Refugee and Philanthropist – Hyman Marks and the Christchurch Hospital, 1897

Hyman Marks Wing with Nurses in Foreground.
Hyman Marks Wing with Nurses in Foreground [1]
In Christchurch Hospital’s busy, twenty first century entrance foyer, patients, staff and visitors hurry past a distinguished man immortalised in bronze. These days, many do not have time to stop and acknowledge the Victorian gentleman’s likeness which was sculpted by William Trethewey (1892-1956) between 1920-30. However in the last decade of the nineteenth century, this man was a beloved citizen who became one of the city’s largest benefactors.

Hyman Marks (1834 – 1895), left his entire fortune to be used to create a large wing at the Christchurch Public Hospital.

Hyman Marks bust by William Trewethy Christchurch c. 1920.

The Christchurch Hospital Board were desperate to update the cramped wards, outdated facilities and operating theatres. Funds had been spent on a much needed nurses’ home leaving nothing for further development to the hospital. That was until Mark’s fund enabled them to begin planning a ‘state of the art’ wing for another fifty beds and operating theatres. An additional bequest of £500 donated by the late Mr. James Stark, as well as a government supplement of £1,350 and special grant of £1,500, also assisted the project greatly.

The Christchurch architectural firm of Frederick Strouts (1834 – 1919) was commissioned, and with the assistance of Robert Anderson Ballantyne, the pair designed the new wing away from the main hospital buildings in the western portion of the hospital grounds. They had been responsible for the designs of Stranges’ new department store on the corner of Manchester Street, the Ballantyne & Co’s department store, the Jubliee Clock Tower, on the corner of High Street, Mr. Rhodes home of ‘Otahuna’ at Tai Tapu and the residence of Mr. Roper on Papanui Road.

Strouts had no architectural restrictions and was able to design ‘carte blanche’ within the limits of the budget. The building boasted huge concrete foundations completed by Mr. D. Scott, at a cost of £573 before the foundation stone was laid on the afternoon of September 10th, 1896 by Hyman Marks’ friend and trustee, Mr. Charles Louisson (later two time serving Mayor of Christchurch). The contractor of the building was Mr. W. H. Bowen who estimated that the total cost would be £7489.

A portion of Christchurch Hospital, showing Hyman Marks Ward at left
A portion of Christchurch Hospital, showing the distinctive Hyman Marks Ward at left. [2]
The building was set eighty feet away from the main hospital buildings. It was connected by a long corridor at its south end.  It contrasted greatly to the original, Tudoresque-colonial building which it was replacing. This two storey building was large, with an expanse of 168 feet and a width of 56 feet.  The photograph at top of the Hyman Marks Wing’s west side with two nurses dwarfed by the vast building, provides an example of the sheer scale of the wing.

It was spare of expensive exterior ornamentation except the north facing elevation, facing the river. This side was the grandest facade, and although it did not possess an entrance, it was referred to as the front of the building. It rose 59 feet up to a high pitched gable and it was surmounted with carved stonework. The building’s electric style was reminiscent of European commercial town buildings and the style of Jewish synagogues. Two octagonal, 55 feet towers rose on each corner of the facade. Between the towers was a large balcony for the patients to ‘take the air’. Above the stone work of the balcony, the Ward’s name was carved.

View of the Christchurch Hospital across the River, with the Hyman Marks Ward at far right. [3]
The eastern and western facades were plainer in design, but had gables and piercings of segmental headed windows. Strouts used the locally made two tone red and orange terracotta bricks and white stone to decorate the facades. The roof was covered in with grey slate. The building which sits on a high, solid foundation has ‘castle like’ corner piers which support two floors of four separate wards for upwards of forty four patients.  Inside, the corridors on each floor, terminated in a semi-octagonal structure of glass, to be used as a fernery, or window garden. On the north side of the corridor, on the ground floor, a ward of approximately 26 feet by 25 feet and 14 feet 6 inches in height was set aside for an ophthalmic ward. Attached to this was a room 12 feet long by 9 feet 11 inches in width which provided a smoking room if the Ward was used by male patients or a private patients’ room if it is occupied by women. Lavatories and other conveniences were placed in the octagonal towers and were separated from the Ward by specially constructed lobbies.

