Whistleblower of Howick

Nurse Arnaboldi’s gravestone in All Saints Graveyard.

Dora Arnaboldi was a very brave trainee nurse at Auckland Hospital who was called “the New Zealander of the year” in 1891.

She was the whistle-blower on the poor work of the medical superintendent Dr Floyd Collins for negligence in treating two patients who died.

The Auckland Hospital Board (all men) censured nurse Arnaboldi without bothering to even listen to her story, instead “they swept the story under the carpet”.

A reporter at the New Zealand Herald investigated her claims and published an editorial praising Nurse Arnaboldi. Other newspapers published her story and public support grew nation-wide.

Margarita Dorothea Arnaboldi [called Dora] was born in Howick in 1855. The Arnaboldi family lived in Wellington Street where her father had a general store. She attended the Howick Catholic School. Her older brother Corporal Philip Arnaboldi was killed at Passchendaele in France during World War I aged 20 years and his name is on the Stockade Hill monument.

Initially Nurse Arnaboldi took her concerns to The Auckland Hospital Board who exonerated their medical superintendent and censured Miss Arnaboldi without hearing any evidence.

But public demanded the full story. An inquiry was held in the Auckland City Customs House on February 9, 1891 with commissioners Sir Maurice O’Rorke and Dr Von Mirbach against Dr Collins claiming he committed errors of judgment deferring two amputations on two male patients with complaints by Miss Arnaboldi that “he was neglectful and unskilled”.

A Member of the House of Representatives, Mr Rees, wished to appear on behalf of Miss Arnaboldi, giving legal assistance, without charge. On January 27, the Governor sent a telegram directing the hearing to be adjourned for a fortnight. It had attracted national interest for her so-called “lack of discipline” by criticising her superiors in the hospital.

She “blamed the system” more than the doctors, who denounced her as an “impertinent meddler and a mutinous ignoramus…”. After the Hospital Board hearing, Dr Collins was given a small cash hand out and Nurse Arnaboldi was given a bag of 45 gold sovereigns from the admiring public of Auckland and Waikato for showing Christian sympathy for patients in hospital. Her conduct was considered honourable and praiseworthy.

During the hearing, it was revealed one patient had a crushed leg whose wounds were not dressed for 19 hours and, when his leg was amputated, the upper flap was left gangrenous according to other nurses in the hospital. There were other cases described by the nurses of similar neglect. The evidence was overwhelming.

Nurse Arnaboldi resigned from her work in Auckland Hospital and in April 1895 opened a Private Nursing Home and Hospital with a Miss Bates in Grafton Road, called “Puriri” especially for invalid and convalescent recovery giving patients special and skilled attention. In August 1895, Nurse Arnaboldi opened a cottage hospital in Waihi where gold mining attracted many optimistic labouring families.

She died in 1921 and is buried in the family grave in All Saints Churchyard opposite the Monterey apartments. Her family descendants still live in Howick. Her brave disclosure improved the standard of medical surgery and nursing in Auckland Hospital.

  • Alan La Roche, MBE
    Howick Historian
    alanlaroche@xtra.co.nz