“Our dear little Doctor” – J V Seddall

A large woodcarving, a legacy of Royal Columbian Hospital’s 125th anniversary, is displayed in the RCH foyer depicting parts of its history. At the top is an image of the very first medical doctor in New Westminster –John Vernon Seddall, M.D., Royal Engineer Assistant Staff Surgeon.

Born in Malta in 1831, he graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1854, and served in the Crimea at the siege and fall of Sebastopol, including the assault on the Redan of 8 Sept. 1855, for which he was awarded the Crimea medal with Sebastopol clasp, and Turkish Crimea Medal. He was attached to the Royal Engineers, Columbia Detachment in August 1858, served as surgeon onboard the transport ship, Thames City, with the main body of the detachment, and finally arrived in New Westminster in 1859, in overall medical charge of the detachment.

He immediately set up temporary hospital accommodation for the camp in three tents – two marquees for the sick, and one for a surgery and store tent. By September, housing for married people was complete, the single men were housed in a large building calculated to accommodate 60 to 70 men, and Seddall was able to begin construction of the camp’s permanent hospital. The building had two eight-bed wards, each with open fireplaces and high windows to admit direct sunlight. The surgery and hospital sergeant’s rooms were well lighted with bow windows and fully equipped. A veranda surrounded the entire hospital, providing space for patients to get exercise in any weather. If this sounds similar to the first Royal Columbian Hospital, built for civilians in 1862, that’s not a coincidence. While the original RCH was designed by J.C. White, R.E., it was planned with the guidance of Dr. Seddall.

There is no doubt that Dr. Seddall was a very capable doctor, well respected by his peers and the entire community. But it is through the letters of Mary Moody, wife of the Commanding Officer, Col. Richard Moody, R.E., that we come to know the “real” John Vernon Seddall.

In October 1860, the detachment decided to have a party and Dr. Seddall managed and arranged the entire event. “The Doctor fixed to have the Dancing in the empty drawing room, and he had it all decorated for the occasion, the large recess of the bow window was fitted as an orchestra, the windows curtained with Scarlet blankets, relieved with golden Chinese banners. The Ceiling was festooned with evergreens and faded leaves, the walls decorated with bayonets festooned, lamps and garlands, Scarlet, blue and white bunting plaited in hanging loops all ’round the ceiling, a J.B. over the mantle piece. You have no idea how nice the room looked…We sat down 26 to supper, and about 8 were left without seats. I took very little trouble in the party, the Doctor did it all his own way.”

In other letters she says, “…And our “dear little Doctor” being so robust and round himself, does not see why everyone should not be equally jolly and comfortable as himself. “ “The Doctor is so kind and good, an example to us all in every way. You never hear anyone who does not speak most affectionately and kindly of him.” “Dr. Seddall was Mary’s Godfather, we both felt she could not have a better man or a kinder friend as her Godparent.”

When the Royal Engineers corps was disbanded in 1863, and Dr. Seddall returned to England with the other officers, he donated his medical equipment and supplies to the Royal Columbian Hospital.

He married Ellen Aileen Golding in 1867 and died at the Cape of Good Hope on October 8, 1870, at only 39 years of age. The community was devastated.

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