Anderson Stuart, Thomas Peter

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Sir Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart Kt

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1883-1920)

Professor of Anatomy and Physiology (until 1890)

Professor of Physiology (until 1920)

MD ChM HonLLD (Edin) HonDSc (Durham) MD (Melb)

Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart was born in Dumfries, Scotland, on 20 June 1856. He was the only child in a middle-class and financially comfortable family. His father was engaged in business and his mother divided her time between her family and various charities. She appears to have been a woman of strong personality who exerted great influence over her son and was responsible for much of the foundation of his character. In later life Anderson Stuart often acknowledged both his debt and his strong attachment to her.

Like many children without siblings, he had a lonely childhood which may have contributed to the development of his rather premature stolidity and sombreness of character. He spent most of his time in the company of adults and thus always seemed rather old for his years. His early education was at a private school, and then at the Dumfries Academy, which he left aged fourteen, to become a chemist's apprentice. He passed his registration examinations at sixteen but, by law, could not work as a chemist until the age of twenty-one. During this hiatus he decided to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh.

Even at this early stage in his life and career, Anderson Stuart showed the foresight and receptivity to information that were to be characteristic throughout his life. Among the subjects permitted for the University entrance examination he chose Greek, German and French; Greek because it would be necessary if he were to proceed to an MD, French and German because a doctor whose opinions he valued said they were necessary to keep abreast of what was happening on the continent. After passing his examinations he went to Wolfenbüttel in Germany to improve his knowledge of modern languages.

He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1875 and devoted almost all of his time to study. From Dr Robert Scot Skirving's memoirs we learn that he was rather unpopular with his fellow students who considered him conceited and 'a swot'. Scot Skirving wrote that 'he took many medals and many prizes, and took the Ettles Scholarship, but he took himself most seriously of all'. He claimed that 'Coracoid' was Anderson Stuart's nickname, from a fancied resemblance of his prominent nose to a coracoid process. [1] Nevertheless Scot Skirving was 'not unfriendly' with him and, some years later, owed his appointment as Superintendent of Prince Alfred Hospital to Anderson Stuart's efforts. Anderson Stuart appears to have had few outside interests and had an aversion for sport. He did brilliantly in all his examinations, coming first in his final year in 1880 with First Class Honours and was awarded a gold medal. As he was attracted to teaching and had been told by his professors that he would make a good teacher, he chose this as his career and was soon appointed Chief Demonstrator to Professor William Rutherford, the Professor of Physiology who was a distinguished histologist. Spending a year in Strassburg (then part of Germany) before taking up the post in 1881, he made a special study of the properties of nickel and cobalt. At this time he worked particularly with Ernst Felix Immanuel Hoppe-Seyler and Oswald Schmiedeberg, two great names in chemical physiology. His training in Edinburgh and Strassburg thus gave him a good knowledge of both Histology and Pharmacology. The material he collected in Strassburg formed the basis of his MD thesis for which he received a gold medal in 1882. In the same year he applied for and was offered the Professorship of Anatomy and Physiology at Sydney University. He was twenty-six years old at the time.

Between the time of his appointment, towards the end of 1882, and his arrival in Sydney in March 1883, he made extensive enquiries about Sydney in general and the University in particular so that he was quite well prepared for colonial conditions when he arrived in Australia. He married Elizabeth Ainslie (Lizzie) in 1882, shortly before setting out for Australia on 'The Parramatta'.[1] After his arrival in Sydney, he began immediately the huge task of starting and building up the new Medical School. The Sydney University Medical School began in 1883 with one member of staff, the Professor, and six male students. Anderson Stuart began with high expectations, and each of the students in this first intake were failed.[1] The Temporary Medical School building was not completed at the time of Anderson Stuart's arrival, and he started teaching before either doors or windows had been installed, so as to begin 'according to my timetable'. On completion, the building was a small four-roomed brick cottage which Anderson Stuart had initially to share with the newly appointed Challis Professor of Natural Philosophy, William John Stephens. In a short time, the Professor of Natural Philosophy moved out so that the whole building was taken over by the Medical School. To the four rooms were later added a lecture room, an injection room and a dissecting room, and these seven rooms comprised the Medical School until the completion of Barnet's Medical School building in 1889.

