Prologue: The Foundation of the Faculty by John Atherton Young and Nina Webb

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by John Atherton Young and Nina Webb


The Faculty of Medicine comes into being

The Faculty of Medicine at Sydney University formally came into being on 13 June 1856 when the Senate appointed a Board of Examiners including Professor John Smith, the Professor of Chemistry and Experimental Physics, and eight medical practitioners of Sydney for the purpose of conducting examinations for award of the degrees of Bachelor and Doctor of Medicine. Under the by-laws adopted on 3 December 1855 the Board was to constitute the Faculty of Medicine for the time being and the senior Professor on it (Smith was in fact the only Professor on it) was to become Dean of the Faculty of Medicine.

The Faculty of Medicine at Sydney is thus the oldest Faculty of Medicine in Australia and New Zealand, antedating Melbourne’s by five years (founded 1861, Medical School opened 1863), Dunedin’s by nineteen years (founded 1875) and Adelaide’s by twenty nine years (founded 1885). Notwithstanding this early beginning, the Faculty in Sydney did not confer its first MB degree by examination until 1866, its first MD by examination until 1868, or its first ad eundem gradum degree until 1881, and did not open its Medical School until 1883, whereas Melbourne, despite its later start, had already conferred an ad eundem degree by 1856 (even before setting up by-laws to regulate award of medical degrees), had conferred MBs by examination by 1862 and had opened the doors of its Medical School by 1863. Oddly enough, however, Melbourne did not create a Faculty and appoint a Dean until 1876. The explanation for the long delay between the foundation of the Faculty at Sydney and the opening of the Sydney Medical School is complex and forms the substance of the first two chapters of this book.

Sydney in the 1800s

By the late 1840s Sydney was a town with a population of over 50,000. It had a military and a civil hospital, a lunatic asylum (at Gladesville), several schools (including the Sydney College, later to become the first site of the University), places of worship, entertainment halls, a constabulary and law courts, and a Legislative Council. Thus, after fifty years of existence, the town provided its citizens with the necessities and even some luxuries. However, there was an obvious lack—an institution of higher learning.

The question of establishing a College or a University arose in the 1820s when Earl Bathurst instructed the then Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, to set aside land for education purposes. One result was the foundation of the Sydney College in 1830. By 1833, however, when the College was officially opened, there was competition from The King’s School at Parramatta and from Lang’s Australian College.

Secondary education suffered setbacks in the 1840s and the Sydney College languished. As a result, in 1849, the proprietors of the almost defunct college, among whom was William Charles Wentworth, petitioned the Legislative Council to convert the College into a University. In the Legislative Council, on 6 September 1849, William Charles Wentworth moved ‘that a select committee be appointed to inquire into the matters contained in the petition of the proprietors of the Sydney College, and to report upon the best means for instituting a University for the promotion of literature and science, to be endowed at the public expense’.

Owing to Wentworth’s drive and eloquence, a Select Committee was formed and set to work at once. The terms of reference of this committee were wider than had been proposed in Wentworth’s original motion since all mention of the petition of the Sydney College was deleted. Doubtless it was well known that Wentworth had a financial interest in the College and that his investment might be saved if the state were to buy the College building. The Committee’s recommendations, which were presented two weeks later, and surely came almost entirely from Wentworth’s hand, were in the main accepted.

The 1850 University Act of Incorporation

A year later, after one proposed Bill had been shelved, the University Act of Incorporation was passed, thereby bringing into being, in October 1850, Australia’s first institution of tertiary education. Only three years later, Melbourne was to follow suit. The sections of the Act of Incorporation relevant to medicine (XII and XIII) read as follows:

XII And be it enacted, That for the purpose of granting the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine, and for the improvement of Medical Education in all its branches, as well as in Medicine as in Surgery, Midwifery, and Pharmacy, the said Senate shall from time to time report to the Governor and Executive Council for the time being of the said Colony, what appear to them to be the Medical Institutions and Schools, whether corporate or unincorporated, in the City of Sydney, from which either singly or jointly with other Medical Institutions and Schools in the said Colony or in Foreign parts it may be fit and expedient, in the judgment of the said Senate, to admit candidates for Medical degrees, and on approval of such report by the said Governor and Executive Council, shall admit all persons as candidates for the respective degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and Doctor of Medicine, to be conferred by the said University, on presenting to the said Senate a certificate from any such institution or school to the effect that such candidate has completed the course of instruction which the said Senate, from time to time, by regulation in that behalf, shall prescribe.

