17 March 1899, Seventh Session of the Cape Colony Mayoral Conference second day.
DID YOU KNOW
A brief discussion with local historical aficionado David Allen had him pose the query whether or not I had ever heard of Sister Tyre. I had not, and apart from retired Africana librarian Kokkie Duminy, nor had any others whose memory cells I touched upon. Research proved fruitful indeed and what follows in brief is the truly remarkable story of one Sister Jessie Tyre, who in the first half of the 20th century was literally a household name in Kimberley as both a nurse, and in particular, as a midwife. Interestingly, as a midwife she brought well over the unbelievable amount of 11 000 babies into the world between 1900 and her retirement in the 1930s, including the aforesaid David Allen.
Jessie Tyre was born in England in circa 1865, and died in the Kimberley Hospital on 1 July 1954 aged 89 years She began her general training as a student nurse at the Crumpsall Infirmary, Manchester, England, in October 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
“I entered the hospital a very frightened girl and when the big gates closed on me and I saw the porter lock them I felt quite sure that I had been taken in a prison instead.”
After two years at the Crumpsall Infirmary, the then Nurse Tyre worked for a short time at the St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, London, and then moved into private nursing, a practice that saw her visit France, Italy and Sicily.
Her first visit to South Africa in 1897 was motivated by the ill-health of a fellow nurse who died a week before they sailed, Miss Tyre having received the appointment of Staff Nurse at the Grahamstown Hospital.
“It was my intention to travel all over South Africa and realising that I was useless in this country without a midwifery certificate I decided to return to England to attempt to obtain it.”
Another friend was ill, so Miss Tyre did not act on her plan immediately, and travelled with her friend to Australia, China and Japan. Upon their return to South Africa, Miss Tyre immediately left for England where she soon gained her midwifery and massage certificate. Having not lost her desire to work in South Africa, she soon departed and arrived in a country at war.
“I returned to this country in August 1900 and in October of the same year came to Kimberley to the late Sister Henrietta [Stockdale] and did district midwifery. I stayed with her for about four years, and then took charge of the maternity ward of the Kimberley Hospital. After some time I spent a year’s holiday as the guest of Mr and Mrs Walter Atherstone at their farm Ellende, near Grahamstown.”
During her leave of absence she had many calls from Kimberley asking her to return, which she did in 1907, and she started her own private nursing home at 7 Park Road. A short time later she moved to 109 Dutoitspan Road, but again, had to leave from that address as the house was taken over as the residence for the first Bishop of Kimberley.
She then moved to 179 Dutoitspan Road, intending to only stay for six months before leaving Kimberley for good, but the intervention of several friends saw her remain at that address until her eventual retirement.
It was at this latter home where she was called by Dr Fuller to assist at the De Beers Mine compound during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, the compound being seriously affected. For many years Sister Tyre had given lectures to the St John home nursing classes, and when interviewed in 1935 remembered with “deep gratitude” the excellent way in which the students of home nursing had come to her assistance during the Flu epidemic both at the De Beers Mine Compound and in the Hotel Belgrave, loaned out as a hospital by the De Beers Company. After organising the De Beers Compound it was she who had taken charge at the Hotel Belgrave.
The De Beers Company was so grateful of her valued assistance that they afterwards awarded her a pension of £200.
Her staff too, thought her wonderful and timed her sleeping hours – four hours a night!
In April of 1917, during the Great War 1914-1918, she organised a fund raising sale for the Red Cross at Newington House, a function deemed important enough for De Beers Director Francis Oats to officially open proceedings. The sale of paintings by Kimberley artist Miss E Edwards raised some £45, while the produce and needlework stall brought in £219, a grand total of £500 being given to the Bishop of Kimberley by Sister Tyre for the Red Cross.
The date when she retired is not known at this stage, but with the opening of the Kimberley Maternity Home in 1945, it is pure guesswork that it would have been around the time of World War II, 1939 to 1945, as she had intimated in 1935 that she hopes “…to remain and continue working at my profession for many years to come.”
She died in the Kimberley Hospital on 1 July 1954.