Saint Francis' Hospital Katete, Zambia
Saint Francis' HospitalKatete, Zambia

The History of Saint Francis’ Hospital

by James Cairns FRCS OBE

The Beginning: July 1947 - December 1952

St Francis’ Hospital planned as a training hospital before its inception was the brain child of the Revd Dr Francis Trefusis whose family came from Cornwall, England. His father was Bishop of Crediton, Devon. His enthusiasm to start the hospital was shared by the Bishop of Northern Rhodesia, (to become Zambia) the Rt Revd Robert Selby Taylor, CBE who was translated to Pretoria in 1952, and then to Grahamstown. Later he became Archbishop of Cape Town. In ‘retirement’ he served as Bishop of Central Zambia, one of the three dioceses of Zambia at the time.



Fr Francis Trefusis trained for the priesthood at Oxford University and Cuddeston Theological College and joined the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) in 1914. He started work in the Diocese of Nyasaland (Malawi) the same year, but had to return to Britain after six months because of an eye problem. During World War I he served as a Chaplain to the Forces in Britain. In 1918 he was declared fit and returned to Nyasaland. He made a film of the life of the church there which was shown first in Torquay, Devon in 1925. After this he stayed in England to train as a medical doctor because of his conviction that he must respond to the pressing health needs of the people of Africa as part of the Gospel message He qualified BM ChB (Oxon) in 1930 and returned to the Diocese of Nyasaland.

Francis Trefusis combined medical and pastoral work until 1937 when he was asked to be Principal of the new St Paul’s Teaching Training College at Liuli, Tanganyika (later Tanzania). He planned the buildings, supervised their construction and worked as a priest and doctor. This included care of the hospital, two leprosy settlements and outreach work to other hospitals and health centres in the Archdeaconery.


By 1940 he found himself unable to fulfil all these responsibilities and was glad to hand over the outreach medical work to Dr Wigan. In 1942 he resigned from St Paul’s to devote his life to medical work.


Plans were made to build a training hospital at Liuli which was supported by the Government of Tanganyika. However early in 1946 it became clear that the church and government together could not raise sufficient funds for the project, so it was abandoned. Fr Trefusis was asked to move to Northern Rhodesia and went to Msoro in December 1946. The bishop was hoping to develop the medical work in the Eastern Province. There were tentative plans to find a suitable site for a training hospital. At Msoro Fr Trefusis was welcomed by Fr James Robertson OBE, later General Secretary of USPG and Fr Charles Williams.

Searching for sites

During the next five months, the first three during the rainy season when some roads, hardly worthy of the name were impassable, journeys were made on foot. The three priests visited sites in the Msoro, Jumbe (a distance of 70 kms) and Petauke-Mzenje (100 kms) areas. They failed to find a suitable place.

New Development Area Training Centre at Katete

During 1947, after Fr Williams had left, the Bishop came to stay at Msoro bringing the news that the Provincial Commissioner of the Eastern Province, Mr Ronald Bush, wished them to consider a site in the Katete area, near the Great East Road. A new Government Development Area Training Centre was planned near the Mphangwe hills to provide courses in building, carpentry, forestry, domestic science and basic economics for farming. The Anglican Church leaders expressed some worry since it was a traditional area of work of the Roman Catholic and Dutch Reformed Church (later Reformed Church in Zambia).


Thereafter following consultation with the Paramount Chief of the Chewa and the other churches a possible site was discussed with Mr Bush, Bp Robert and Fr Trefusis. In July 1947 a meeting was held chaired by the Provincial Commissioner with the Bishop, Fr James Robertson, representatives of the Roman Catholic and Dutch Reformed Churches, local government and farming communities. All agreed on the site which had been vacated recently by Alicki village The villagers had moved to a place 6 kms north east because they wished to cultivate more fertile fields. At the site there was a tall anthill which Fr Robertson climbed to take a bearing for Msoro using the advice of a local man. This direction turned out to be accurate. To Msoro it is 60 kms as the crow flies.

Among the advantages of the site was the dense population of Katete District where there were no medical facilities at the time. Communications were good because of the proximity to the Great East Road between Lusaka and Fort Jameson (later Chipata) and Nyasaland (Malawi). The site is 7 kms from the Mphangwe hills which rise to 5,200 ft (1,585 m); and is itself at 3,400 feet (1,035 m), and has good water supplies. There are three streams and a spring on the 500 acre plot and therefore was expected to have suitable land for building. Further the government planned that a road be constructed from Katete to Msoro.


Fr Trefusis’ vision is recorded in his own writings

“In this hospital I hope we shall try not only to follow in the footsteps of St Francis, but also to train medical orderlies, infused, as much as in us lies, with His Spirit. The names of the blocks and wards, the pictures on the wall, the teaching, and everything that can be so turned, will be a perpetual reminder of our patron saint. We want to try and saturate the place with St Francis. All this will be to set before the students something more solid than the prevailing example of ‘grab’ to which they fall such easy victims. We shall try to teach them that, while the labourer is worth of his hire, the work, and even their own folk, are important too. If we can accomplish that - it will not be easy - then we shall not have laboured in vain. Then, when trained and, we hope, with a little of St Francis in them, we intend to send them into the villages to start up dispensaries as we now have schools. That is what we are aiming at. In the villages St Dominic should find a new ally, and the people perhaps a new inspiration. What a dream! Pray God it may come true.”