A wide, ornamented staircase as well as a lift, large enough to accommodate a patient in a bed or litter, was placed in the north east of the ward so that access could be made to the upper floor. The wards and arrangements were exactly the same in both levels. Each of the two ophthalmic wards contained six beds. On the south side of the corridor on each floor was a ward of the same dimensions as the newer wards in the present building – 67 feet 6 inches long and 26 feet wide with a height of 14 feet and six inches. Each of these long wards was lit by eighteen side windows on either side of every bed (sixteen beds in each ward). Flanking the entrances to the wards are private patients  and sisters’ rooms and the ward kitchens and pantries. At the further end are the bathrooms and lavatories. One of these wards was used for a female medical ward and the other for children. The building was heated throughout by hot air pipes and ventilation grates were under each bed. The walls were covered with Portland cement and wrought to a very fine texture. All internal walls and floors are rounded and there were no ledges or projections where dust could settle. All air communication between the upper and lower wards was cut off. The cubic contents of the wards was to allow 1555 cubic feet to each patient and the bed centres were eight feet apart.

Hyman Marks Wing, Christchurch Hospital c.1910  Source: Photographer Frederick George Radcliffe Record ID 35-R295 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R295'
Hyman Marks Wing, Christchurch Hospital c.1910 [4]
The wing was opened at 3 p.m. on November 10th, 1897 by his Excellency the Governor and Lady Alexander, with Captains Alexander and Ward and the Honorary C. Hill Trevor. They arrived in a carriage escorted by two mounted troopers and were met at the lobby by the Chairman, Mr. R. D. Thomas and Hospital Secretary, Mr. Miller, Doctors Fox and Gane, resident and assistant resident surgeons; Miss Johnston, matron; Mr F. Strouts,the architect and Mr. Bowen, the contractor. Messrs Mitchell and R. C. Bishop. who superintended the ceremonies, escorted the vice regal party to one of the lower wards which had been tastefully decorated with pot plants. The Christchurch Star of November 11th 1897 reported,

“The audience rose to their feet as the Governor entered and the National Anthem was sung, the singing being led by a choir of nurses.

The Hyman Marks Ward. Source: [5]
Mr Thomas described that since the abolition of the provincial institutions under which the hospital had been established, no noteworthy additions had been made to it save this building, for which they were indebted to the bequest of 5000 from the late Mr. Hyman Marsk and supplemented by £500 by the late Mr Stark and by the Government grant. The new building would provide fifty additional beds, and would for some years to come, prevent the overcrowding which had been frequent in the hospital lately. The work of the hospital was carried on by an honorary medical staff of five, whose gratuitous services were assisted by a resident and an assistant resident surgeon. The nursing staff, in charge of Miss Johnston, numbered thirty two which might be considered a large number, but, in consequence of the great strain of the work, the eight hours system was strictly adhered to. The new building had cost £9,500 and there was no debt on it. (Applause.)

His Excellency replied, “Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I can assure you that my visit here today to open the new wing of the Christchurch Hospital gives me more pleasure than almost any other visit I have been able to pay in the short time I have been in this colony. (Applause) I have listened to the words your Chairman has uttered, and I notice that the hospitals here are kept up in point of their internal administration, in exactly the same manner as our hospitals in England. However I can congratulate the committee of this hospital in having easier work than the committees of our London hospitals. Our London hospitals obtain whole funds for their work from the voluntary subscriptions and bequests of the public. Here you have the great advantage of a Government helping you very considerably; and if I am rightly informed of the rates being called upon to assist when such assistance is required. Therefore you have not some of the difficulties that Hospital Committees have in our country.  I understand that Mr. Marks left a large sum of money for the purpose of this new ward at the Christchurch Hospital and that with the assistance of the trustees and others, the ward will be opened without any debt. I understand that the originator of this hospital was the Provincial Council of Canterbury. (Applause.) The council was abolished in 1875 but the Christchurch of today is a very different place from the Christchurch of 1875 and the hospital, owing to the increased population of the district, required most necessary enlargement, and I am glad to be the means of declaring that enlargement an accomplished fact. It gives me great pleasure to declare the Hyman Marks Ward open (Prolonged applause.)

