Bill Nichol

Interview with Bill Nichol, former head gardener at the Toowoomba Hospital, on 14th December 1993

The Nichol family lived on the corner of Spring and Keamey Streets from 1913- 1920. On 14 July 1920 they shifted to a house in James Street, which was east of the old Mothers’ Hospital. The Mothers’ was a wooden building which fronted James Street. My father Bill Nichol (Snr) was Head Gardener at the Hospital, whilst my brother Charlie was a wardsman and my sister Sadie was cook in the kitchen.
I have a 1921 photo of domestic staff working at the Hospital. The men are Fred Schneider, boiler attendant; Ted Young, head wardsman; Sam Baker, carter; Monty Co, groundsman; Doug Nicol, groundsman; Bill Nichol (Snr), head gardener; Jim Dorman, in the vegetable garden; Jim Elliot, farmer and milking the cows: Charlie Nichol, wardsman; Frank Bothwick, wardsman; Ken Garrett, laundry, Percy Coles, wardsman.

Mr Ted Horton, Bill Worth, Norm Burke, Jim Phillips, Bill Warren were there as groundsmen after the 1921 photo was taken. Secretaries were Mr Verey, Sid Austin, Miss Gallagher, Duncan Mclnnes, Miss Cox and Joe Searwright.

Boiler attendants were Fred Schneider, Charlie Emmerson, Sid Evans, George Bennett and Pat Lawn.

Carpenters were Mr Baartz, Wally Dunbar, Frank Murphy and Kevin Baldock.

Housekeeper was Mrs Epworth.

Head Cook was James Farrell and cook was Winnie Jack, who started when 15 years old and stayed there for 50 years. She was in my class at Middle Ridge State School. We sat together about 1912. I have two original photos in the Middle Ridge school booklet which were taken in 1911 & 1912.
Nursing, Cossart, Frewley, staff I remember include Matrons Mclntosh, and Fountain. Sisters were Fisher, Wardaman, K.Hickey. Nurses were Gert Cooper, Katherine Hughes, Kitty .Ienkins, Nellie Horn, Eve Connole, Nogg, Price, Harders, Corlie Wagner.

Bill Nichol (snr) was born at Selkirk Hawick. Came out on the boat ‘Duke of Norfolk’. My brother was born at Selkirk, which is about 30 miles from the border. Dad’s people are buried at Etrick. Our house at Kearney Springs was named after Etrick. The family came to Australia in 1901. Came to Brisbane, then came to Toowoomba in 1902. They got a place in Telford Street stopping at Fred Lincoln’s place. Bill (Sn”s) first job was at Searle’s nursery. He was a gardener in Scotland before he came out. My niece has a photo of dad in a summer house in Scotland.

Dad started work at the hospital in 1918. The gatekeeper’s lodge was already built then. John Jackson was the first gardener at the Hospital to live in the Gatekeepers lodge. One of his daughters was born there. Others to live at the Lodge, before the Nichols, included Percy & Spencer Coles, then Gibb,s then Ted Young. who moved in about 1929-30.

The double gates at the Lodge were closed at 9 p.m. & locked. The ambulance men knew where the key was hidden in the hedge. At odd times people would knock on our door to get into the hospital grounds. We got free milk, wood, vegies , and free local phone calls.

There was only one wardsman on duty at night. If help wanted then they’d ring up and dad would have to help them carry out a body. I had to do it one day. The body happened to be that of Spud Murphy, the local stationmaster whom I knew well.

The hospital owned the land right down to the swamp. We had a dairy down the bottom as well as a cultivation paddock for feeding the cows. There were about eight cows altogether. All the milk was used at the Hospital. The nurses had a horse called ‘Banana’ and a sulky. Three of the nurses used to go for a drive in the morning. They’d go up James Street past the cemetery. No bitumen streets then. Another horse & cart were also at the hospital. They used to go into the town to get the groceries and take things into town. They were paddocked down the bottom before Cossart House was built.

Everything was grown in season. I grew 2 big beds of carrots in winter. I was born on 1st September 1906 in Thorn Street at the back of the Australian Hotel. Mrs Bowman was the nurse. George Essex Evans signed my certificate as Registrar of Births.

Hard digging as gardener. I used to get a man, Malcolm Geddes, to plant potatoes here. Part of the job was to cut the grass with scythes. One man leading with 2 others following. I still have a scythe underneath the house.

I started at the hospital in 1943. The Hospital claimed me out of the army. I was B class medically and the Hospital was unable to get someone else. I had my own garden at Middle Ridge. I was here when the Queen came in 1954 and also when Princess Alexandra came. She was here before the Queen.

About those entrance pillars at West Street and the capsule buried there. We were living at the Cottage then but I wasn’t there for the official opening. I was out in the country. On the post you’ll see 4 plugs. They had a steel plate with two dates on it. However the capsule is under the ground. It must be under the one remaining tall pillar. There was another one where the gates used to hinge. (Did S. G. Stephens donate the gates in 1919?)

I knew S. G. Stephens. He was Chairman of the Hospital Board & also Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Darling Downs Building Society.
Dad had a big lot of dahlias and flowers to take to the wards. There was a big circle and two different sorts of plants forming the words, ‘Toowoomba Hospital’. around the drive in front of D wards 1 & 2. There’s a carpenter’s and electrician’s shop there now. I put the cross in the ground beside the chapel. D ward wasn’t glassed in in the 1930’s the walls were canvas blinds and if it rained the water would be coming in.

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