In the first six years of his appointment, Anderson Stuart not only put the Medical School on a firm basis within the University itself, but also established its connections with, and standing in the world outside the University.

With the drive and foresight that he displayed throughout the whole of his professional life, Anderson Stuart not only began agitating for more staff from almost the very start of his appointment as Professor at the Medical School, but he also very quickly began pressing the University and the Government for funds for a new building. As early as 1885, Anderson Stuart managed to persuade Senate to approach the Government for funds for a new Medical School building. This money was granted, apparently on the understanding that the entire structure would be built out of the funds provided. Anderson Stuart had different ideas, however. He used the allocated funds to lay the foundations of a much larger and grander building than the one Senate and the Government had envisaged. By this clever, if not altogether honest reallocation of Government money, Anderson Stuart forced both the University and the Government to allow him to build a School of a size that he wanted and was confident he could fill. His confidence was not shared by his contemporaries and the Medical School building became known as 'Andy's Folly'.

Whatever views Anderson Stuart's contemporaries may have had of him — especially those whose opinions he had either disregarded or overruled — there can really be no question that his commitment to medicine in general was very great. His determination to secure and maintain a high reputation for colonial practitioners led to his involvement, not only with the Medical School and Prince Alfred Hospital, but also with the Board of Public Health, for a short time with the Sydney Hospital for Sick Children, with Veterinary Science and with Dentistry. His association with the Children's Hospital was not a happy one and the clash of wills between him and Frances Holden, the Lady Superintendent of the Hospital, provided rich material for the 'Bulletin' cartoonist of the time. Even this, however, was grist to his mill. It kept Anderson Stuart before the public eye and in the very process of lampooning him, it served to emphasize his integrity as well as his rigidity. He was nicknamed 'Andy' by the undergraduate students, who were aided by his carefully constructed blackboard diagrams and inspiring lectures. Soon after his arrival in Sydney he established the Sydney University Medical Society for students.[1]

During his lifetime, Anderson Stuart succeeded in creating one of the largest and most important medical institutions in the Empire outside Britain. This he succeeded in doing because the establishment of the Medical School was for him a major aspect of his existence, even to the point of intruding upon and detracting from other aspects of his life. From about 1890 Anderson Stuart began expanding his interests into the wider sphere of University and community activities. He published nothing further of note other than public addresses and general reviews. Of the extraordinary range of the activities he now undertook, only a few need to be mentioned here, sufficient only to indicate the toll they must have taken of his time and energy. From 1893 until 1896 he held the dual appointments of Medical Adviser to the Government and President of the Board of Health. He resigned the Presidency only when the Public Service Board ruled that the appointment should be full-time, but he continued as a member of the Board for the remainder of his life. From 1883 Anderson Stuart had been a member of the Board of Directors of the Prince Alfred Hospital and in 1901, he became the Chairman of the Board, a position he held until his death in 1920. Within the University he was largely responsible for the establishment of the Department of Dentistry in 1901, and in 1905 he became the first President of the United Dental Hospital. He also played a prominent part in the establishment of the Department of Veterinary Science in 1909. In addition, he was President of innumerable community organizations: the Highland Society of NSW, the NSW Zoological Society (which controlled the zoo), the British Seamen's Guild, the British Immigration League of Australia, the Civil Ambulance and Transport Brigade, and numerous others. He was also Deputy Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of NSW and even Patron of the Double Bay Pastime Cricket Club. He became an obsessive, even a compulsive, organizer.

It is commonly assumed that those who are highly successful as organizers would be equally successful had their energies been directed towards research. Be that as it may, Anderson Stuart gave relatively little of his time to the Department and, by not actively participating in research, failed to give the Department the intellectual leadership it needed. His research was limited to studies of the workings of the larynx and epiglottis, and the eye.[1] On the other hand it was undoubtedly the breadth of his activities that gave him access to, and influence over, people in positions of power in University, Government and community circles. Without these activities he would probably not have been able to establish the Medical School as swiftly and effectively as he did.

