Story: Veterinary services

Page 1. Early vet services, 1850s to 1940s

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Early days

The first veterinary practice in New Zealand appears to have been that of J. Thomson of Epsom, who advertised in the New Zealander newspaper in August 1850. This was followed by an advertisement from a J. W. Moorhouse in the New Zealand Spectator on 18 June 1856, stating that he would be opening a hospital for sick horses and cattle in the Hutt Valley.

In 1888 J. F. Maclean was appointed the first full-time government veterinarian to the livestock branch of the Lands Department. Until 1893, when the Department of Agriculture was formed and appointed three new veterinarians, there were probably no more than 17 vets in the country.

War vets

Many horses were sent from New Zealand to the South African War (1899–1902). A veterinarian from the Department of Agriculture was put on each ship to care for the animals. This deprived the country of a number of vets for a while, although some returned after delivering the horses. Others served in the war.

A few groups of farmers had organised to obtain veterinary services as early as 1903, when the Southland Farmers Union employed a veterinarian in Invercargill.

By 1909 the Department of Agriculture’s division of veterinary science had 26 veterinarians – 19 of them meat inspectors at freezing works around the country, and six involved with ‘field duties’. The chief veterinarian was C. J. Reakes.

When the First World War began, government veterinarians were involved in selecting 9,998 horses to go overseas with the troops. The vets staffed two mobile veterinary sections and a mobile veterinary hospital in Egypt.

A number of veterinary practices funded by groups of farmers were established, including at Balclutha in 1907, Kaipara in 1916, Ngātea, Tūrua and Tāneatua in 1922, on the Rangitīkei plains in 1923, in Central Taranaki in 1931, Rātā in 1934, and Eltham in 1937.

Dairy cooperatives were set up in Northland, Taranaki, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Each employed their own veterinarian.

New Zealand Veterinary Association

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) was registered in 1923. In 1943 it formed the Veterinary Services Committee with representatives of government and industry to look at the requirements for providing veterinary services to all livestock owners. Also in 1943, the Dominion Federation of Farmer Veterinary Services was formed to coordinate activities of cooperative practices.

Vet shortage

In the 1940s, New Zealand did not have enough veterinarians – partly because training was not available in New Zealand. In 1943, the Dairy Board and Meat Producers Board provided bursaries for 14 New Zealand students to train as veterinarians at the University of Sydney, followed by 20 more in 1945.

Veterinarians were recruited from Britain and Canada, but there was still an acute shortage. At the end of the Second World War, fewer than 50 veterinarians were practising in New Zealand. Most were in cities.

How to cite this page:

Hamish Mavor and Bob Gumbrell, 'Veterinary services - Early vet services, 1850s to 1940s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/veterinary-services/page-1 (accessed 23 July 2019)

Story by Hamish Mavor and Bob Gumbrell, published 24 Nov 2008