply his dispensary with the drug which was then in much greater legal use than it is now. He was later (l879) to advocate the commercial cultivation of opium in the Toowoomba area.

The reference to the Police Court fines indicates that some, at least, of the revenue from the fining of offenders was directed to the maintenance-of hospitals.

When Queensland separated from New South Wales in 1859 the New South Wales Government apparently owed to Toowoomba Hospital a considerable sum of money for there are references in the reports in the early 1860s to the problems caused by the non-payment of fine money.

William Beit's sister married Dr Armstrong, the founder of the first benevolent hospital in what is now Russell Street. They became the grandparents of Lord Huntingfield, late Governor of Victoria.

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