His marriage to Elizabeth Ainslie was not a happy one and ended tragically with her early death in 1886.[1] His second marriage was in 1894 to Dorothy Primrose, a relation of Lord Rosebery.[1] This presented more of the external trappings of success though it was typically Victorian in its pattern. They had four sons: Archibald, Bouverie, Alexander and Anson. Two of his sons, Archibald Primrose Anderson Stuart (MB BS 1921) and Bouverie Primrose Anderson Stuart (MB BS 1923), followed him into medicine. Bouverie recollects Anderson Stuart as a strict and rather distant figure whose communications with his children were largely through his wife as intermediary.

According to Scot Skirving, Anderson Stuart discovered a lump in the abdomen while in the bath early in 1919. Although his life-long relationships with doctors Robert Scot Skirving and Alexander MacCormick had not always been amicable, they were still his friends, perhaps his truest friends, and they did what they could for him in his last days. After laparotomy, MacCormick and Scot Skirving realized that the tumour was inoperable and all they could do was close him up and drain his frequently recurring ascites. Scot Skirving wrote that Anderson Stuart accepted his fate with resignation and dignity and traversed his 'via dolorosa', which lasted eleven months, with fortitude and consideration for others. 'No act of his life,' wrote Scot Skirving, 'became him so well as the manner of his leaving it. I remember seeing him just before the finish, and he spoke to me in the vernacular of many things, mostly of a consciousness of having failed in life…He, in the scientific life and future of medicine and its ancillary sciences in New South Wales, played the part of Moses on Pisgah, while many Joshuas, mostly lesser folk, in and out of laboratories, entered into a promised land of new learning which he had visualised from afar, but alas, failed to find himself.'[1] Anderson Stuart requested that all his personal papers be destroyed upon his death. As he was dying, he dictated his memoirs to William Epps, who in 1922 published his biography.[1]

Anderson Stuart's death on 29 February 1920 cut short a life of high public achievement. His last lecture in 1919 was attended by his son, Bouverie, then a third-year medical student, who used to act as his father's chauffeur for their trip home. On this occasion the students, having sung and stamped through the lecture period, attached ropes and pulled the family Buick from the University down as far as Broadway. It was a very human tribute to a man who, even in his own lifetime, had taken on the somewhat cold and aloof stature of founder and prominent public figure. He was survived by his wife and four sons.

His name is extensively commemorated in the University. The Barnet-Vernon-Wilkinson Old Medical School building is now called the Anderson Stuart Building (since 1960), particularly appropriate since his Arms and the initials AS (on a stone boss) are carved on the façade above the main (eastern) entrance; a carved raven, perched on a broken string course surmounting the gable window may also be intended to recall the Dean. In addition, his escutcheon is to be seen in stained glass decorating the south entrance and the crest from his Arms, a single-masted galleon with furled sails and four sets of oars, together with his motto, En Avant, is carved in stone, high up on the western end of the north range of the building. A medical research Fellowship awarded by the Faculty also bears his name as does a splendid portrait of him by Sir John Longstaff. In Prince Alfred Hospital a marble bust of him, side by side with Sir Alfred Roberts, stands in the entrance hall of the main administration building. During his lifetime he had received many honours including an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Edinburgh (1898), an Honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Durham (1912) and a Doctorate of Medicine ad eundem gradum from the University of Melbourne (1912). He was created a Knight Bachelor in 1914 in recognition of his distinguished service to medicine.

Webb, N. and Young, J. A. "Anderson Stuart and the Medical School" in Young, J., Sefton, A., Webb, N. (1984), Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine, Sydney University Press, Sydney, pp. 171-198.



Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Stuart, Thomas Peter Anderson. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Young, J A, Sefton, A J, Webb, N. Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine, (1984) Sydney University Press for The University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine.