Medical Education in Nineteenth-Century Australia.


Dr Laurence Geary (University College Cork)


Medical Education in Nineteenth-Century Australia


Paper given at the symposium, ‘Medical training, student experience and the transmission of knowledge, c.1800-2014’, organised by Laura Kelly, at CHOMI, UCD, October 2014


For the first three-quarters of a century of white occupation of Australia, residents who wished to pursue a medical career had to obtain their qualifications overseas. Many were precluded from doing do because of the distance, time, inconvenience and expense involved. The first Australian medical school opened inauspiciously at the University of Melbourne in 1862, with two teachers, three enrolled students, and no buildings, followed by two other university schools, Sydney and Adelaide, in 1883 and 1885 respectively. As the Australian medical schools expanded and overcame their initial difficulties students were attracted to them in ever increasing numbers. By 1900, the Melbourne and Sydney schools had produced about 650 graduates between them and had another 500 students on their combined rolls. This paper traces the evolution of these schools, the influences on their development, and their gradual consolidation over the course of the nineteenth century.

Towards the end of 1862 George Britton Halford arrived from England to take up the Chair of General Anatomy, Physiology, and Pathology at the newly opened medical school at Melbourne University. Halford, one of the most distinguished experimental physiologists of the day, was expected to lend tone and character to the medical school and to add lustre to the university generally. In May 1863, six months following his arrival in Melbourne, Halford inaugurated his course of lectures by means of the traditional introductory address – one that proved to be verbose, rhetorical and platitudinous. He was also extremely short on the specifics of medical education that one might have expected on such a historical occasion. Shortly afterwards, Halford conducted the first anatomy class in the southern hemisphere. It took place in a hastily converted shed in his own backyard with three medical students and two qualified practitioners in attendance.

The Melbourne Medical School gradually developed from these humble beginnings but it was its counterpart in Sydney that was most immediately successful of three nineteenth-century Australian teaching and licensing bodies. This is almost entirely due to the determination and energy of the twenty-six-year-old Foundation Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, the Scottish-born and educated T.P. Anderson Stuart. Anderson Stuart’s ability, ambition and vision were matched only by his arrogance and conceit.

The Anderson Stuart building at The University of Sydney, 2009. Photo by Toby Hudson. Creative Commons Licence

The Anderson Stuart building at The University of Sydney, 2009. Photo by Toby Hudson. Creative Commons Licence

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