Milford, Frederick

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MD ad eundem gradum 1882 MD (Heidelb) LRCP MRCS LMidRCS

Frederick Milford was the first Lecturer in the Principles and Practice of Surgery (1882–1889) at the University of Sydney. He was also one of the pioneers in establishing St Vincent’s Hospital and made a significant contribution toward the structural organisation of the Hospital and the development of surgical practices.

Frederick was born in Bristol and migrated to Australia in 1843. In 1849, he was apprenticed at the Sydney Infirmary and is thought to have been the Infirmary’s first Apprentice. In 1851, the Directors of the Sydney Infirmary formally resolved that any member of the medical staff appointed to the Infirmary ‘shall be required to admit to his hospital practice all pupils who shall have been previously enrolled by the weekly committee as hospital medical and surgical pupils’. As a result, in 1852 he became the first of such pupils to proceed to England in order to continue his studies.

In London, Frederick studied at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (1852–1856), obtaining his Membership and Midwifery Licence from the Royal College of Surgeons in 1856. Later in the same year, he obtained his MD at Heidelberg University and became a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians. (As a German Doctor, he could receive the LRCP but had little chance of becoming a Fellow).

On return to Australia in 1858, he took up an appointment as Surgeon at the Brisbane Hospital, returning to Sydney in 1859 to become a Surgeon at St Vincent’s Hospital. He remained at St Vincent’s until 1883, having become Senior Surgeon during that period. His training, of course, was before the introduction of antiseptic and aseptic techniques, and he appears to have been very much a surgeon of the old-school, undertaking his operations in a blood-stained frock coat, with his tools in a bag on the floor. Infection was inevitable and speed was considered important, even after the introduction of anaesthetic agents. Sir Douglas Miller recalls Frederick’s early days at St Vincent’s:

A surgeon’s greatest asset was to be quick, bold and precise, for the tradition of operating on the conscious patient lingered on. He had to emulate those great master surgeons who could disarticulate at the hip joint and remove the lower limb in three-quarters of a minute. We read that Milford could do a good amputation, which means that he was precise and quick. The tragedy of surgery was that following this courageous skilful performance death or disaster came so often, the result of fulminating infection, the origin of which was not at all understood. The best a surgeon could hope for was survival with pus and pain and weariness. He needed stout qualities of mind and heart… Today sweet oblivion enfolds the anxious patients. Advances in surgical technique, mastery of infection and control of pain take a great load from the shoulders of the surgeon… Milford straddled these two ages of surgery, though it seems likely that he never really moved wholeheartedly into the new age.[1]

In 1882, Frederick was admitted MD ad eundem gradum at the University of Sydney and appointed the first University Lecturer in the Principles and Practice of Surgery by Senate. This position entailed his appointment as Honorary Surgeon at Prince Alfred Hospital, and the increased work load led him to relinquish his post at St Vincent’s Hospital two years later.

Frederick was eager to write and to encourage medical discussion, and he holds a place of honour in the history of Australian medical associations for his work in this area. He had been a Foundation Member of the Australian Medical Association (1859), becoming its President in 1869. However, during his absence abroad, it folded and he could only lament its demise on his return. In 1876, a new medical association took shape in the form of a medical section of the Royal Society of NSW, in which Frederick became active. However, his chance to form a lasting organisation did not arise until 1880: Following informal preliminary discussions in the preceding months, he called a meeting at his home which led to the formation of the NSW branch of the British Medical Association. On 1 March 1880 the branch was formally constituted and Frederick became its Secretary (he became its President in 1884). In 1881, the Australasian Medical Gazette was started as a commercial venture, again at Frederick’s instigation, and he served initially as Honorary Editor. To Milford must go most of the credit for the foundation of both the Association and the journal.[1]

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Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Milford, Frederick. 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.