XIII And be it enacted, That the said Senate shall have power after examination to confer the several degrees of Bachelor of Arts, Master of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, Doctor of Laws, Bachelor of Medicine, and Doctor of Medicine, and to examine for Medical Degrees in the four branches of Medicine, Surgery, Midwifery and Pharmacy, and that such reasonable fee shall be charged for the degrees so conferred as the said Senate, with the approbation of the said Governor and Executive Council, shall from time to time direct;… It is evident that the Legislative Council envisaged that the University would fulfil an examining and licensing role and that it would lay down minimum standards and perhaps outline a suitable course or courses of instruction for each teaching institution to follow in order to gain accreditation. It was envisaged that the actual teaching would not be done by the University itself but rather in the accredited institutions. It is also clear that the Act intended the University to examine not only in medicine but also in surgery, midwifery and pharmacy (the term pharmacist was understood in those days to encompass apothecaries or general practitioners and not merely druggists who dispensed only other people’s prescriptions). Whether these provisions imply that the University was to issue licenses to practise for the several branches, supplementary to the conferring of the Bachelor’s or Doctor’s degree, is not clear.

The establishment of five Foundation Chairs

The report of the Select Committee recommended the establishment of five foundation chairs and indicated what salary each Professor ought to receive. They were:

a A Professor of Classics and Mathematics who should also be Principal of the University College (£800 p.a.); b A Professor of Chemistry (£400 p.a.); c A Professor of Natural History (envisaged to embrace zoology, botany, geology and mineralogy) (£400 p.a.); d A Professor of Experimental Philosophy and Civil Engineering (£400 p.a.); e A Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Medicine (£300 p.a.).

The reason for the proposed lower salary for the medical Professor might be taken as reflecting a social bias against Medicine although this seems unlikely coming from Wentworth, a surgeon’s son. It seems more likely that it allows for the fact that a medical practitioner would be able to supplement his income from private practice as was the case in Britain. (Indeed the first Professor of Anatomy and Physiology, T. P. Anderson Stuart, did take an appointment at the Children’s Hospital from 1884 to 1891, but this was an honorary post and he does not seem to have had much private practice, if any.) In addition, of course, it was customary for all Professors to receive a part of each student’s tuition fees so that large medical classes would have brought a larger income with them.

Despite the advocacy of the medically qualified Fellows of the new Senate, it was decided initially to concentrate on the development of the non-professional curriculum by proceeding only with the appointment of three Professors, one in Classics, one in Mathematics and one in Chemistry and Experimental Physics. Thus the proposed professional chairs in geology, engineering and medicine were dispensed with and the proposed combined chair of classics and mathematics was divided into two. It is said that, had Senate proceeded to appoint a Professor of Natural History, the candidate to whom it would have been offered would have been Thomas Henry Huxley, then a young man1, but in this early period, not even preliminary consideration seems to have been given to possible candidates for a medical chair. Of course it should be stressed that Chemistry was, at that time, regarded as closely related to Medicine and, indeed, the Foundation Professor of Chemistry turned out to have a Doctorate in Medicine from Aberdeen. Similarly, at Melbourne University, the Lecturer in Chemistry, the Hon. John Macadam, who was an MD from Glasgow, had been appointed to the Medical School in 1862 before its opening. When he died, his successor, John Drummond Kirkland, who graduated in Medicine from Melbourne in 1872, was appointed Lecturer in 1866, and Professor of Chemistry in 1882. Until Kirkland died in 1886, Chemistry at Melbourne remained exclusively a medical subject.

Exclusion of the medical chair as foundation appointment

The reasons for exclusion of the medical chair from the foundation appointments at Sydney University are various. Whilst there was extremely strong support for the establishment of a medical school— from W. C. Wentworth in particular—there was also considerable opposition. This came from a number of quarters and was ostensibly based on different grounds, but even a cursory examination reveals the existence of an overriding social bias against medical practitioners in general, combined with a fair measure of personal enmity against the school’s leading proponents. From the very beginning of the University’s existence, there was a body of opinion which saw higher education as being in effect synonymous with Arts2. This view was restricted neither to the colonies nor to the 19th century. Nor indeed, has it been confined to a particular stratum of society, although it is generally associated with leisured class notions of not having to make education useful. In Sydney in the mid-19th century, however, the notion was a convenient one for reinforcing various self interests. Thus, there were many practitioners who, not having University degrees themselves, still preferred the older system of apprenticeship training which was followed by a period of study eventually leading to an examination for a licence conducted by one of the British medical corporations. There were also those who did not relish the prospect of the University’s meagre annual endowment of £5000 being further attenuated by the establishment of an additional chair, especially when the chair was to be in a professional area such as Medicine. It should be stressed, however, that the Senate’s decision to delay filling the medical chair was part of a general reaction against all the professional disciplines. Wentworth may have wanted professional schools but establishment figures such as Nicholson and James Macarthur were more concerned to create an institution that would train a new generation of cultivated conservative gentlemen, an educated elite who would fill the ranks of society and of government in the next generation.

