Ford, Sir Edward

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MB BS 1932 DTM 1938 MD (Melb) DPH (Lond) HonDLitt FRCP FRACP

Sir Edward Ford was a leading figure in public health in Australia and played a pivotal role in the anti-malaria campaign for Australian forces in the South Pacific during World War II. However, his most enduring legacy was that he produced the first Bibliography of Australian Medicine.

Edward (Ted) Ford was born in Bethanga, Victoria in 1902, and decided at the age of 24, after a year of Arts, to adopt medicine as a career. He spent his university time doing medicine by day, working in the Postal Department at night, and steadily reading through the shelves of the Melbourne Public Library in between. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1932 at the age of 30. After a period of hospital practice he entered academic medicine first as Lecturer and later as Senior Lecturer in Anatomy and Histology where, like his colleague and lifelong friend Kenneth Russell, he came under the charismatic influence of Frederick Wood Jones, himself a great bibliophile. During this time, he developed an interest in physical anthropology and later in tropical medicine. He became a Medical Officer in the Commonwealth Department of Health in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in Sydney, and took its Diploma in Tropical Medicine in 1938.

In the same year, he undertook a study for the Papuan Administration on the epidemiology of venereal disease in the island and coastal tribal groups of Papua, including the Trobriand Islands, Goodenough Island and the d’Entrecasteaux Islands. However, his interests extended far beyond this subject, notably to an informed appreciation of native art and artefacts.

On his return to Australia, Ted became Medical Officer in charge of the Commonwealth Laboratory at Darwin. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, he was released to enlist in the AIF as Commanding Officer, First Australian Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory in the Middle East. By 1946, he was Director of Hygiene, Pathology and Entomology for the Australian Military Forces. Ted played a major role in ensuring adequate protection against malaria for Australian and other forces in the South Pacific. He was mentioned in dispatches in 1943 and awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1945.

A year later, having graduated MD at the University of Melbourne with a thesis on malaria in the South-West Pacific, he was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship. He studied at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, gaining the Diploma of Public Health with distinction in 1947.

In 1946, he was appointed Director of the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, and in 1947, Professor of Preventive Medicine in the University of Sydney. He held both these positions until his retirement in 1968, also serving as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Fellow of the Senate between 1953 and 1957, and as Acting Vice-Chancellor from November 1960 to March 1961. He participated in the foundation of the Medical School of the University of Western Australia and became a member of the first Council of Macquarie University. He was also a member of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia.

Outside the University, Ted’s influence in medical affairs spread far afield. He served on innumerable committees at a state, national and international level, including the National Health and Medical Research Council and its committees, the World Health Organization, in the field of medical education and research, and as a member of the Australian medical delegation to China in 1957.

Very early in his life Ted developed a love of books and learning. He was a keen and internationally known collector of books, mainly in the field of medicine and its history, but also in certain aspects of Australian literature. His books were lovingly maintained and often annotated in his neat, angular script, so that the reader may know their history and their associations. He was the leading authority on the history of Australian medicine, the most notable of his contributions being his Bibliography of Australian Medicine 1790–1900, compiled in the meticulous manner of his friend and mentor in this area, Judge J A Ferguson.

Ted was admitted to Fellowship of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1946, in recognition of his distinguished medical contribution to the armed services. He participated actively in College affairs as member of the Editorial Committee of the Australasian Annals of Medicine (now the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine) from 1951 to 1965, the Research Advisory Committee from 1952 to 1963, and the Committee on Occupational Health from 1952 to 1955. He was Vice-President of the College from 1970–1972.

In 1958, Ted became Curator of the Historical Library and Chairman of the Library Committee of the College. It is testimony to his gentle leadership, knowledge and understanding, as well as to his outstandingly generous material gifts, that the College Library has developed into a nationally important reference collection of the history of medicine generally, as well as in its field of special responsibility, the history of medicine in Australia.

Ted was knighted in 1960. He summarised his career and philosophy when he declined representation in a book on Australia’s great biologists. Writing in the third person to the editors, and signing as his own secretary, he stated that Sir Edward regarded himself as a physician, a teacher and an historian. He is reputed to have written letters to the newspapers on controversial issues on which he could not express a public view, under his sister’s married name![1]

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Ford, Sir Edward. 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.