In 1947 Bp Robert Selby Taylor wrote

The primary purpose of the new hospital, which we are planning on a more ambitious scale than any of our previous medical work, is the provision of African hospital staff. There is a very great need for trained African medical staff. So far as men are concerned, the Government is trying to meet this need at the Health Department’s Medical Training School in Lusaka, but the Director of Medical Services and other authorities feel that the training of women can be done better by Missions than by Government. At Katete we are hoping to do our share in training women.”


Later the question would have to be resolved whether male orderlies would be trained to run dispensaries, alongside the many primary schools which the church had started, or fulfil the Government’s wish that female nurses be trained.

Surveying and Planning

In July 1947 Fr Trefusis pitched his tent at the site, and with a group of local men started surveying the area. The bush was cleared yet preserving most of the big trees, and a steam engine. Also a dam was built about ½ km towards the hills on the South Matanta stream, 1 km downstream from the spring which is its source. Temporary pole and dagga (mud) houses with simple thatched roofs were erected. This would be the only staff housing initially. Clinical work did not start because of the demands of the construction work.


Fr Trefusis drew a master plan showing the future development of the hospital. It was planned round a large circle about 300 yards in diameter, with the future hospital to the north in blocks aligned east to west so that heat from the sun would be minimal inside the buildings. The area to the west was reserved for accommodation of trainees, to the south and east staff housing. Access from the Great East Road, at first 1.5 km away, was to the south. A few years later the main road was realigned bringing it a half km to the south of the hospital circle.

Foundations for Front Block

Early in 1948 the foundations of the front block had been laid and the first two staff houses completed. In May Sr Dorothy Palmer RN RM, who had worked at the Jane Furze Hospital in the Transvaal, South Africa, and Sr Denise Homfrey joined the staff. Clinical work was started by the Sisters on the veranda of Fr Trefusis’ house. The 50th anniversary held on Saturday 27th June 1998 were timed from the start of regular health services. Sadly Sr Denise had to return to Britain because of ill health in November 1948.


Soon temporary buildings were constructed to serve as the dispensary, examination room and an injection room, also for in patients and their relatives. This was done close to the first two staff houses. One of these houses still exists - ‘Philippa Dodwell’ rondavel.


In 1949 the first orderlies started work. They were Nicholas, Denis, Harrison and James. They started in service training with a view to becoming health worker/evangelists.


Sr Mina Mounsey, RN RM came for a few months before moving to health centre at Msoro. Later she married Fr James Robertson. Sr Dorothy Palmer was the only trained nurse thereafter until the arrival of Sr Celia Hanford to be Sister Tutor in November 1949.


Early 1950 Fr Trefusis’ sister, Hilda who was an artist, came for a holiday. She painted the mural of St Francis and the sick which was placed above the entry to the front block of the hospital. She climbed up the scaffolding made of poles, linked together by the inner bark from local trees. She designed and helped to prepare the lettering ‘ST FRANCIS’ HOSPITAL’, and the weather vane of a leaping impala.. Many years later she gave to the hospital several water colours she had painted at this time. They are to be seen hanging in the Senior Staff Mess and show the inside of the first two brick houses in building. Today these houses are to be seen next to each other to the south side of the Midwifery pupils hostel. There is also a picture of the partially completed front block and the steam engine.


During 1950 two doctors came each for a few months, Dr Nichols who moved to the provincial hospital at Fort Rosebery (later Mansa), Luapula Province. Dr Kingdon returned to Britain because his wife became ill.

Early funding

Initially funds to make a start were given by the Trefusis family and Bishop Robert. Early in 1950 the Beit Trust made a capital grant of £5000 and UMCA £1000. On 3rd June 1950 Mr Cooke of the Beit Trust laid the foundation stone of the front block intended for administration out patients and classrooms.


In May 1950 Mr Hubert Jebbett, arrived on transfer from the Diocese of Zanzibar. He had joined UMCA in 1929 and worked in Zanzibar until 1936, when he took up the post of Clerk of Works at building sites in the City of London. He held City of Guilds of London certificates in architecture, also carpentry and joinery. He returned to Zanzibar in 1946 to be Instructor at the Kawinda Trades School. He also designed and supervised the building of several churches and others buildings in the diocese.


At St Francis; he took on responsibility for buildings, engineering and accounts. He made beautiful plans using a wash in pastel shades. The one of the Chapel hangs in the Senior Staff Dining Room. His arrival allowed Fr Trefusis to concentrate on pastoral and medical work. With Hubert Jebbett came his wife Jean, a nursing sister and their son, John. Mrs Jebbett started work in the hospital without delay.

Arrival of Builders and Carpenters from Malawi

During the years 1948 to 1952 a team of builders and carpenters belonging to the Yao tribe came from Makanjila on the south-east shores of Lake Malawi. This group was headed by Mr Swizani Banda. Most stayed for many years and some are still employed at St Francis’.


