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Adam, Geoffrey William Shedden (1908–1973)

by John H. Pearn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Geoffrey William Shedden Adam (1908-1973), obstetrician and gynaecologist, was born on 29 February 1908 at Turramurra, Sydney, sixth child of John Shedden Adam, architect, and his wife Ruth Eliza, née Harris, both native-born. Geoffrey was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and the University of Sydney (M.B., B.S., 1933). Aged 17, he had been involved in a bicycle accident which had led to the amputation of his leg; in later years this handicap was to become part of his image as one of the identities of Australian medicine. He worked as a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1933) and at the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington (1934), before becoming a registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology at Newcastle Hospital (1935). This appointment influenced the direction of his professional life by leading him to undertake postgraduate studies in these fields at Hammersmith Hospital, London, and in Edinburgh and Vienna. He was then employed as a medical officer by the London County Council. Returning to New South Wales, on 30 April 1938 he married Mary Lenore Brent Rodd with Anglican rites at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle.

In May 1938 Adam was appointed foundation professor (half-time) of obstetrics and gynaecology in the recently established faculty of medicine at the University of Queensland; as a joint appointment he was also to be the first medical superintendent of the new Women's Hospital, Brisbane. For thirty years he made significant contributions to the practice of obstetrics, while teaching thousands of medical students and scores of postgraduate specialists-in-training. Always known as 'Sheddie', but noted for his formality, he had a stilted and didactic manner of lecturing and teaching which led to much clandestine ribaldry at his expense: students and staff alike mimicked his phrases, particularly the often-quoted 'Anchor my prosthesis' when he was about to undertake a difficult forceps delivery. During World War II he worked as a medical officer in army camps in Brisbane. Throughout the war and during its 'baby boom' aftermath he co-ordinated services for the city's only midwifery hospital. Unlike many of his contemporaries who in their subsequent careers left obstetrics for the more ordered life of gynaecology, Adam remained foremost a clinical obstetrician and teacher. After his retirement as superintendent of the Women's Hospital in 1947, he built up a large private practice at Wickham Terrace, and was especially concerned with complicated obstetrics cases and with the investigation of infertility.

Respected for his clinical skills, his integrity and his scholarship, Adam served on the editorial board of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. He contributed numerous articles and reviews to professional journals, and published Manipulative and Operative Obstetrics (1962). A fellow (1937) of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, he was a member (1937) and fellow (1945) of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London, a member (1947-56) of its Australian regional council and chairman (1951-60) of its Queensland committee; he was also a member (1940-70) of the Postgraduate Medical Education Committee and a life-governor (appointed 1970) of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine; he was, as well, a foundation member (1961) of the Queensland maternal mortality committee and chairman (1957) of the Queensland Marriage Council. Survived by his wife and two sons, Adam died of sudden myocardial infarction on 21 November 1973 in his home at Hamilton, Brisbane, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gregory, Vivant Professores (Brisb, 1987)
  • Royal Women's Hospital (Brisbane) Medical News Bulletin, Apr 1980, p 2
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 23 Aug 1973
  • staff files, University of Queensland Archives.

Citation details

John H. Pearn, 'Adam, Geoffrey William Shedden (1908–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/adam-geoffrey-william-shedden-9308/text16333, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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