There was another even stronger reason for the opposition to the establishment of a Medical School at the time of the University’s foundation. Among the prominent colonial figures of the first half of the 19th century were William Redfern and William Bland. Both were successful medical practitioners and both suffered in their social ambitions from the fact that they had arrived in the colony as convicts. Redfern, who had been condemned for his role in a naval mutiny, is said by Watson, the historian of Sydney Hospital, to have been the first medical practitioner to accept an apprentice in New South Wales but, by the time of the University’s establishment he had returned to England. Bland, who had been transported for killing an officer in a duel, played an important role in the establishment of the Sydney Dispensary, later to become the Sydney Infirmary and Sydney Hospital, and had remained in the Colony. In 1846 and again in 1847 it was proposed that a Medical School be established at the Sydney Infirmary. This proposal failed on both occasions but the move to establish a University in 1850 brought the emancipist issue as it affected the University into the open. Within the terms of the Act of Incorporation as first proposed by Wentworth, emancipists were not to be barred from holding office at the University, neither as teachers nor as Fellows of the Senate, but clergymen of all denominations were to be. Wentworth had enlightened views on the question of the rehabilitation of emancipists and on the desirability of freeing education from clerical control, but he cannot also have failed to be influenced by his friendship with Bland and his enmity towards the Reverend Dr J. D. Lang, a prominent politician, publisher and educationalist and an extremely controversial figure in the Colony. Thus, under Wentworth’s proposal, there was to be no bar to Bland’s holding office at the University, not to mention any other emancipist of note, qualification and ability. On the other hand, Lang and other clergymen would be excluded, a situation that was, of course, intolerable for Lang and his supporters. Indeed Bland’s name was on the list of nominees in Wentworth’s (1849) Bill who were to form the first Senate. This was strongly attacked by Robert Lowe (later to become Viscount Sherbrooke, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gladstone) who stated that he refused to sit on the same body as an ex-convict. Bland was cruelly libelled and defamed in this affair, quite unjustifiably, and had to be restrained from fighting yet another duel. In fact, despite his conviction for murder in Bombay, he was quite respectable and the attack on him has to be interpreted at being aimed at Wentworth by enemies who were afraid to be more direct.

The Act of Incorporation of 1850

The Act, as finally adopted in 1850, debarred neither clerics nor emancipists, but the Senate, the composition of which was determined by the Executive Council, did not include Bland’s name among its Fellows. It did, however, include the names of two rather more socially acceptable medical graduates, Sir Charles Nicholson and Bartholomew O’Brien. Furthermore, three years later, when a casual vacancy occurred, Senate had Henry Grattan Douglass appointed to fill it. Douglass, like Bland, was a friend of Wentworth’s, and it was possibly for this reason that his name had been kept off the original list of Fellows when the Act of Incorporation was implemented3.

The absence of a Medical School did not of course mean that the colony entirely lacked medical practitioners or that no medical training could be given to aspirant practitioners. There had always been naval and army surgeons attached to the military establishment and, as mentioned above, there had been practitioners among the ranks of the convicts and emancipists. In addition, of course, there were practitioners among the numerous free settlers making up the bulk of the population, although these would have been of rather variable competence and orthodoxy4. As will be shown in Chapter 2, the Senate did not have any difficulty in creating a board of medical Examiners consisting of substantial and respectable practitioners engaged in private and public hospital practice in Sydney. In addition to practitioners emigrant from Britain and Europe, potentially others could come from among local youths who chose to apprentice themselves to licensed physicians, surgeons and apothecaries and begin a career in medicine. Redfern was the first to accept an apprentice, according to Watson, and the Sydney Infirmary encouraged the practice. Such trainees would, of course, have had sooner or later to go to England or the Continent to get formal instruction in a suitable Medical School and, that done, would have had to pass the examinations of appropriate licensing bodies, commonly the Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries: in the United Kingdom there were twenty registered examining bodies in 1841. Frederick Milford, destined to become one of the University Lecturers in Surgery, began in this way as an apprentice at Sydney Hospital and Watson claims that he was the first apprentice trained in New South Wales to obtain formal qualifications from an English licensing body.

The need to train medical practitioners

With the growth of both the University and the population of the Colony, the inadequacies of the available medical services could not fail to be apparent to all. The number of practitioners qualified under the system did not keep up with the demand with the consequence that the number of unqualified ‘quacks’ and semi-qualified ‘doctors’ grew disproportionately. There was thus an obvious need for a local, reputable training school, if not run by the University, then by an institution such as the Infirmary, and a need for a local examining body that would have to be the University since alternative medical and surgical corporations did not exist in the colony.

To a casual observer in 1859, it must have seemed inevitable that the University would proceed rapidly with the establishment of a Medical School. Seven of its sixteen fellows were, or had been, Directors of the Sydney Infirmary, including Sir Edward Deas Thomson, Colonial Secretary until 1856, a Fellow of Senate from 1850–1879, Vice-Chancellor 1862–1865 and Chancellor 1865–1878, who was also President of the Hospital Board from 1849–1879. In addition, the Fellows also included William Charles Wentworth, a Fellow from 1850–1872, who was a surgeon’s son and numbered several medical practitioners amongst his friends, and the three influential medical graduates, Sir Charles Nicholson, a Fellow from 1850–1883, Vice-Provost 1850–1853 and Provost 1854–1861, Bartholomew O’Brien, a Fellow from 1850–1869, and an Honorary Physician at Sydney Hospital in 1861–1862, and Henry Grattan Douglass, a Fellow from 1853–1865 and an Honorary Physician at Sydney Hospital from 1849–1854.

By a fortuitous circumstance, Professor John Smith, the foundation Professor of Chemistry and Experimental Physics, who took up his appointment in 1852, was a Doctor of Medicine from Aberdeen, and Senate had already taken the opportunity in 1856 to create a Faculty of Medicine with Smith as Dean (see Chapter 2). There is no record in 1856 of Smith’s opposing or having objected to this move—indeed he was a member of the Senate subcommittee that drafted the relevant by-laws—but the subsequent behaviour of Nicholson and his colleagues suggests that they must have been aware of Smith’s opposition to the establishment of a medical school.

The Senate considers the establishment of a medical school in 1859

On 6 July 1859 the Senate appointed a subcommittee ‘to consider the practicability of establishing a School of Medicine’. Its members were to be the Provost (Nicholson), the Vice-Provost (The Hon. Francis Merewether BA), Professor Smith (ex officio as Dean) and Douglass and O’Brien, and they were empowered to open discussions on this matter with the Directors of the Infirmary. At a meeting on 7 September 1859, Senate received a report from the Provost, purporting to be from the subcommittee, which included a draft curriculum. It was adopted and a motion was passed resolving to open a Medical School by Lent Term in the following year (1860). Merewether, the Vice-Provost, was not present and a new subcommittee was established and empowered to continue discussions with the Infirmary. It had the same composition except that Merewether was replaced by the Hon. John Plunkett BA, formerly the Attorney-General, another Fellow.

Difficulties emerged at the October meeting of Senate at which Merewether was present when it transpired that the subcommittee had never met, or rather that meetings had proceeded without notification being given to Smith or Merewether, the latter of whom at least, had differing views on the question from those of the Provost. Nicholson produced a new report, and notwithstanding the difficulties raised by Merewether, Senate adopted it and passed a new resolution affirming its wish to open a Medical School in Lent Term, 1860. It should be pointed out that, while there can be no doubt that Nicholson supported the plan to open a Medical School, his action may have been dictated as much by political as by professional motives. The Legislative Assembly was hostile to the ‘elitist’ University that Senate was fashioning, and opening a medical school may have been thought of as a gesture designed to counter the charge of elitism, and, at the same time, to increase enrolment numbers.

All might still have been well had not the Legislative Assembly been taking more than a passing interest in what was happening at Sydney University at that time. On 13 September 1859, the Assembly had established a Select Committee to inquire into the University of Sydney. This committee, set up at the instigation of the political opponents of Wentworth and Nicholson5, was intent on castigating the Senate for its extravagance in connection with the construction of the University buildings at its new site at the Grose Farm and also aimed to make the University more ‘popular’ and less ‘elitist’.

