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Chambers, Thomas (1829–1896)

by Alison K. Atkin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Thomas Chambers (1829-1896), medical practitioner and university lecturer, was born in Yorkshire, England, son of Luke Chambers, farmer, and his wife Martha, née Parker, who died at his birth. He was apprenticed to a surgeon at 17 and managed to save enough money to study at the London Hospital (M.R.C.S., 1858) where he was a contemporary of Sir Morell Mackenzie. Later he qualified at Edinburgh (L.R.C.P., 1860; F.R.C.S., 1867; M.R.C.P., 1871; F.R.C.P., 1875). He was registered for practice on 1 January 1859 but made a trip to Australia as a ship's surgeon before commencing as a practitioner in London. He early became interested in the diseases of women and in 1871, with James Hobson Aveling, established the Chelsea Hospital for Women, making available a cottage for this purpose. He was senior physician there and consulting physician accoucheur at the Western Dispensary, Westminster, and St John's House Maternity Home. He was a member of the British Medical Association and throughout his life contributed many important articles to medical journals. He was a fellow of the Medical Society of London and the Obstetrical Society of which he was also a councillor in 1874-76. About 1880 he established Cedar View, Denmark Hill, as a private hospital.

By 1882 he had high repute as a gynaecologist, but because of his health he went to Sydney. There he soon acquired a large specialist practice and in August was elected honorary physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He resigned next year when he was not appointed to the gynaecological post at the hospital. When medical lectures were established at the University of Sydney in 1883, he was appointed lecturer in the practice of midwifery, which from 1884 included the diseases of women; he held this appointment until 1896. From the opening of the gynaecological ward at Sydney Hospital in 1886 until 1896 Chambers was its surgeon, and he often invited his university students to attend his operations there on Saturday mornings. In 1884 in Woolloomooloo Street he opened St Kilda, a private hospital for women. This institution was the first of its kind in Australia and it was solely his responsibility for nearly six years when three other doctors joined him as proprietors; one of them was his closest friend, Henry William Crago.

Chambers was active in local medical societies and held many important positions in them. In 1886 he was president of the medical branch of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and a councillor of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association in 1886-89, and its vice-president in 1887 and president in 1888; Chambers regretted that he 'was frequently busy preparing University lectures when he should very much have liked to have been at meetings of the Branch'. He was also treasurer of the Intercolonial Medical Congress in 1892. His last medical appointment was in 1895 when he became honorary gynaecological surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Chambers attained great eminence in his profession and was highly respected by both his colleagues and students. His sympathetic manner endeared him to his patients. A contemporary, Dr Philip Sydney Jones, declared that his 'Wide knowledge and experience in his own branch of the profession rendered his opinions of greatest value'. Dr Robert Scot Skirving referred to him as 'a kindly gentleman, always immaculately dressed, well liked by us all, and a good host in his home'. He was reputed to be a wise, shrewd diagnostician and a remarkably successful and innovating abdominal surgeon. He has been claimed as the first definite specialist in women's diseases in Sydney.

Chambers was married first at 30 to Elizabeth Jane D'Urban, daughter of an English barrister; they had six sons and two daughters. At 60 he married Charlotte Sarah, sister of Charles Edward Jeanneret and formerly matron of St Kilda Hospital; they had no children. Chambers died aged 67 at his home, Lansdowne, Summer Hill, Sydney, on 24 August 1896 and was buried privately in the Anglican section of the Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife and the six sons of his first marriage. He left an estate valued at £24,000.

Select Bibliography

  • E. H. Stokes, The Jubilee Book of the Sydney Hospital Clinical School (Syd, 1960)
  • R. D. Pinnock, 'The History and Progress of Ovariotomy in the Australian Colonies', Transactions of the Intercolonial Medical Congress of Australasia, 1887, pp 191-203
  • Australasian Medical Gazette, 1894, 1896
  • Lancet, 17 Oct 1896, 1124
  • R. Scot Skirving, ‘Surgery and Surgeons in Edinburgh and Sydney Over Forty Years Ago’, Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Mar 1926, pp 290-99
  • H. H. Schlink, ‘Royal Prince Alfred Hospital: Its History and Surgical Development’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, vol 3, no 2, Oct 1933, pp 115-29
  • G. H. Abbott, ‘The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital: Some History and Some Recollections’, Year Book (Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Medical Officers Assn), 1935, pp 9-17
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Aug 1896
  • RPA Hospital, Annual report, 1883-84, 1895-96.

Citation details

Alison K. Atkin, 'Chambers, Thomas (1829–1896)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chambers-thomas-3190/text4787, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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