Dew, Harold Robert

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Sir Harold Robert Dew Kt

Professor of Surgery (1930-1956)

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine (1936-38) (1940-1952)

MB BS (Melb) HonDSc FRCS HonFRCSEd FRACS FACS

Sir Harold Robert Dew was born on 14 April 1891 in Melbourne and was educated at the University of Melbourne where he graduated MB BS in 1914. He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps serving in France, Egypt and Palestine, and was awarded the médaille d'honneur des épidémies in 1917 by the French government.[1] After the war he obtained his FRCS (1920) and became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, in the same year.[1] He joined the staff of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1923. He was First Assistant and, for a time, Acting Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute from 1923 to 1926. While at the Institute he wrote two notable monographs which were subsequently published: Malignant Disease of the Testicle (1925) and Hydatid Disease (1927). For the former he was awarded the Jackson Prize of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and awarded the Syme Prize of the University of Melbourne (1927) for the latter, which became renowned internationally.[1] In his memoirs, Dr Robert Scot Skirving claimed that Dew was 'the author of the best book on hydatid disease in the world.'[1] During these years Dew married Doreen Lorna Beatrice Lawrance (1925) in Melbourne.

Dew was active in the foundation of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons of which he became a Fellow in 1928. In 1930 he was the Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. In the same year he was appointed to the Bosch Chair of Surgery at the University of Sydney, thereby becoming the first full-time Professor of Surgery to be appointed in an Australian University. By the time of Dew's arrival, the University Clinical Schools in the Teaching Hospitals were all well established. The Prince Alfred Hospital had, of course, been a Clinical School since it first opened in 1883, Sydney Hospital since 1909, and St Vincents Hospital since 1923. Dew thus arrived at what seemed a propitious time. However the clinical school was staffed by practising surgeons who were masters of their craft and who were men of the town, sceptical of the intrusions of the gown. Dew could call neither on unlimited funds nor on the unqualified support of practising surgeons.

Dew was the first full-time Professor within the Faculty, he had several well established Clinical Schools, the population of Sydney was growing, and it was a time of rapid growth of medical knowledge and expertise. Dew's imprint is clearly marked on the Sydney Medical School. Meticulous history-taking and an encyclopaedic knowledge of clinical symptoms and signs were the hallmarks of both Dew and Charles George Lambie, the Bosch Professor of Medicine, as teachers. The two worked together to restructure the clinical curriculum.[1] In Sydney, Dew's main achievement was to teach and to inspire; his great and authoritative work on hydatid disease and his equally fine work on testicular tumours had been done in Melbourne before he assumed the Sydney Chair.

At Sydney University his achievements are exceptionally important. He played a major role in initiating and encouraging research, particularly into blood coagulation and the then new subject of cardiac surgery. He was interested in all aspects of blood coagulation and encouraged research into the topic by R W Lyons and Harold Cummine. He was a modest, unassuming man, who was very helpful to young people — Dr Peter Orlebar Bishop and Dr Charles Ruthven Bickerton Blackburn, for example, carried out their early research in his Department with his encouragement and support. At Prince Alfred Hospital he established neurosurgery when theatres opened in 1935, and was the Hospital's first neurosurgeon although he did not operate. This was a significant achievement, as general surgeons at the time had not yet performed extensive operations on the brain.[1] Dr Gilbert Phillips, who died early of melanoma, was Dew's brilliant protégé.

As Dean of the Faculty (1936–1938, 1940–1952) he was a first-class administrator, widely respected for his vision and his impartiality. During his term of office he had to face the very difficult post-war years with little finance and huge enrolments resulting from the virtually unrestricted entry of students into the Faculty. In 1949 he was instrumental in introducing the BSc (Med) degree.

Dew was a major influence in the National Health and Medical Research Council in its early days, and served on its Research Committee from 1937 to 1956. He brought forward the resolution 'That Council recommends the Federal Government to make available, through the NH & MRC, a total specific grant of £20,000 p.a. to the four Universities in Australia with Medical Schools to train personnel for Medical Research'. It was also spelled out that money should be made available for medical graduates to undertake such training.

Dew served on committees for the Nuffield Foundation, the Australasian and British journals of surgery, and the NSW Rhodes Scholarship Committee.[1] He was Sims Commonwealth Travelling Professor in 1952-1953. In England, Dew also served as Hunterian professor in the same year.[1] He was created Knight Bachelor in 1955 for services to Sydney University and to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, where he served as President from 1954-1955.

Dew retired in 1956 and returned to live in Melbourne. One year after relocating, a fire destroyed his home, library and paintings, all uninsured. It is said that he did not ever really recover from this loss. Dew died on November 17, 1962. He was survived by his wife Lady Doreen Dew, and his two daughters.[1]

Little, M. "Surgery" in "The Clinical Disciplines" in Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine, (1984), in Young, J. A., Sefton, A. J., and Webb, N., University of Sydney, Sydney, pp. 382-84.



Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Dew, Harold Robert. 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.