The opposition of Professors Smith, Woolley, and Merewether

The Committee called each of the three Professors as a witness and endeavoured to extract evidence from them of maladministration on the part of the Senate. It asked Smith to produce details of any occasion on which the Senate had acted without the advice of the Professors and Smith, who said there were few and only trivial instances of it, withdrew to obtain details. In his subsequent discussions with his colleague, the Principal (Professor Woolley), he claimed to have become aware for the first time of Senate’s plans for the Medical School. Avowing previous complete ignorance of them, Smith expressed great indignation and fierce opposition. Before the Select Committee, rather dramatically, he produced the University Calendar, in which he had been named as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine since 1856, and claimed never to have been consulted by Senate on the question of establishing a medical school. Given the fact that Merewether, the Vice-Provost, had also been kept in ignorance, it is reasonable to believe him on this point, although it seems more than likely that his opposition had been expressed long before and that Nicholson moved secretly in order to circumvent the opposition he already anticipated. It appears likely that Woolley’s was the driving force behind Smith’s opposition and that it was he who pushed Smith to express his opposition so forcefully before the select committee. Smith’s motives, as expressed at that time, seem acceptable enough. He favoured the addition of two further Chairs to the Faculty of Arts, one in Natural History (with emphasis on Geology and Mineralogy) and one in Mental Philosophy (with emphasis on Psychology). The three Professors made known their opposition in a letter of protest to the Senate which set out three reasons why a medical school should not be opened. They were:

1. Because the proposed measures will retard the completion of the ‘curriculum’ of the Faculty of Arts, as contemplated by the by-law. 2. Because they entertain serious doubts whether the erection of a Medical School at the present time is expedient. 3. Because the 20th by-law provides a Professorial Board ‘for the consideration of all general questions relating to the studies of the University’; but no communication upon this important subject has been made on the part of the Senate either to the Board or to any of the Professors.

The Senate rejects all opposition

Senate rejected the protest and replied tartly and firmly that plans would proceed. The reply read as follows: The Senate after mature consideration records it’s [sic] opinion and decision as follows—1. The senate regrets that the professors should have considered themselves justified in adopting so extreme a step as that of entering a Protest against proceedings which the Senate in the unquestionable exercise of it’s prerogative had thought fit to take with reference to the initiation of the necessary measures for the erection of a Medical School in connection with the University, as expressly contemplated by the 12th section of the Incorporation Act. 2. That whilst the Senate is always most anxious to uphold the authority of the Professors, and to secure to them that respect to which they are entitled on personal grounds, as well as on account of the high and responsible duties they perform, it nevertheless cannot permit it’s own authority or appropriate function to be controlled by those in whose hands certain administrative duties only are placed. 3. That whilst the Senate will always be glad to receive and cordially to entertain representations at any time made to it by the Professorial Board or by the Professors individually on matters connected with the established studies or discipline of the University, it cannot admit that the foundation of new Professorships or the effort to realize the intentions of the founders of the University, in providing adequate machinery for the instruction in the Faculties of Law and Medicine, are matters to be previously sanctioned by the Professorial Board, or to be over-ruled by the objection of the Professors in the Faculty of Arts. If the power thus claimed on behalf of the Professorial Board could be substantiated, the authority of the Senate would be circumscribed in a degree utterly inconsistent with it’s own proper position, or the duties imposed upon it by the Legislature. 4. As however it was never intended, so under no circumstances will any attempt be made finally to organize a Medical School without the advice and cooperation of the Professorial Board as to the periods to be fixed upon for the delivery of lectures, and for all details, the arrangements of which would be necessary to prevent the ‘curriculum’ in one Faculty from interfering with that in another. 5. The Senate, for the foregoing reasons is unable to depart from it’s resolution to establish a Medical School. It must not be unmindful of the munificent endowment in lands and money which the Government and the Legislature have provided for the establishment and maintenance of the University. It feels bound therefore by every means in it’s province to render it as extensively beneficial to the community as may be found practicable. This object will be materially provided for by creating in the manner contemplated a new and honorific field of employment to the youth of the Colony, and whilst effect will thus be given to the intentions of the Legislature and the provisions expressly embodied in the Act of Incorporation, the University of Sydney will be assimilated to the great Academic Institutions of Europe upon the model of which it is founded. The Senate has not deemed it necessary to decline the consideration of this protest on the ground of it’s not having emanated from a duly convened meeting of the Professorial Board, but in courtesy to the Professors it has not hesitated to explain to them the grounds of it’s decision. The Senate directs the Registrar to transmit a copy of this minute to the Members of the Professorial Board who signed the Protest.

