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Amies, Sir Arthur Barton Pilgrim (1902–1976)

by H. F. Atkinson

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

Arthur Barton Pilgrim Amies, by Don Edwards, 1958

Arthur Barton Pilgrim Amies, by Don Edwards, 1958

National Archives of Australia, A1501:A1507/5 [with Saburo Matsukata]

Sir Arthur Barton Pilgrim Amies (1902-1976), professor of dental science, was born on 17 October 1902 in Perth, son of Arthur Pilgrim Amies, business manager, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Presland, both native-born. Educated at Perth Modern School and the University of Melbourne (B.D.Sc., 1924), he went in 1926 to Edinburgh where he qualified L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S. (1928). After visiting London, Vienna and the United States of America, he returned on a part-time basis to the (Royal) Dental Hospital of Melbourne and entered private practice, while also studying for a D.D.Sc. (1929) and a diploma of laryngology and otology (1933). In 1934 he became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

On 27 May 1930 at Scots Church, Adelaide, Amies married Geraldine Christein Wilhelmina Collee (1906-1982). He was appointed professor of dental science (later dental medicine and surgery) at the University of Melbourne in 1934, an appointment which simultaneously made him dean of the faculty, principal of the Australian College of Dentistry and dean of the Dental Hospital. Having served that year on the Dental Board of Victoria, he became president (1936-37) of the Victorian branch of the Australian Dental Association and federal president (1938-39). Elected a fellow (1939) of Queen's College, he was a councillor in 1945-76; he chaired the professorial board in 1956 and twice acted as vice-chancellor. During his presidency (1944-70) the Victorian College of Optometry became a department in the faculty of science.

Amies joined the Australian Imperial Force on 19 June 1940. As a major in the dental service, he served with the 4th Australian General Hospital at Tobruk, and in a facio-maxillary and plastic unit attached to the 2nd A.G.H. in Egypt, before returning to university duties in 1942. He was nominated to Legacy in 1945, was president in 1955 and did much to advance its aims.

Throughout his career Amies received many academic distinctions: he became a fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the American College of Dentists in 1938, a fellow in dental surgery of both the Royal College of Surgeons, England (1948), and Edinburgh (1951), and a fellow in surgery of the latter institution in 1949. He was awarded an honorary LL.D. by the University of Glasgow in 1963 and became a fellow of the (Royal) Australian College of Dental Surgeons in 1965; he was appointed C.M.G. in 1949 and knighted in 1957.

As a teacher, Amies was a disciplinarian who instilled in his students a sense of responsibility and professional pride. Though not a committed researcher, he encouraged others to undertake advanced studies. From his appointment in 1934, his main interest was the pursuit of a new and independent dental hospital and school: in spite of constant opposition from the State Department of Health, he steadfastly maintained the need for in-patient accommodation in such an establishment. The new institution opened in 1963 and in 1967 Sir Robert Menzies named the Arthur Amies ward in recognition of his contribution. At his retirement that year Amies was presented with a portrait by Paul Fitzgerald which now hangs in the foyer of the (Sir William) Anderson Auditorium at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne; another, by John Heath, is also held by the university.

There were two sides to Sir Arthur. Besides the ambitious professional there was the public figure, a member of the establishment who achieved much and who basked in the glow of success. He was a popular speaker, with a powerful delivery that was clear and precise. Amies did not take kindly to criticism, attacking the critic rather than the substance of his argument, as in the debate on fluoridation, to which he was resolutely opposed. A big man, he stood out in a crowd by his bearing and appearance. He was happiest in full academic dress, or in white tie and decorations, and when in the presence of royalty would almost burst with pride. He pursued publicity: leading an academic procession, presenting candidates and attending receptions were meat and drink to him. His knowledge of protocol was impressive. He and his wife, to whom he was devoted, were meticulous in manner and dress, and overtly conscious of status. Predeceased by his daughter, he died in his home at Christmas Hills, Victoria, on 4 December 1976 and was cremated.

Lady Amies had a distinguished medical career. Born on 26 August 1906 at Delft, Holland, she was educated in Europe, and in Edinburgh where she qualified L.D.S.R.C.S. (1928); L.R.C.P., L.R.C.S. (1938). Prior to her marriage she had practised dentistry in Scotland and in Harley Street, London. After she came to Melbourne she established a medical practice and in 1946 became honorary medical officer in charge of the diabetic clinic at the (Royal) Children's Hospital. She died on 13 November 1982.

Select Bibliography

  • University of Melbourne Gazette, Jan 1968
  • Australian Dental Journal, Feb 1968, Feb 1977
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Dec 1933, 18 Sept 1964
  • minutes of the Faculty of Dental Science, University of Melbourne, and the Council of Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, and the Australian College of Dentistry (Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne Library)
  • Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, correspondence and papers (Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne Library)
  • Amies papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Queen's College records (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Hospitals and Charities Commission, minutes (Public Record Office Victoria).

Citation details

H. F. Atkinson, 'Amies, Sir Arthur Barton Pilgrim (1902–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/amies-sir-arthur-barton-pilgrim-9346/text16409, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 29 August 2016.

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

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