Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Byrne, Ethel (1895–1957)

by Margaret Henry

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

Ethel Byrne (1895-1957), physician and pathologist, was born on 28 August 1895 at Cookardinia, New South Wales, ninth child of James Byrne, schoolteacher, and his wife Margaret, née Crennan, both native-born. Encouraged by her father to further her education, Ethel attended West Maitland Girls' High School and won an exhibition to the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1919). Her appointment as junior resident medical officer at Newcastle Hospital began a close association with that institution which lasted for the rest of her life. She was the only resident medical officer there during the influenza epidemic of 1919 which was followed by an outbreak of tuberculosis next year.

Appointed resident pathologist in April 1920, Byrne resigned in 1928. For almost twenty years she was a consulting pathologist to the hospital, while conducting a successful private practice at Newcastle. She also supervised pathology services at Cessnock, Kurri and Maitland hospitals. Epidemics of diphtheria (1929) and of infantile paralysis and diphtheria (1931-34) placed heavy demands on Byrne and on Dr Ruby Beveridge who had succeeded her as resident pathologist. An annual report praised their 'valuable and zealous work'. During this time Byrne also directed the anti-tuberculosis dispensary in King Street which was maintained by the Department of Health; she continued as director when the chest clinic was transferred to Newcastle Hospital.

In 1943 Byrne was elected a member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Four years later she was appointed staff physician and tuberculosis officer to Newcastle Hospital. She was the sole physician at the chest unit which opened in 1947 at Rankin Park, and was responsible for the establishment of Byrne House (named in her honour) which provided accommodation and rehabilitation for male tuberculosis patients. Sponsored by the Hospitals Commission, in 1955-56 she visited Canada, the United States of America, Britain and Europe to study recent developments in the treatment of tuberculosis.

A short, slim woman, with a gentle and charming personality, Dr Byrne endeared herself to staff and patients. She died, unmarried, on 5 November 1957 at Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. A colleague wrote: 'Ethel Byrne's life was completely spent in unselfish service to others. Her recognition of her professional responsibilities, her devotion to family and friends, her help to those in need formed the pattern of her daily life'.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-1975 (Syd, 1988)
  • Newcastle Hospital, Annual Report, 1918-57
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 Mar 1958
  • Newcastle Morning Herald, 6 Nov 1957
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Henry, 'Byrne, Ethel (1895–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 26 October 2016.

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

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