The Senate is unable to proceed in 1861

However once the report of the Select Committee had been published and Smith’s implacable opposition was revealed publicly, it became impossible for Senate to proceed even though the Infirmary supported the plan. The Medical School committee simply could not meet: after all, Smith was supposed to have been a member but had never been invited to attend a meeting. When, subsequently, in 1861, an Act of Parliament forced Senate to include the three Professors amongst its number, the entire affair was quietly dropped and remained out of sight for some time. In 1862, Nicholson left for England, and although he remained a Fellow of Senate until 1883, he never returned to Sydney and so could not push matters very effectively, especially after the death of Douglass in 1865 and O’Brien in 1869. Furthermore, events in Victoria at the Melbourne University overtook the Senate in Sydney.

In published comments on the development of Sydney’s Medical School, little has been made of the fact that Melbourne University opened its School in 1863. Naturally, in the middle of the 19th century, Melbourne seemed to be at an enormous distance from Sydney, but, nevertheless, it was far closer than London, and the opening of a Medical School there must have taken the edge off the argument that Sydney University had a responsibility to the community to train medical practitioners. In reality, the Melbourne School had little impact on medical practice in New South Wales, and surprisingly few of its graduates migrated to Sydney during the period before the arrival of Anderson Stuart in 1883. Thus, even in 1883, only seven of a total of 366 practitioners registered in N.S.W. had Melbourne degrees, whereas sixty-six of a total of 421 registered in Victoria were so qualified. The objection that one Medical School in Australia ought to be enough did not stop Adelaide University opening its School just seven years after its foundation, and only two years after Sydney finally did so. Indeed, the success met with by the supporters of University Medical Schools in Melbourne and Adelaide, when contrasted with the failure in Sydney, provides good evidence in support of the contention that politics and social prejudice weighed heavily in the contest. The fatal blunder made by the University Senate was to assume that because Smith was a medical graduate, he would necessarily support the opening of a Medical School and that therefore he ought to be made Dean of a non-teaching Faculty. It also needs to be stressed that Melbourne at this time was far more prosperous than Sydney, and its population was better educated and more progressive. It had grown rapidly in the wake of the discovery of gold and had a large, ambitious and restless population of recent immigrants, whereas Sydney was considerably less prosperous and its population included many of convict origin, with a conservative, inward-looking, ruling oligarchy. The perceived and publicly felt need for a University and a Medical School was far greater in Melbourne than in Sydney, and, above all, there was much more revenue available with which to endow the University. Melbourne University built only modest buildings, but its bigger income permitted it to offer a far greater variety of courses and thereby attract far more students to enrol there6.

Obstacles to the establishment of a Sydney medical school 1860-1880

Smith’s opposition, as well as lack of finance, continued to be major obstacles to the establishment of a Medical School for the next twenty years. In 1866, Sydney Hospital again brought the question of a medical school to the attention of the Senate and Senate approached the Government early in 1867 with a request for funds to establish a chair as envisaged in Wentworth’s original report. The request was refused. At this time, however, events were set in train that would ultimately see Wentworth’s plan realized and determine the nature of the relation between the University and its teaching hospitals. H.R.H. Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Victoria’s second son, undertook a visit to Sydney. The details of his attempted assassination by Henry James O’Farrell at Clontarf beach on 12 March 1868 need not concern us here, but the aftermath was most important since the would-be assassin was an Irishman and the assassination attempt was viewed as political. The wealthier citizens, anxious to dissociate themselves from the rebel Irish cause, met to prove their loyalty and did so by making cash donations for the construction of a suitable monument of thanks-giving for the Prince’s recovery. Initially it was intended that the money should be used for construction of new premises for the Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, but administrative difficulties raised by the Government thwarted this plan despite the support of the Directors of Sydney Hospital7. Instead, plans were developed for an entirely new hospital to be built on land provided by Sydney University. The Senate was willing to concede a site that had originally been reserved for a Wesleyan College. This site was vacant since the Wesleyan community had failed within the specified time span to take up its option to build. Consequently, Senate felt able to give the land for construction of a hospital but on condition that the hospital, when constructed, could be used as a teaching hospital for a medical school when one was opened, and that some of the conceded land would be reserved for the future construction of a medical school building.

