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Hirschfeld, Otto Saddler (1898–1957)

by Ross Patrick

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Otto Saddler Hirschfeld (1898-1957), medical practitioner and university chancellor, was born on 24 March 1898 in Brisbane, eldest of six children of Eugen Hirschfeld, a physician from Prussia, and his Victorian-born wife Annie Sarah Eliza, née Saddler. Otto was educated at the Normal School, Brisbane Grammar School (which he represented at Rugby Union football) and the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1919; M.Sc., 1921). With Professor T. H. Johnston, he was co-author of 'The Lingulidae of the Queensland Coast', a paper read to the Royal Society of Queensland in June 1919. Hirschfeld then studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1923). After serving as a resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital for eighteen months, he returned to Brisbane in June 1924 and entered private practice. On 29 October 1925 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, South Brisbane, he married Joan Mary Eliott, a nurse. His father, who had been German consul in Brisbane, was interned in 1916 and deported in 1920. Although he was permitted to return to Australia in 1927, the family suffered many indignities during these years. As the eldest son, Otto carried the responsibility of being head of the family in Eugen's absence. He never revealed any resentment of the episode.

Having been a physician to out-patients at Brisbane Hospital from 1925, Otto Hirschfeld was appointed a physician to in-patients in 1936 and a senior part-time physician in 1938. In that year he began lecturing in clinical medicine at the University of Queensland. He was subsequently a lecturer in pharmacology and materia medica, in diseases of metabolism, in forensic medicine, and in medicine and pathology. While an examiner in medical nursing, he wrote a manual that was published by the Nurses and Masseurs' Registration Board of Queensland. Hirschfeld was an excellent general physician, with a particular interest in diabetes mellitus and therapeutics; he had charge of the diabetic clinic at Brisbane Hospital in 1937-57. A member (1951) and fellow (1956) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, he served on its therapeutic advisory committee. He also sat on the State advisory committee on hospital drugs and surgical appliances, and the poisons schedule committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, and chaired the committee which prepared the Brisbane Hospital Pharmacopoeia.

A huge man, slow of movement and speech, 'needing only a cloak to make him a Chestertonian figure', Hirschfeld was nevertheless highly intelligent, quick witted and keenly observant. He was gifted with the 'common touch' and knew a host of people from all walks of life. Hundreds of medical students who listened to his lectures and attended his rounds of the wards quickly acquired respect and affection for him. They looked on him as a great clinician whose knowledge was tempered with honesty and sense. Showing kindness and understanding, he helped to solve many of their personal problems. His colleagues held his clinical judgement in such regard that he was known as a 'consultant's consultant'. He was a member (from 1950) of the senate of the University of Queensland, deputy-chancellor (1952) and chancellor (from 1953). While he grasped details quickly and had a flair for eliminating non-essentials, his decisions were based on justice and principle. Respected and well liked, he carried out his duties with dignity, diplomacy and courage. In 1956 the University of Melbourne conferred on him an honorary LL.D.

Contract bridge, philately, reading, gardening and horse-racing were his recreations. A foundation member of the Queensland Bridge Association, Hirschfeld was president (1949) of the Australian Bridge Council. In the World Bridge Olympics in 1951 he and his partner won third prize in competition with four thousand pairs. He was a member (from 1927) and president (1940-41 and 1949-50) of the Johnsonian Club, and particularly enjoyed its camaraderie; he also belonged to the Queensland Turf Club. Hirschfeld died of a ruptured aneurysm of the abdominal aorta on 29 May 1957 at Clayfield and was cremated; his wife, two sons and two daughters survived him. (Sir) William Dargie's portrait of Hirschfeld is held by the University of Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-75 (Syd, 1988)
  • University of Queensland Gazette, Sept 1953, p 2, Dec 1956, p 8, Sept 1957, p 2
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2, Aug 1957, p 223
  • University of Queensland Medical School, Trephine, 5, no 2, 1957, p 102
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 30, 31 May 1957
  • University of Queensland Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Ross Patrick, 'Hirschfeld, Otto Saddler (1898–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hirschfeld-otto-saddler-10509/text18649, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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