Harris, Lawrence Herschel Levi

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MB 1896 MSurgery 1896

Lawrence Harris founded the first X-ray Unit at Sydney Hospital in 1897 and pioneered the use of X-rays to heal keloid scars. He also developed early training programs in Radiology for nurses.

Lawrence was born in England but migrated to Australia as an infant and was educated at Sydney Grammar School. He first enrolled in an Arts degree at the University of Sydney, transferring to Medicine at the end of his first year. He graduated from his Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1896, immediately becoming a Resident Medical Officer at the Sydney Hospital and being promoted to Senior Resident Medical Officer a year later. He was reputed to be a ‘keen photographer’ and become interested in X-rays in the second half of 1896 as information about Roentgen’s discovery became more available. He soon founded an X-ray unit at Sydney Hospital and was made Honorary Skiagrapher, then Radiographer in 1900. Two years later, he became Honorary Radiographer at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, being appointed to the same position at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1911.

He quickly became a leading figure in radiology in New South Wales and gained international acclaim. He published early and seminal articles on radiology and advocated specialised training for nursing sisters in Sydney hospitals. In those early days, he was one of the first to “use opaque meal for the examination of gastric and intestinal diseases and initiated the use of X-rays to treat keloid scars”.[1]

At the outbreak of World War I, Lawrence volunteered and joined the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux, France as a Radiologist. Rutland says this of him:

At Wimereux, he set up his X-ray equipment within seven hours of landing. Promoted jamor in May 1915, he was transferred to the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Lemnos, where he was hindered by the difficult climate and surroundings and by dermatitis of the hands (pioneer radiologists were unaware of the danger of unshielded X-rays). After the evacuation of Gallipoli he was invalided to England, before returning to Australia through the United States of America, where he was made life member of the American Roentgen Ray Society.
Kindly, generous and popular, Harris was ready to share his knowledge and experience. He was handsome with dark wavy hair and a handle-bar moustache, and known for his consideration for nurses: during the war he had devoted part of his military pay to assist them and at Lemnos spent much of his off-duty time trying to find extra rations for them.

Upon his death in 1920, Lawrence was buried with military honours in Rookwood Cemetery.

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Harris, Lawrence Herschel Levi. 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.