The hospital buildings are a tribute to Mr Jebbett and his building team. He was awarded an MBE in 1963 and finally returned to Britain because of ill health in 1965.


After Mr Jebbett left the building team led by Mr Suzani Banda were able to continue all construction undertaken at St Francis’. Mr Banda took over as Clerk of Works and remained in post until December 1996 when he retired to live in a house near the hospital. Sadly he died in the hospital on 12th April 1997 after a short illness, aged approximately 67 years. Despite 2 years schooling he became an excellent leader of the building team.

Early Out Patient Attendances and Admissions

In 1949 there were 75 out patient attendances per day and 700 in patient admissions. Early in 1950 the rains were very heavy. The in patients had to move out of their temporary housing on the east of the circle which was flooded out, into the east end of the front block planned for classrooms. Huts for the relatives were erected behind these buildings.

Start of Nurse Training

In May 1952 nurse training was started working for a 2 year practical course with a hospital certificate.

By the end of 1951 the following permanent buildings had been completed

  • The front block (Administration, Training and |Out Patients)
  • Two Staff houses
  • The Senior Staff Mess
  • The General Women’s Ward (50 beds) ‘ St Monica’

There were also 30 small pole and dagga (mud) houses for patients and relatives.

The Senior Staff consisted of

  • The Revd Dr Francis Trefusis, Priest/Medical Officer
  • Miss Dorothy Palmer RN RM, Matron
  • Miss Celia Hanford RN RM, Sister tutor
  • Mrs Jean Jebbett RN, Nurse
  • Mr Hubert Jebbett, Builder/Accountant
  • Mr Swithun Banda, Clerk of Works

An eventful year - 1952

On 30 January the first lecture was held for Nurses in the permanent classroom. On 5 February the dam burst; thereafter the only water supply was a well, and rainwater producing a major crisis. However, on 23 February drilling of the first borehole was commenced and was completed on 20 March. On test it produced 1,100 gallons per hour. A small diesel powered engine and pump were fitted which provided sufficient and very clear water. The dam was never re-built.


On 5 February Dorothy Palmer fell ill with dysentery and was sent to the hospital at Fort Jameson (Chipata), thence to Lusaka,. She returned well after four weeks.


Early in the same year Fr Trefusis returned from overseas leave. A decision was made to concentrate on the training of female nurses. Entry to the course required a Standard VI certificate (8 years’ schooling). The qualification of Medical Assistant would be awarded after 3 years’ training and passing examinations set by the Ministry of Health each year. As a result of this Dr Trefusis decided to leave the hospital. He offered to work in the Diocese of Mashonaland, Rhodesia at Sipilolo under his old friend Bishop Edward Paget, the first Archbishop of Central Africa. He worked in Rhodesia for several years as a priest before returning to England where he died on 6.11.1962.


Fr Trefusis left Katete in great sadness on 14 March 1952. However it was his vision and determination that led to the founding of St Francis’ Hospital and its training schools. The Franciscan connection was to live on under the new Bishop of Northern Rhodesia, Oliver Green Wilkinson a Tertiary of the Anglican Society of St Francis (SSF) and through Dr James and Mrs Faith Cairns, Companions and later Tertiaries of the SSF. Mr Hubert Jebbett was appointed Missionary in Charge, a post he held until his retirement in 1965.


On 4 May Dr Harrison, Assistant Director of Medical Services visited. Official recognition of the Nurse Training School was granted. It was the second in the country, the first being at the Salvation Army Hospital, Chikankata in the Southern Province.


On 13 May Bishop Oliver came for the first time with his sister, Prudence. During this visit sites were decided for the Chapel, a doctor’s house (The White House), the operating theatre and houses for middle grade staff. The Governor Sir Gilbert and Lady Rennie visited on 13 June during a tour of the province. Following the visit the Government gave a capital grant of £5000.


30th September saw the arrival of the first 4 student nurses, two to do the full three year course (Lois Mataka and Jesilina Mazala) and two for the two year practical training. Official duty hours for nurses commenced . ‘Early shift’ 0900 - 1400 and ‘Late shift’ 1400 - 2100. Sisters worked from 0730 to 1300 and 1400 to 1600.


The arrival of Dr Eileen Welcher on 14.11.1952 was of great importance. There had been no medical officer for 8 months. The future of the hospital and the fledgling nurse training school had been under threat. Sadly Dorothy Palmer had to leave due to ill health on 5 December. Her presence during the difficult times at the beginning were very important to the future of the hospital

During 1952 the following buildings had been completed

  • The Men’s General Ward (50 beds) St Augustine
  • Home for a Senior Medical Orderly
  • New engine house, with pump and Ruston diesel engine for the borehole.

In five and a half years the hospital had developed from a clearing in the bush to an institution with two well built blocks with wards for 100 in patients, out patients, administration offices and a training school for nurses.


Problems due to lack of finance, ill health and a very small staff who had to live under very difficult circumstances and subject to frequent illness had been overcome.


Fr Trefusis’ well made plans for future development had become a viable reality.

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