STUART, Sir Thomas Peter Anderson (1856-1920)


STUART, Sir Thomas Peter Anderson (1856-1920)
physiologist, founder of medical school, university of Sydney
was born at Dumfries, Scotland, on 20 June 1856. His father, Alexander Stuart, was a well-known business man in his town, a magistrate and a member of the town council. His mother, formerly a Miss Anderson, was a woman of ability and character. Stuart was educated at the Dumfries academy and at 14 was apprenticed to a chemist. He soon passed the preliminary examination of the Pharmaceutical Society, and at 16 the minor examination which entitled him to registration as a chemist when he came of age. He decided to take up medicine, and working early in the morning and at night passed the preliminary examination. He then proceeded to Wolfenbüttel in Germany, studying languages in particular, and in November 1875 returned to Scotland. He entered at Edinburgh university and had one of the most brilliant careers in medicine ever known at Edinburgh. He was awarded 10 medals and won other prizes and scholarships. During Stuart's course Lister was bringing in his revolutionary changes in the treatment of surgery cases, and the young student had the opportunity of working under both the old and new methods. He completed his course in 1880, with first-class honours and the Ettles scholarship. He was asked by Professor Rutherford to become his chief demonstrator, and in preparation for this made further studies in physiology and chemistry at Strasburg. A year later he returned to Edinburgh, took up his duties as demonstrator, and shortly afterwards qualified for the degree of M.D.
In 1882 it was decided to institute a medical school at the university of Sydney and applications were invited for the chair of anatomy and physiology. Nominations were also requested from competent bodies, and the Royal College of Surgeons, London, the university of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the College of Physicians, Glasgow, all nominated Stuart. He was duly appointed and arrived in Sydney early in 1883. The only medical school building was one of four rooms, damp and unplastered, and a curriculum had to be prepared and arrangements made for lecturers, demonstrators and attendants. There were only four students in the first year, but Stuart had the imagination to realize the immense possible development of the school, and was soon working out ideas for a new building. In 1885 he had got so far that plans for a medical school, prepared by the government architect, were approved, and in 1889 the building was completed and equipped with the necessary apparatus. It is a fine building in Tudor gothic and, planned internally for use, it has excellently served its purpose. The number of students in the medical school had increased to about 70; 30 years later the number was approaching 900. Having now got a worthy building Stuart was able to turn to other things, and interested himself in bringing about great improvements in the university grounds then in a very neglected state. Another useful piece of work was the preparation of a bibliography of scientific literature in the libraries of New South Wales. He was a fine judge of men, and among the afterwards distinguished men who acted as demonstrators and lecturers in his department were (Sir) Alexander McCormick, Professor J. T. Wilson, (Sir) James Graham (q.v.), (Sir) C. J. Martin, (Sir) Almroth Wright and Professor Chapman. When Stuart's chair was divided in 1890 he retained physiology, and Wilson was appointed to the new professorship of anatomy.
In 1890 while Stuart was on a visit to Europe he was asked by the government to go to Berlin and report on Dr Koch's method of treating tuberculosis. The resulting report was an extremely able piece of work. While he could not regard the lymph as a successful curative agent he recognized that a great field of research had been opened up, which would probably lead to very valuable work being done not only in connexion with tuberculosis but with other diseases. During another visit to Europe in 1891 he made further inquiries but could only conclude that up to that date the Koch treatment was a failure. On his return he was asked to become a member of the board of health, and at the beginning of 1893 became medical adviser to the government and president of the board of health, the dual offices carrying a salary of £1030 a year. Some objection was made to his taking these positions while still a full-time officer of the university. He held them until 1896 and did valuable work, but a public service board having been constituted it ruled that though Stuart was a highly efficient officer he should give his whole time to the government positions. He decided to resign as president, but continued to be a member of the board for the remainder of his life. He found time to do some public lecturing and took an active interest in the Prince Alfred hospital. In 1901 he became chairman, and it was largely through his initiative and organizing ability that this hospital became the largest general hospital in Australia. In 1901 he was responsible for the opening of a department of dentistry at the university. The number of medical students rose steadily through the years and additions were made to the buildings and the staff was increased. In 1908 he was largely concerned in the founding of the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Townsville and in 1914 he was created a knight bachelor. Early in 1919 he became ill and an exploratory operation disclosed that his condition was hopeless. With great courage he continued to carry out his work to as late as January 1920 and he died on 29 February. He married (1) Miss Ainslie in 1882 and (2) Miss Dorothy Primrose in 1894. Lady Stuart and her four sons survived him. His portrait by Sir John Longstaff is at the national gallery, Sydney.
Anderson Stuart was a tall man of handsome presence, though his prominent nose made him an easy subject for the caricaturist. He was an excellent lecturer and a first-rate teacher, but it was his remarkable business sense and personality that made him so distinguished. At times he made enemies and he was not always willing to give full consideration to the opinions of others, but his energy, organization and foresight, made possible the remarkable development of the Sydney medical school and the Prince Alfred hospital.
William Epps, Anderson Stuart, M.D.,. The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 1920; The British Medical Journal, 12 June 1920; H. Moran, Viewless Winds, p. 92.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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