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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harris, Lawrence Herschel (1871–1920)

by Suzanne D. Rutland

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Lawrence Herschel Levi Harris (1871-1920), radiologist, was born on 8 December 1871 at Kensington, London, son of Bernard Levi, merchant, and his wife Elizabeth, née Harris. Brought to Australia as an infant, he was educated at Sydney Grammar School, and in 1890 enrolled in arts at the University of Sydney. From 1891, when he transferred to medicine, he used Harris as his surname. He graduated M.B., Ch.M., in 1896 and was resident medical officer in 1896-97 and senior resident in 1897-1900 at Sydney Hospital.

A keen photographer, Harris became interested in X-rays in the second half of 1896, one year after Röntgen's discovery, and founded an X-ray unit at Sydney Hospital. In 1900 he became honorary skiagrapher (later radiographer) there and was also assistant surgeon for a time. He also became honorary radiographer for the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in 1902 and the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1911, and was connected with other institutions.

Herschel Harris became a leading figure in radiology in New South Wales. He won international repute, maintained world-wide contacts with experts, and published some twenty-eight articles on radiology. He was one of the first to use opaque meal for the examination of gastric and intestinal diseases and initiated the use of X-rays to treat keloid scars. He sought more efficient units in hospitals, advocating specific training of sisters.

In England in 1914 for the annual meeting of the British Medical Association, Harris volunteered soon after the outbreak of World War I. As a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps he joined the Australian Voluntary Hospital under Lieutenant-Colonel William Eames, as radiologist. At Wimereux, France, he set up his X-ray equipment within seven hours of landing. Promoted major in May 1915, he was transferred to the 3rd Australian General Hospital at Lemnos, where he was hindered by the difficult climate and surroundings and by dermatitis of the hands (pioneer radiologists were unaware of the danger of unshielded X-rays). After the evacuation of Gallipoli he was invalided to England, before returning to Australia through the United States of America where he was made life member of the American Roentgen Ray Society.

Kindly, generous and popular, Harris was ready to share his knowledge and experience. He was handsome with dark wavy hair and a handle-bar moustache, and known for his consideration for nurses: during the war, he had devoted part of his military pay to assist them and at Lemnos spent much of his off-duty time trying to find extra rations for them.

On 13 September 1920 Harris died at his home at Macquarie Street, Sydney, from encephalitis following influenza and was buried with military honours in the Jewish section of Rookwood cemetery. A bachelor, he was survived by two sisters; Dr Harry Harris was a cousin. His estate was valued for probate at £71,128. Harris had contributed significantly to the development of radiology.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Watson & Sons Ltd, Salute to the X-Ray Pioneers of Australia (Syd, 1946)
  • P. L. Hipsley, The Early History of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children 1880-1905 (Syd, 1952)
  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • Sydney Hospital, Annual Report, 1896-1915
  • Medical Journal of Australia, Sept 1920
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1920
  • Hebrew Standard of Australasia, 17 Sept 1920.

Citation details

Suzanne D. Rutland, 'Harris, Lawrence Herschel (1871–1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Levi, Lawrence Herschel

8 December 1871
London, Middlesex, England


13 September 1920
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence