HUNTER, Sir Thomas Anderson, K.B.E.
Dental surgeon and founder of the School Dental Service.
A new biography of Hunter, Thomas Anderson appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Sir Thomas Hunter was born in Dunedin on 10 February 1863, the son of Alexander Hunter, an engineer, who came to New Zealand with his wife (Mary Sime) from Leith, Scotland, in the ship Pladda in the early 1860s. Educated at the Otago Boys' High School, he chose dentistry as a career and, as was essential in those days, was apprenticed to a Dunedin dentist, becoming registered in 1881. It is a tribute to his industry that his long years of private practice in Dunedin from 1881 until 1914 are still remembered as a conscientious and distinguished contribution to his profession. His concept of dentistry, however, was wider than the confines of his own surgery and it is in the broad vision of a health service to the community that he will chiefly be remembered. He took an active part in the inauguration of the New Zealand Dental Association in 1905 and was elected its first president. This was an important advance in the status of his profession, but of even greater significance was his association with the late Sir Thomas Sidey in establishing the Otago University Dental School. Parliamentary legislation quickly followed and a university education became an essential qualification for the practice of dentistry. Hunter later endowed this school with £10,000 for research purposes. When the New Zealand Dental Corps was established in the First World War, Lieutenant-Colonel (later Colonel) Hunter was appointed as its first Director, for which service he was awarded the C.B.E.
The culmination of his idealism and the activity for which he will probably be chiefly remembered was the inauguration of the School Dental Nurse Scheme whereby girls were trained to give limited treatment to school children. This was begun in 1920 with Sir Thomas as the first Director and is probably as great a contribution to general health as that given by any Government to its people. It was a new concept, revolutionary in many respects, and it was due to his advocacy that it gained the full support of the New Zealand Dental Association. Since then it has been copied in other countries. For his services he received a knighthood in 1946 and a presentation by the New Zealand Dental Association of a bronze bust which stands as a permanent memorial in the entrance hall of the Dominion School for Dental Nurses in Wellington. The British Dental Association made him an honorary member and, as recently as 1950, he received a letter of commendation from the Royal College of Surgeons.
On 6 September 1927, in St. John's Church, Trentham, Hunter married Greta, daughter of Charles Alfred Ewen, of Heretaunga, a local banker. Sir Thomas died at Golf Road, Heretaunga, on 29 December 1958.
His lighter activities have been overshadowed by his intense occupation with his profession – so much so that it almost appears that his choice of a residence at Heretaunga, cheek by jowl with a notable golf course, his appearance in a photograph as captain of the Otago rugby touring team in 1887, and a conductor's baton inscribed “Glee Club 1905 T.A.H.” should be mentioned in a whisper. His whole life was dedicated to the improvement of dental health and to him, more than any other man, must go the credit for the high standard of private and public dentistry in New Zealand.
by Thomas Vernon Anson, B.D.S., Dental Surgeon and Author, Wellington.
- New Zealand Dental Journal, Vol. 55 (Apr 1959) (Obit)
- School Dental Service Gazette, Vol. 14 (Jan 1959) (Obit)