The visitors were entertained in the upper wards with afternoon tea and other refreshments, and his Excellency and party visited the various parts of the institution.”

Marks’ gift benefited greater Christchurch’s injured and sick for several generations. The brand new facilities boasted the latest surgical theatres while scientifically designed heating and ventilation (costing £900) provided comfort for its patients and staff.  The spacious wards could accommodate another fifty patients which brought the total bedspace in the hospital up to 150 – 160 patients.

Marks also provided £5,000, to be invested and the interest used for “the relief of destitute patients”. Administered by the Ladies’ Visiting Association, their discretionary powers enabled them to provided some funds for the poorer applicants once discharged from hospital.

This large addition to the hospital was the first of many more projects that Marks’ estate provided for over the century.

Hyman Marks
Hyman Marks bust by William Trewethy Christchurch c. 1920
Hyman Marks bust by William Trewethy Christchurch c. 1920.

Born in Poland in 1834, Hyman Marks joined hundreds of thousands of other Jews in the great exodus after the Russians and Polish cleared farms, villages and cities of the Jewish population. Many of the Jewish refugees resettled in other parts of Europe, however Marks and his parents sailed to the colonies and settled in Christchurch. The Marks enjoyed great tolerance for their race and religion. He was so appreciative of the attitudes here, he soon became a fervent British patriot. Christchurch had a large community of Jews in the nineteenth century and the city’s large synagogue served a Russian, Polish and English Jewish community.

In his early days in the city, Marks established a shoe and boot business but later on, was listed as a ‘financial agent’ or money lender and land buyer in the local business directory. He received his certificate of naturalisation by the Governor General in 1861.

Hyman Marks married Bessie Barnett c.1861 in the living room of Mr. L. Nathan, whose home was used as a place of worship until a Jewish Synagogue was completed. Hyman’s father Mark Marks performed the ceremony – it was the first Jewish marriage to be solemnized in Christchurch.

This union produced no children. Hyman passed away from an illness on May 22nd, 1895 at the age of sixty at his home at 53 Hereford Street. With his friend and National Bank manager, Alexander Fergusson, he had organised to have his sizeable estate of £38,000 put into a trust which could be used “to fund local charitable, benevolent, deserving or laudable objectives as the Trustees think fit.”

Marks’ graveside funeral was held in the Jewish Section of the Linwood Cemetery at noon on May 24th, 1895. Amongst those present were His Worship the Mayor, Councillors Prudhoe and Stewart, the Superintendent of the Hospital Board Mr. W. Moor, Mr Ovenden the President and officers of the Jewish Congregation, his friend and bank manager Mr Ferguson, Messrs C. Kiver, P. Kippenberger, J. Shand and J.E. Hartle.

The coffin was carried to the grave by Messrs. Ferguson, P. Kippenberger, Cecil Louisson, P. Selig, B. Ballin, M. Sandstein, and A. Louisson.  The service was read by Mr. A. Falk who had conducted the services at the synagogue since the prior departure of the Rev. A. Chodowski.

His tall marble tombstone was engraved with the epitaph,

“He bequeathed his wealth to the poor and afflicted.”

Hyman Marks’ Grave at Linwood Cemetery

The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]  stated that the trustees were:-

“Messrs. C. Louisson and  A. Fergusson; Agent, Mr F. D. Kesteven. Offices, Chancery Lane, Christchurch. This wealthy and important trust was founded on 21st May 1895 under the will of the late Mr. Hyman Marks who left the whole of his large estate, valued at £38,000 in trust for charitable purposes.  The trustees were directed to erect the Marks’ Ward at the hospital, which has been duly completed at a cost of over £6,000 and to distribute the revenue arising from the properties demised, in perpetuity, for the relief of poverty and distress of every description, in which the trustees possess full discretionary power.  In giving effect to the objects of the testator much good has already been accomplished.”