Although the fund was created in 1868, and the Prince Alfred Hospital Act was passed in 1873, the Hospital itself was not completed until almost ten years later, a lack of sufficient funds being the cause of the delay. The Prince Alfred Hospital Board, established by the Act of 1873, had, as ex officio members, the University Chancellor and the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Smith’s views on the establishment of a Medical School evidently had not changed and, now, he was more strongly placed than ever to make known his opposition since he had become a Member of the Legislative Council. In 1875, when speaking in Parliament against a Medical Bill (seeking to strengthen the powers of the Medical Board, first established in 1838, to regulate who might describe himself as a practitioner), he revealed a certain degree of hostility to the medical profession, of which he made it clear he was not a member since he had not sought to be registered in New South Wales (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1875). Interestingly, however, his name appears in the 1883 Medical Directory, although it was not in the previous (1860) edition. Evidently, as Dean, Smith must have judged it prudent to seek registration shortly after the storm had settled down. His fellow Examiners on the Faculty, some of whom were also Members of the Legislative Council, protested to Manning, the Chancellor, who had also spoken against the Bill in the same parliamentary debate. Angry letters were exchanged, and Smith offered his resignation as Dean, but the Chancellor, not a medical graduate and another opponent of the establishment of a School, refused to accept it. As the by-laws were worded it would have been difficult for Smith to resign without abolishing the Faculty altogether since By-Law 19 stipulated that the Dean would be the senior Professor on the Board of Examiners. Since there was no other Professor on the Board of Examiners, and no other medically qualified Professor to replace Smith, it would not have been easy for the Faculty to continue to exist unless the by-laws were to be changed. There the matter rested. Reading the report of Smith’s speech in the Sydney Morning Herald, which in those days before Hansard was almost verbatim, it is difficult to understand why he engendered such rage. The speech is moderate in tone, if a little obtuse and short-sighted in outlook. Perhaps Smith did say more than was reported or spoke more freely in the Parliamentary dining room.

Prince Alfred Hospital opens in 1882

Meanwhile, the foundation stone of the new Hospital was laid by the Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, in 1876 and finally the Hospital opened in 1882. Perhaps more by good fortune than by good management, it was linked constitutionally to the University and has remained so ever since. It is built on University land, the University senior officers are ex officio members of its Board of Directors, and its staff appointments are made by a Conjoint Board of the two institutions.

The Hospital project served to keep the issue of a Medical School alive but, without additional funds, the University could do little. The Government continued to withhold funds despite growing concern in the profession and the informed community over the proliferation of unqualified ‘quacks’ who were setting up in practice in remote areas where qualified practitioners were loath to go. It was not until the announcement of the Challis bequest in 1880 that funds finally were made available. Even then Government aid was required since the University needed an advance until such time as the bequest, the income of which had to go to Challis’s widow during her lifetime, fell in. The Government procrastinated but finally agreed to the grant in 1882. At last Senate was free to move.

Again, however, mismanagement by the Senate almost brought the project to ruin. Suddenly, in February 1882, without warning or advertisement of any kind, Senate announced that it had appointed Henry Normand MacLaurin to the Chair of Anatomy and Physiology. MacLaurin was a well known medical practitioner in Sydney who had first come to New South Wales as a naval surgeon. He settled in Sydney in 1871 when he married the daughter of Charles Nathan, a Fellow of Senate and one of the Examiners of the Faculty of Medicine. Charles Nathan died in 1872 and his son-in-law took over his practice in Macquarie Street. MacLaurin was a learned man, able and ambitious, and was to have a brilliant career in the University but not as Foundation Professor of Anatomy and Physiology. The manner of his appointment outraged public opinion and the criticism and indignation expressed in the Sydney Morning Herald struck home: MacLaurin declined the appointment on health grounds.

The appointment of Professor Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart in 1882

Senate now advertised the position and, in particular, sought nominations from the University of Edinburgh, the Royal Colleges of Surgeons in Edinburgh and in London and the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. The names of other candidates, if there were any, are unknown to us, but the unanimous recommendation of the bodies consulted was Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart; he was appointed in October 1882. He came with testimonials from many great names, among them, Professor Sir William Turner FRS, Professor Joseph (later Lord) Lister FRS, Professor Thomas Fraser FRS, Professor D. J. Cunningham (of Cunningham’s Text-book of Anatomy), Professor W. Rutherford FRS and Professor O. Schmiederberg, of the University of Strassburg, who was one of the most distinguished pharmacologists then living.

With Anderson Stuart’s arrival in Sydney, the Faculty grew apace. Its birth had been protracted, partly owing to mismanagement and partly to the opposition of Smith, and certainly because of lack of funds. In the meantime, Melbourne University despite its later foundation had opened its Medical School. It claims the honour of being first despite the fact that Sydney University had a Faculty and a Dean from 1856. Perhaps Sydney wanted to forget Smith; certainly few know today of his tenure as Dean. Whether Smith was right in his opposition is a matter for debate and any judgement we make must address the question, not only of what harm, if any, his opposition may have done to the Medical School, but what benefits there may have been for the University as a whole in developing the Faculty of Arts first before starting on Medicine. Certainly the delay ensured that, in the person of Anderson Stuart, Sydney got an extremely effective Dean when it finally moved, and that the Medical School opened it doors in a favourable financial climate.


Anderson Stuart, T. P. (1883). Testimonials. Published Privately, Sydney. (RACP Library, Sydney). Anonymous (1860). The Medical Directory for New South Wales and Queensland. Australian Medical Association, Sydney. Baker, W. (1842). List of the Legally Qualified Medical Practitioners of the Colony of N.S. Wales. N.S.W. Medical Board, Sydney. Barff, H. E. (1902). A Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. Bruck, Ludwig (1883). The Australasian Medical Directory and Hand-Book. Australasian Medical Gazette, Sydney. Clark, George and Cook, A. M. (1964–1972). A History of the Royal College of Physicians, 3 vols. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Epps, William (1922). Anderson Stuart, MD. Angus and Robertson, Sydney. Ford, Edward (1953). The life and work of William Redfern. Bull. Post-Grad. Comm. Med. Univ. Syd. Vol. 9, pp. 1–36. Ford, Edward (1955). Medical practice in early Sydney: with special reference to the work and influence of John White, William Redfern and William Bland. Med. J. Aust. II, pp. 41–54. McIntosh, A. M. (1954). The life and times of William Bland. Bull. Post-Grad. Comm. Med. Univ. Syd. Vol. 10, pp. 109–156. McMenemy, W. H. (1966). Education and the medical reform movement. In: The Evolution of Medical Education in Britain, pp. 135–154. Edited by F. N. L. Poynter. Pitman, London. Murray, T. A. (1860). Report of the Select Committee on the Sydney University. Votes and Proceedings Legislative Assembly N.S.W., Vol. 4, pp. 166–329. Russell, K. F. (1977). The Melbourne Medical School 1862–1962. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. Sydney Morning Herald (1875). 14 May et seq. Sydney Morning Herald (1882). 13, 21, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 31 January; 1, 2, 3 February. Taylor, R. C. (1970). Changes in the Curriculum of the University of Sydney With Special Reference to the Introduction of the Teaching of Medicine. Unpublished essay, University of Sydney Archives. Watson, J. F. (1911). The History of the Sydney Hospital from 1811 to 1911. N.S.W. Government Printer for Sydney Hospital, Sydney.

1This story is to be found in Barff’s history of the University. In fact, however, it appears to be an embellishment of the truth. All that really happened was that Huxley (who had visited Sydney and was married to an Australian) wrote to the Senate asking if a Chair of Biology was to be created and offering himself as a candidate in the event of an affirmative answer. Senate replied that it had no such chair in contemplation. A not dissimilar story is told about the Medical School at Dunedin where it is said that D. J. Cunningham was passed over in favour of another candidate when the foundation chair in Anatomy at that Medical School was being filled. One can only speculate what the effect on science would have been had these two men come to the colonies. 2The term Arts as used at that time was slightly less restricted than it is today. The Arts curriculum at Sydney University compulsorily included Chemistry and Mathematics, as well as Classics and Modern Languages. 3At the first meeting of the newly constituted Senate, held on 3 February 1851 under Wentworth’s chairmanship (procedures for the election of Provost and Vice-Provost had not yet been formulated and, when they were, Wentworth was not elected to either post), the second item recorded in the minutes was the receipt of a ‘Memorial from certain qualified Members of the Medical Profession complaining that the Medical Profession was not adequately represented on the Senate…’ The memorandum, which has not survived, was tabled by (Sir) Edward Deas Thomson, to whom it had been sent in his capacity as Colonial Secretary. No action was, or could have been taken at the time, but Senate did move to add another medical practitioner to its number, Henry Grattan Douglass, as soon as a vacancy occurred in 1853. (Our thanks to Mr J. Rocca for drawing this entry in the Senate minutes to our attention.) 4In the first published directory of registered medical practitioners for N.S.W. which appeared in 1842, there were 181 practitioners listed (excluding Victoria and Queensland). By 1860, the total for N.S.W. was 199, and by 1883 it was 366. 5Woolley, the Principal, had been agitating for seats on Senate for the Professors and he is thought to have intrigued to have the enquiry set up. If so, it quickly got out of his control. 6The annual vote for the University of Melbourne was set initially at £9000 (cf. £5000 for the University of Sydney) and additional funds (£6000) were provided in 1863 to permit the construction of the Melbourne Medical School building. 7The fact that Alfred Roberts had been voted off the staff of the Sydney Infirmary in 1871 because of his reformist agitation (see Chapter 9), must surely also have been an important factor.

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