Mrs Ann Macintosh: colleague, friend and benefactor

28 November 2018
A celebration of her life
Ann is remembered not only for her great generosity, but also for her passion for anatomy and anthropology and for her loyalty to the Discipline of Anatomy and Histology and to the University.
Ann Macintosh

Ann Macintosh had a number of links with the University and the Sydney Medical School. Her paternal grandfather was Dr Robert Scot Skirving, a Sydney physician and surgeon who studied at the University of Edinburgh with Anderson Stuart and taught in the Department of Anatomy. Her maternal grandfather was Sir Edmund Barton, who was a Fellow of Senate of the University in the late 19th century and who was to become Australia’s first Prime Minister. Ann was also the widow of Professor N.W.G. Macintosh, Challis Professor of Anatomy at the University of Sydney. Ann was a secretary in the Department of Anatomy for 18 years (1947 – 1965) and later an Honorary Research Associate in the Department and a great benefactor to the University.

Early life

Ann Margaret Macintosh (nee Scot Skirving) was born on the 25 March 1922 in Woollahra Sydney. She was the second daughter of Robert and Stephanie Scot Skirving. She spent her childhood at a property 'Karoola' near Winton in North Western Queensland, was educated with the Queensland Correspondence School from 1929 until 1932 and then at Frensham School Mittagong in the NSW southern highlands from 1933 until 1939.

After leaving school she put up her age in order that she might enlist in the Australian Army with her sister Susan. She did VAD training at Royal Prince Alfred, Royal North Shore and Concord Hospitals from 1940 -1941. She served with the AIF from 1941 until 1946 in the VAD 2/6 AGH. Her war service took her to the Middle East, the Atherton Tableland and to British North Borneo. Her sister Susan Minchin died shortly after the war.

The Department of Anatomy

After being discharged from the Army, Ann trained as a secretary at the Metropolitan Business College in Sydney under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme from 1946 to 1947.

She heard that a secretary was wanted in the Department of Anatomy and presented herself, saying that she could start immediately – which she did. She became secretary to Professor Macintosh until they married in 1965. After resigning from the Department she assisted Professor Macintosh (Black Mac) in his research into the origins and variation of Aboriginal Australian people.

Ann always showed a keen interest in and knowledge of anatomy, physical anthropology and natural history. In fact, she accompanied Professpr Macintosh on field trips to such interesting places as the highlands of Papua New Guinea to make an anthropological survey of the indigenous people.

Ann was not just Macintosh’s widow but a force in her own right. After his death in 1977 she worked on completing some of Macintosh’s papers. She also acted as a voluntary assistant to Professor Elkin (in the Department of Anthropology) in production of the journal Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania. She wrote her grandfather Scot Skirving’s memoirs and a review of the dingo. She was also on the editorial committee of the Centenary History of the Sydney University Medical School.


In the late 1980s, Ann had decided to fund the refurbishment of the Shellshear Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Physical Anthropology, which was completed in 1992. Over the following years Ann also gave very freely of her time, cataloguing skeletons, casts, books, reprints and archives. As a result of her contributions, the Shellshear Museum was revitalised and has been used in the teaching of Physical Anthropology in the units of study, Comparative Primate Anatomy and Forensic Osteology, has attracted visiting researchers and postgraduate students and has been used as a resource for forensic scientists.

Ann’s other contributions to the Department of Anatomy and Histology, included the refurbishment of the Macintosh Dissection Rooms, the J.T. Wilson Museum of Human Anatomy, the Vesalian Lecture Theatre, and most recently our new dissecting rooms.

Her support of our graduate and postgraduate students extended to the establishment of the NG Macintosh Memorial Fund “for the support of research work in the Department of Anatomy and Histology, including the JL Shellshear Museum, preferably, when applicable for the support of young investigators”. While she took a specific interest in all of these projects, her gifts were always given with no strings attached.

She also established the NWG Macintosh Centre for Quaternary Dating to give the University tools to keep its work in anthropology at the cutting edge of its field. She also established the Centenary Fellowship, a bursary awarded for travel-based training of general staff.

Ann was not one to blow her own trumpet but she was a great benefactor not only to the University but also to other institutions. Ann was a major donor to many associations, especially those concerned with anthropology, medicine and animal welfare. She was the patron of the Australian Dingo Foundation.


In 1993 Ann was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney, was Foremost Benefactor of the University of Sydney and was made an Honorary Research Associate of Department of Anatomy and Histology. In 1998 she was made an Honorary Life Member of the Faculty of Medicine. Ann was very proud to have been given these honours. She once said that her ties to the Department of Anatomy were amongst her happiest and she felt a real affection for the Anderson Stuart Building.

Mrs Ann Macintosh died on Friday 1 July 2011 peacefully at home.