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Craig, Robert Gordon (1870–1931)

by Malcolm S. S. Earlam

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Robert Gordon Craig (1870-1931), surgeon, was born on 23 May 1870 at Ardrossan, Ayrshire, Scotland, eldest son of Robert Craig (d.1917), sea captain, and his wife Elizabeth, née Brown. His father had earned enough to marry by running guns to Confederates during the American civil war, and later augmented the family income by running brandy from France to Belfast; in 1877 he decided to settle in Sydney.

Next year Gordon Craig joined his parents; he was educated at Sydney Grammar School and George Watson's College, Edinburgh. After a year in the faculty of arts, University of Sydney, in 1888 he contracted enteric fever; he spent 1889 in a shipping office. Back at the university next year, he was awarded a blue for distance running and graduated M.B., Ch.M. in 1894 with first-class honours and the university medal. After a year as resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he bought a practice at Newtown. On 29 June 1895 at Pymble he married Maria Graeme Connon, a graduate of Canterbury College, New Zealand.

Craig became an honorary assistant surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1901, honorary surgeon in 1911, honorary urological surgeon in 1926 and consultant in 1930. In 1908 he relinquished his practice to his brother Francis Brown Craig and visited England and the United States of America. On his return he began surgical practice in Macquarie Street, first at Craignish and later at Ardrossan, which he bought. From 1914 he lectured in surgery at the university. In May 1915 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and in July was commissioned lieutenant-colonel. He served in No.1 Hospital Ship Karoola in the Mediterranean and Australia until the end of 1916, and from 1917 as surgeon at Randwick Military Hospital, Sydney.

Exceptionally gifted as a surgeon, Craig was full of confidence in his ability, and was thoughtful and unhurried: yet his speed in operating was surprising. He treated his public hospital patients with the same kindness and care as his private patients received. In 1927 he successfully operated on a boy (one of whose kidneys had been shattered by a bullet) in a small and almost inaccessible bush hut in the Burragorang valley. Craig presided over the surgical section at the 1928 session of the Australasian Medical Congress, was a council-member of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association and president in 1917-18, and a foundation fellow of the College of Surgeons of Australasia in 1928.

In the early 1920s Craig endowed a urological fellowship (at the time unique in Australia) at the University of Sydney and at departments of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children. In all he donated some £20,000 in money, laboratory equipment and books to the university.

Proud of his Scottish descent, he spoke with a burr which varied in intensity with the importance of the occasion. Sailing was in his blood and he raced with the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. He was a first-class golfer and a vice-president of the Australian Golf Club, a member of the Rotary Club of Sydney and the Australian and University clubs. Fascinated by motor cars, he had a small fleet and once built a steam car in the backyard of his home at Centennial Park. In the late 1920s he bought Ulinda station, near Binnaway, where he hoped to carry out research into the prevention of the break in wool caused by malnutrition.

Craig died suddenly at Ulinda of coronary thrombosis on 2 September 1931 and was cremated after a service at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. He was survived by his wife and two daughters. His estate was valued for probate at £115,555; he left the residue, amounting to about £60,000, to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, which holds his portrait in charcoal by George Lambert.

Select Bibliography

  • Medical Journal of Australia, 24 Jan 1959
  • Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery, 3 Dec 1973
  • Reveille (Sydney), 30 Sept 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Jan 1927, 14 Aug 1928, 3 Sept, 10 Oct 1931.

Citation details

Malcolm S. S. Earlam, 'Craig, Robert Gordon (1870–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/craig-robert-gordon-5803/text9849, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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