His legacy still remains one of Christchurch’s most generous sources of funding, made fruitful to the present day by leasing and selling his city and rural real estate.  The last piece of real estate owned by the Marks Estate, was Les Mills Gymnasium building at 203 Cashel Street. It was sold by the trustees in 2007.

There are many conclusions one can make to Marks’ desire to give his fortune to the citizens of this city. The most obvious was his gratefulness to have lived in a place that was tolerant of his beliefs  – but it was the forward thinking of the Jewish community also that afforded many public spirited acts to be performed during this time.

An Arson at Work

To-day. The hospital is on fire in the ward known as “Hyman Marks,” a brick building. The burning roof has fallen in. The patients are all out. [6]

In 1908, the Hyman Mark’s Wing caught fire under suspicious circumstances. The ‘touched up’ photograph below, captures a scene that has more similarities to a carnival day than a real major disaster.  The huge crowd drawn to watch the burning building, seem oblivious to the great danger they are putting themselves under with the risk of falling masonry and collapsing walls.

The fire threatened to spread to the rest of the hospital, the fire brigade managed to keep it under control and within the confines of this annexe.

Disastrous Fire At the Christchurch Hospital, The Burning of the Marks Ward, Shortly After 10am, January 22, 1908 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19080130-11-3 p011_i003_b
Disastrous Fire At the Christchurch Hospital, The Burning of the Marks Ward, shortly after 10am, January 22, 1908. [7]
The photograph above has captured a dramatic moment as the fire seems to take over. Fortunately, when the fire was extinguished, the walls were left undamaged which allowed the  building to be renovated and used again for more than 90 years. It was known as Wards 6 & 7 in more recent times.  It was replaced during the 1980’s.  Below is an article taken from the newspaper and a view of Hyman Mark’s Wing upper verandah.

Fire in Christchurch Hospital, West Coast Times  Source: Past Papers, Putanga 14317, 24 Kohitātea 1908, Page 3
Fire in Christchurch Hospital, West Coast Times. [8]
The effects of this sensational fire necessitated extensive renovations and renewal work before the ward could be opened again. The design, inwardly and outwardly, remained unaltered, but in order to reduce the risk of future fires spreading, as it had done through the roof space, two brick partitions were made, extending from the inner walls of the ward to the roof, and were fitted with an iron door.

The ground floor did not suffer at all from the fire, not even the windows were broken, but suffered from water damage.

The smaller ward at the northern end used for eye cases, and the big Men’s surgical ward, were renovated.  A new staircase was put in. The old lift, a ‘noisy and annoying affair’ was destroyed in the fire and replaced with a new hydraulic lift.

The smaller children’s ward, situated high up in the building, opposite the Women’s Ward, required extensive work, and was brought back to its original condition.

All sorts of things were blamed for contributing to the fire: including a birds nest in the roof catching a spark from a chimney; the roofing felt, which was made of hair and straw felted with tar, spontaneously igniting from the heat of the sun; and the wiring system. During renovations, the wiring was encased in metallic conduits instead of wooden casings. Damage to the furnishings was not serious, so the refitting was a relatively simple matter.


  1. One photograph, Black and White, 16 x 21 cm 1314 CCL Photo CD 8, IMG0033 The Weekly Press, 11th July 1900, page 66IMG0033-1.
  2. Image: Private collection.
  3. Image: Private Collection.
  4. Photographer Frederick George Radcliffe Record ID 35-R295 Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 35-R295.
  5. The Weekly Press, September 17, 1896.
  6. Bush Advocate, Volume XX, Issue 927, 22 January 1908, Page 4.
  7. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19080130-11-3 p011_i003_b.
  8. Past Papers, Putanga 14317, 24 Kohitātea 1908, Page 3.

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