As early as 1855, a Creole doctor, Charles Louis Gabriel is recorded as attending several members of surveyor Darke's family at Belgrave. This pioneer doctor cared for the sick on the Macleay for many years and was held in great esteem in the community.
Although not registered to practice medicine in New South Wales, Dr Gabriel had some formal training and much experience when he came to Kempsey.
Charles Louis Gabriel was born in Martinique, part of the French West Indies, in July 1819. He was apprenticed to Dr L'Estrange there, attended the hospital at Fort Royal then moved to France to continue his medical studies at Montpelier. He had to leave because of a lack of finances and then served as surgeon on a French whaler before landing in the South Sea Islands. There he practised medicine under the auspices of the French Catholic Mission.
He came to New South Wales and the Macleay in 1847 where he was to practice for 36 years.
Charles had originally come to Kempsey to manage a store owned by Messrs Ellis and Tozer, but, seeing the great need for a local doctor, was soon practicing medicine here. In 1851, he became a naturalised citizen of the Colony of New South Wales. Three years later, he must have considered leaving the district but a petition signed 12 April 1854 by most of the prominent citizens of the town evidently persuaded him to stay.
A petition signed 12 April 1854 by most of the prominent citizens of the town evidently persuaded him to stay
For many years, Dr Gabriel was the only doctor on the Macleay until he was joined by Dr George Gildea, shortly before the opening of the Macleay District Hospital in 1881. In the early days, Dr Gabriel had to carry out most of his visits to the Lower Macleay on the river until roads were improved. He would also travel to the Nambucca for a time to treat patients there.
On 12 June 1854, Charles married Rhoda Emma Rudder, eldest daughter of Enoch William and Emma Rudder, at St Andrews Presbyterian Church, Port Macquarie. The couple built a house on the bank of the Macleay River just below Enoch Rudder's house on the hill at East Kempsey.
In the 1864 flood, however, they had to leave the house and move to Enoch Rudder's home for safety when floodwaters rose a metre above the level of their verandah. They then moved to another house at the southern end of Tozer Street, West Kempsey.
Charles and Rhoda had fourteen children, of whom six tragically died in infancy. Charles' eldest son, also named Charles Louis Gabriel, graduated from Edinburgh University in 1885, winning the Materia Medica First Prize there.
Charles junior was welcomed back to Kempsey in 1885 by a banquet at Basche's Royal Hotel. The assembled townspeople expressed their hope for Charles Junior to remain in Kempsey for another 30 or 40 years but this was not to be. After he was entered in the register of medical practitioners in New South Wales on 10 March 1886, Charles Louis Gabriel Junior left Kempsey to take over the hospital at Gundagai.
Dr Gabriel passed away in 1902 and is buried with Rhoda in the Catholic Section, East Kempsey Cemetery. He and Rhoda had extensive land interests, the East Kempsey part of which was put up for auction in 1912 as the Gabriel Estate. Gabriel Street (later Gabriel Avenue), East Kempsey was named after them.