William Daly (1799 – 1866)

Photograph by Berto Voigt

We don’t know where William Daly was born or who his parents were. His death certificate in 1866 gives his date and place of birth as 1799 in Ballinasloe, Galway – but this could be hearsay. His own account of his early life was that he studied medicine at various accredited schools in Britain but could not afford to take the final examination. Instead he took the less formal but well-travelled path to qualification as a medical doctor: apprenticeship as a surgeon in the army or navy.[1]

He arrived in the Cape of Good hope in 1831 and immediately he wrote to the Governor stating that his purpose in the Colony was to practice his profession as a Surgeon-Apothecary and Accoucheur. He lodged evidence of his studies and army service and the Colonial Medical Committee promptly granted his request.

Map found at wikimedia commons

Dr William Daly moved inland following the Diep River, North to the Swartland, a fertile region where a Dutch Reformed Church settlement had recently been renamed Malmesbury. In 1832 he petitioned the Governor for help to buy 2 erven of land – “encouraged by several of the Inhabitants of Zwartland and neighbouring Districts intends erecting an Apothecary Shop in the town of Malmesbury for the purpose of supplying that place and its neighbourhood with pure and genuine Medicine.”[2]

William and Barbara Magdalena Croeser married in 1833. He was 34; she was 14. Their first child, Johannes Gerhardus Lombard Daly was born in 1835 (Barbara now 16) and Ramsay L’Amy Daly, was born in 1837. The next child was only born 8 years later.

William Daly made a productive niche for the family in Malmesbury. This proved to be too great a lure for English doctors who had emigrated to the Cape only to find that there was not enough work in a population many of whom could not afford medical care or who still practised herbal remedies. In 1836 the Cape authorities passed Ordinance 12 which restricted the right of surgeon-apothecaries like William Daly to practise medicine. The Ordinance was never ratified in England and was later discarded there; in time the surgeon apothecary became the general practitioner in contrast to the socially well-connected, sometimes university qualified physician.

By 1841, William was being squeezed out of practice in Malmesbury by a newcomer. He wrote to the Governor:

Memorialist therefore humbly prayeth that Your Excellency may be pleased to permit him to practice the profession of Surgeon Apothecary in the Colony for which Memorialist has fully qualified himself not only through his studies in Europe but also through his arduous professional duties and long experience in the Colony.

Unfortunately Memorialist lodged his certificates (including a commission as Assistant Surgeon with a regiment at New Grenada) with the late Secretary of the Medical Committee and finds on diligent enquiry that the documents have been lost but memorialist could appeal to Drs Liesching and Laing who have seen them.

Drs Liesching and Laing had good standing as physicians in the Cape and William’s claim was warmly supported by the Magistrate who wrote:

… I am convinced there is scarcely an individual in the District that would not gladly bear testimony to his worth as a private individual, and his skill as a medical man.

He has … given the greatest satisfaction by his attention  and immediate charges during this period of the measles and small pox … he devoted his whole time and was particularly successful in his treatment of these diseases. In the hope that so useful a person will not be driven from the Country and deprived of his bread….

In pencil on this application was scribbled the decision of the Medical Committee:

“no diploma or certificate of examination from any university.”

There were energetic appeals even from members of the Medical Committee and a query from the Governor himself but they went nowhere. In correspondence William was now referred to as Mr not Dr. Medical practice was to be reserved for physicians, English trained. William remained unfailingly polite.

On 12th December 1845, still using very polite language, William Daly applied for the position of resident surgeon on Robben Island, off the West coast of the Cape:

I have the honor to inform you that I have for many years practised in this Colony as a private practitioner & also performed the Government (?business) at Malmesbury by the desire of the Resident Magistrate Captain Hill to whom I refer for my general character and standing in Society.

The Medical Committee have acknowledged to have received from me high testimonials of study – viz – from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Guys Hospital London and other Respectable Schools (which may be seen on reference to the Record Book of I think April 1831 – I however failed in my Application to obtain a License as Surgeon notwithstanding the favourable opinion of the Attorney General on seeing the Report of the Medical Committee. I was subsequently (on arrival of other Medical Men) obliged to remove from Malmesbury and practise at a distance of twenty miles – after giving general Satisfaction in this neighbourhood for upwards of twelve years.

There is no recorded response. The family moved further North to an isolated location, St Helena Bay. Here the next four children were born. William Daly became an energetic, if part-time Justice of the Peace. In 1854, he applied to be appointed as Resident Magistrate and in 1857 he was appointed Justice of the Peace at St Helena Bay. On 17 June 1866 Barbara Croeser Daly died, aged 47 years. Five days later William Daly also died. His death certificate lists his birthplace as Ballinasloe, Ireland and his profession as Doctor of Medicine. We honour that claim.

William and Barbara left six children, three of them minors. The family dispersed and may well have carried with them into the next decades a deep distrust of the British Administration.

[1] For  history of the confusions surrounding medical training in England see Joseph F. Kett, Provincial Medical Practice in England 1730–1815, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, Volume XIX, Issue 1, 1 January 1964, Pages 17–29, https://doi.org/10.1093/jhmas/XIX.1.17

[2] More details can be found for Cape of Good Hope and Malmesbury at wikipedia.

All other references come from the files held by the Cape Archives in Roelandt Street, Cape Town.