Thursday, July 12, 2018

Dr John Spark, (1853-1910) Katoomba’s First Doctor

Dr Spark’s official Katoomba Municipal Council photo 1893. Image courtesy Blue Mountains Historical Society
John Spark was born at Twickenham, Middlesex on August 8th, 1853, where his father held an extensive medical practice. John was the eldest son of a family of eight born to John and Emma née Pool, and with his sister Fanny, were the only survivors of childhood. At the age of 14, he lost his father, and was trained for the medical profession by his father's friends. He showed aptitude, and at the age of 18 was dispensing for a doctor with a large city practice.

Dr Spark, Lic. Soc. Apoth. Lond. 1875, M.R.C.S. Eng. 1875, trained at St Bartholomew's Hospital, gained the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries and was admitted Member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Later, at High Holborn, he conducted the city branch of a prominent West End doctor's practice, retaining the position for over seven years. He then went to Devonshire for a year, but the climate not suiting him, he took several trips to Australia and South America. Aged 30, he arrived in Australia as ship’s surgeon on the Lusitania in 1884, and within a year had established himself in Katoomba, being the only medical practitioner on the Mountains at the time (Obituary. 5 March 1910, Blue Mountain Echo).

According to the marriage certificate, in 1893  aged 39, John Spark married Johanna Cashman, 24, at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. She was a farmer’s daughter from Co. Cork Ireland. They went on to have seven children, all born in Katoomba. They were: Iris 1895, James 1897, Beatrice 1899, John 1900, Joan 1904, Edward 1905, Sheila 1907. 

In 1889 he advertised that he had moved to ‘St. Cyrus’ opposite the Carrington Hotel, near Katoomba Station, where he could be consulted daily. He could also be consulted at: Lawson at the Blue Mountain Inn on Wednesdays at 3 p.m., Wentworth Falls at Mr Gale's Store on Wednesdays at 4 p m and Blackheath at Victoria House on Thursdays at 11.30 a.m. Although his headstone reads SPARKE, he signed his name SPARK and his newspaper advertisement used the latter spelling.
The illuminated address presented to Dr Spark on his retirement, image courtesy of Ted Watts 
Described as a dapper and precise man, he was widely read and cultured, very kind and skilled as a doctor. He was instrumental in having the telephone service brought to Katoomba in 1899 and served as an alderman on Katoomba Municipal Council, Feb. 1893 – Feb 1899 and was elected Mayor, Feb. 1894 - Feb. 1895. He was appointed a Government Medical Officer and the President of the School Board as well as President and one of the founders of the School of Arts. He was a member of the Rifle Club, of which he was President 1898-1903, and was also a JP and served as a magistrate.

The name Dr Spark appears on many birth and death certificates of the time and in numerous newspaper reports of accidents and serious illness. In March 1902 he attended the death of Henry Cole who died from concussion after his horse bolted outside the Railway Hotel. Dr Spark also attended Henry’s daughter, Ruby Cole, who died aged eight in1910 after being kicked in the head by a horse outside her home in Clissold Street, Katoomba; Ruby was the step daughter of Ranger James McKay, builder of the Giant Stairway at Echo Point.

Dr Spark died age 56 on 1 March 1910, at his home, ‘Twickenham Villa’, Katoomba Street, Katoomba, leaving a wife and seven children. His obituary describes him as: ‘a professional man he will ever be remembered and loved, especially by the poor, to whom he was ever kind and thoughtful’. The funeral cortege was the largest ever seen on the Mountains and the cedar coffin with silver mountings, covered with magnificent wreaths, was led by local school children to the Anglican section of Katoomba cemetery where the service was conducted by  Rev JFS Russell according to the rights of the Church of England. The white marble headstone is an open book signifying the pages left unwritten. The ashes of his eldest son, James Hubert, who died in Melbourne in 1959, are also interred in the grave. John Sparke earned the love and esteem of his local community, to be remembered as “One of Katoomba’s noblest citizens” (obituary, 1910).

Dr Spark’s son Edward (Ted) Spark, who attended the Sisters of Charity School in Katoomba with his siblings, won  an exhibition from St Joseph’s College, Sydney and entered medical school at Sydney University, becoming in 1929 at the age of 23, the first Katoomba boy to become a doctor, incidentally winning the university prize for obstetrics (Blue Mountains Star, 1929).

Mrs Joanna Spark died at her residence in Bondi on 23 July 1931. She was described as ‘the widow of the late Dr. John Spark, formerly of Katoomba, and mother of Dr. E. Spark, of Bondi. A devoted Catholic, constant in the discharge of her religious duties, and charitable to the poor. Three sons and four daughters survive to mourn their loss, and great sympathy goes out to them in their sad bereavement. A Requiem Mass was celebrated for the repose of her soul at St. Patrick's Church, Bondi, Rev. Father John O'Farrell being the celebrant. The funeral left the home for Waverley Cemetery, accompanied by Rev. Father J. O'Farrell, who recited the last prayers at the graveside in the presence of the sorrowing relatives and a large number of friends.’ (Catholic Press, Thursday 13 August 1931, page 14)

Studio portrait of Dr Spark, image courtesy of Ted Watts 

Notes on Qualifications

M.R.C.S. = Member of the Royal College of Surgeons
Lic. Soc. Apoth. Lond. = Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries.

In addition to providing qualifications in, and regulation of, the trade of the apothecary and dispensing, the Apothecaries' Society offered primary medical qualifications until 1999. This began after the 1815 Apothecaries' Act, followed by further Acts of Parliament. The title of the original licence was Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA).

When the General Medical Council was established by statute in 1858, the LSA became a registrable qualification. From 1885, the examination included surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, which were required by law following the Medical Act of 1886, and in 1907 the title was altered by parliamentary act to LMSSA to reflect this. The Society ceased to be recognised by the General Medical Council as a provider of primary medical qualifications in 2008, although it had rarely issued any licences since 1999, the year the United Examining Board was abolished.

Notable people who qualified in medicine as a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (LSA) include the poet John Keats (1816), Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1865, thereby becoming the first openly female recipient of a UK medical qualification) and Nobel Prize winner Sir Ronald Ross KCB FRS (1881).

All full members of the Society or Guild, both terms are used, become Freemen of the City of London.


Correspondence with John Spark, a descendant of Dr Spark.


“Beyond the Vale – Dr John Spark” (obituary), Blue Mountains Echo (newspaper) 5 Mar 1910.

Blue Mountains Municipal Council, Register of Aldermen”. John Low, Blue Mountains City Library.

“Dr John Spark”, newspaper advertisements, The Mountaineer (newspaper), various: 1895 - 1900.

“Local Boy’s Success, First Doctor from Katoomba”, Blue Mountains Star (newspaper), 13 Sep 1929.

“Local Government Management and the Doctor, the contribution of Dr John Spark to the Municipality of Katoomba”. EW Watts, typescript in Local Studies files, later published by the author.

“The Mountains as a Health Resort, a medical man’s experience”. Dr John Spark, The Sydney Mail Saturday, December 12, 1896.

Our Past Blue Mountaineers: Katoomba Cemetery transcriptions. Blue Mountains Family History Society, 1996.   


DEATH OF DR. SPARK. (1910, March 1). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931), p. 5. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from

JOHN SPARK. (1910, March 5). Nepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962), p. 6. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from

Memorial to Dr. John Spark. (1910, March 12). The Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 - 1928), p. 4. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from

Mrs. Johanna Spark. (1931, August 13). The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1942), p. 14. Retrieved June 26, 2018, from


Newspaper Articles

Beyond the Vale. Dr. John Spark.
'Tis with feelings of deepest regret that we chronicle a visitation from the Grim Reaper, who took as His toll the soul of one of Katoomba's noblest citizens — Dr. John Spark, a gentleman who, for nearly a quarter of a century, faithfully tendered to the medical comforts of residents of this district, and who, during that term, was in the van of every movement having for its object the welfare of the advancement of the Mountains. The news of his death, which occurred early on Tuesday morning, shed a mantle of heavy gloom over the whole township. Deep and sincere regret was expressed in all circles, the consensus of opinion being that ' one of the best' had gone to the bourne that knoweth no return.

Some two years ago deceased sustained a paralytic stroke, from which he never properly recovered. Robbed of his old-time vitality and energy, the doctor of late was only a shadow of his former self, but, although in a weak state, the news of his sudden death came as a shock to his legion of friends. The funeral, which left his late residence, Twickenham Villa, on Wednesday after- noon, was the largest ever seen on the Mountains. All business premises were closed out of respect, and the cortege, which was headed by the school children, was the emblematical of the love and esteem in which deceased was held.

The preacher advised all to look forward, as deceased did, to the brighter happiness of a higher sphere of life, and rejoice at his attainment to it. While in the flesh, deceased always took a very keen interest in all that was to the advancement of his fellow citizens. He worked hard, under severe physical disability, in all that was for the welfare of the community. He concluded by stating that it remained for those left behind, as far as was in their power, to do what they could to make the lives of those who were under his immediate care, prosperous and happy. The coffin was covered with magnificent wreaths from all places along the Mountains, and many a tear was shed as the coffin was lowered from sight. In 1885, the late Dr. Spark was granted the Freedom of the City of London.
Beyond the Vale. (1910, March 5). The Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 - 1928), p. 7. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from

The Late Dr. Spark
On the first of last March there passed away at Katoomba one of the most patriotic and philanthropic citizens who has ever lived on the Blue Mountains. Ever ready to sacrifice his health and comfort to minister to the wants of his fellow-beings, no sordid considerations dared to obtrude themselves when the cry of pain or distress reached his ears.

Though never of robust constitution, for more than twenty years he braved the rigors of many severe winters, and no path was ever too dark or too perilous, and no sufferer too insignificant when there was a chance of bringing relief to the afflicted. Well might it be said of him, in the words of the poet that it was his highest wish – ‘To learn the luxury of doing good.’ Indeed, it was the only luxury that Dr. Spark seemed to care for. His purse was as ready to assist the sufferers as his soul was to pity them, and his large-hearted charity endeared him to many a poor creature ‘fallen by the wayside’.

 In all matters for the advancement of the town and district, he was untiring in his efforts. It would be hard to say how much the intellectual, the social and the sporting sides of our life are indebted to him. His guiding hand can be traced in many of our institutions, and many of the ‘old hands’ are never tired of quoting him as an authority on the subject that lies nearest to their hearts. Without doubt, they are right. A great reader and a deep thinker, he was ever ready to help with any knotty problem that was brought to him for solution, and it was an intellectual treat to spend an hour with him in discussing any interesting subject. At those times, not-withstanding his bodily infirmities, his eyes would sparkle and his humour be-come irresistible when recounting some reminiscence or story with which to clinch his point. Time seemed to fly all too fast when the Doctor was in a story-telling mood.

A few weeks after his death, some of his friends met in public meeting, and decided, among other things, to erect a suitable memorial over his grave. This has now been accomplished. The execution of the work was entrusted to Mr Rose, of Wollongong, and he has carried out his work to the satisfaction of the commit-tee The design is simple and chaste, and such as the Doctor himself would choose. It is in book form, and bears, the following inscription:

‘Sacred to the Memory of Dr. JOHN SPARK, M.R.C.S., who departed this life at Katoomba on 1st March, 1910, aged 56 years. At Rest.’ On the pedestal is inscribed: ‘Erected by his numerous friends in token of their esteem, and in recognition of sterling services to the town of Katoomba.’

For many a year to come those who have experienced his sympathy and generosity will linger by that simple little monument, and recall with reverence the noble and unselfish life which endeared Dr. Spark to all who came in contact with him. May the Mountain winds against which he battled so bravely, on many an errand of mercy, sigh gently over his grave! And may his good example inspire all of us to do whatever we can to help the suffering! Vale ! Dr. Spark. Vale !

Blue Mountain Echo (NSW : 1909 - 1928), Saturday 19 November 1910, page 10

Mrs. Johanna Spark.
Mrs. Johanna Spark, a well-known and highly-esteemed resident of Bondi, died at her residence, 54 Imperial Avenue, Bondi, on Thursday, 23rd ult. She was the widow of the late Dr. John Spark, formerly of Katoomba, and mother of Dr. E. Spark, of Bondi. Mrs. Spark was a devoted Catholic, constant in the discharge of her religious duties, and charitable to the poor. Three sons and four daughters survive to mourn their loss, and great sympathy goes out to them in their sad bereavement. A Requiem Mass was celebrated for the repose of her soul at St. Patrick's Church, Bondi, Rev. Father John O'Farrell being the celebrant. The funeral left the home for Waverley Cemetery, accompanied by Rev. Father J. O'Farrell, who recited the last prayers at the graveside in the presence of the sorrowing relatives and a large number of friends. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. W. N. Bull. — E.I.P.
Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1942), Thursday 13 August 1931, page 14

John Merriman, Local Studies Librarian, Blue Mountains City Library, 2018.

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