Fitts, Sir Clive Hamilton

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DTM 1930 MB BS 1926 (Melb) Md (Melb)

Another of the students to graduate from the first course in Tropical Medicine was Clive Hamilton Fitts, later to become Sir Clive Fitts. He first graduated as an engineer before completing his medical doctorate at Melbourne University in 1926. According to his obituary in The Medical Journal of Australia[1], he then took up a residency at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne but shortly after, applied for a job in the Commonwealth Health Service. In 1930 he completed the course in Tropical Medicine at the University of Sydney with the intent of going to Canberra and opening up a new laboratory. By the time he completed his diploma the depression was ‘deeper than ever’ and the laboratory could not be opened[1]. After working for quarantine at the docks, in 1931 he made his way to England on a steamer. He spent a year at the Brompton and National Heart Hospital in London and from there travelled to Switzerland and the United States to further his interest and experience in cardiology and respiritory medicine.

On his returned to Melbourne in 1939, he took a brief appointment at St Vincent’s Hospital, before being appointed Physician to Outpatients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. However:

[his] particular interest in cardiology and respiratory medicine found their full expression with his appointment as Physician to Inpatients in 1947. He was the guiding force in the development of the Cardiac Department and the Respiratory Laboratories at the Hospital. His skill as a teacher and his management of patients were sympathetic and holistic, embracing social, spiritual and personal issues. He was deeply involved in undergraduate and postgraduate education.[1]

In 1960 he became Honorary Consulting Physician and was considered Melbourne’s ‘top physician’. He was a Foundation Fellow, a Censor, a Councillor and eventually Vice-President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians from 1956 until 1968. In 1963, he was knighted for his services to medicine.

In addition to his expertise in medicine, he had a passion for both literature and art. He was involved with the Melbourne University Press and the Baillieu Library, accepting the Presidency of the Friends of Baillieu Library in 1972[1]. In an address to the society, Sir Clive weaves a wonderous story of how he came to be ‘a bookworm’. His recount is filled with erudite references to characters from classical literature. With humour, he reveals that his adult love of books is “thanks to the practice of medicine”, telling of the day that he discovered a bookshop in a small laneway after leaving his medical journals “in revolt” and going for a stroll. Yet, the story he tells of himself reveals a man whose love of literature bolstered him through difficult times and became part of the way he perceived the world:

In 1931, in the depression, I took a job as a ship’s surgeon on a tramp steamer and I was responsible for the health of the crew and three passengers at a salary of one pound per month. We wandered around the world looking for cargo for three months before making our landfall in the Thames. It was an unforgettable experience which I had lived through with Conrad[1] over the years, and although I was looking for stormy seas we rounded the Horn at sunset in a dead calm in a silent world.[1]

Sir Clive Hamilton Fitts died in 1984.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Fitts, Sir Clive Hamilton. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.