If you have been to beautiful Princes’ Park in Launceston, you undoubtedly have noticed the statue of William Russ Pugh, ascending the steps as if he’s about to take a leisurely afternoon stroll. William Russ Pugh was one of the most important characters in Launceston, particularly in terms of medical enhancement.
Pugh was born in England, and came to Tasmania is 1837. His voyage took him to Hobart, and allegedly he walked all the way to Launceston where he set up practice. He married Cornelia Ann Kerton, a lady who was on the same voyage with him from England.
Dr Pugh is best known for administering the first anaesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere on June 7, 1847, at the St John’s Hospital that stood on the corner of Frederick and St John streets in Launceston. He administered ether to a young woman to remove a tumour from her jaw, and then a cataract from a man’s eye. The apparatus he used to do this he made himself at home, copying the design from a London newspaper. Whilst his home-made apparatus worked, it was problematic, and Dr Pugh soon after received the correct apparatus from England.
Pugh was not just known for this achievement however – he was a Health Officer for the Port of Launceston, a member of the Tasmanian Society and was well known for his experimentation with new treatments and medicines. Dr Pugh used the plants he had grown himself to treat his patients. He also had some controversy in his life, he was accused of manslaughter after the death of a patient in 1842, and had multiple court actions against him.
Dr Pugh’s private residence, and where he opened his surgery is located on the corner of St John and Frederick Streets in Launceston, directly diagonal to his statue at Princes’ Park.
Soon after the closure of the St John’s Hospital, Dr Pugh went to Melbourne and then returned to England, remarried, and died in 1897.
You can read more about William Russ Pugh in John Paull’s book, Not just an Anaesthetist
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