Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Lambie, Charles George (1891–1961)

by C. R. B. Blackburn

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

Charles George Lambie (1891-1961), professor of medicine, was born on 24 July 1891 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies, son of Lieutenant-Colonel George Lambie, merchant and commanding officer of the Trinidad Light Infantry Volunteers, and his wife Sophia Agnes Theresa, née Stollmeyer. By 8 he was composing for the piano and had given concerts. He went to boarding-school in Scotland at Ayr Academy and Stanley House, Stirlingshire, and attended the University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.B., 1914; M.D., 1927). He was president of the Royal Medical Society while serving as a resident physician in the Royal Infirmary, 1914-15 and was awarded a Murchison scholarship in clinical medicine. In 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was commissioned. Invalided from Mesopotamia to India, he spent a year as a pathologist at Poona. Promoted captain in November 1916, he commanded mobile laboratories in France and in 1918 was awarded the Military Cross.

After demobilization Lambie lectured in pharmacology in Edinburgh with Professor Cushny and carried out clinical research with Professors Meakins and Lyon. Visiting North America in 1921 he undertook research at the University of Toronto, Canada, where Frederick Banting and Charles Best had just produced the first insulin. On his return to Edinburgh in 1922 Lambie became the first person in Europe to use it for the treatment of diabetic patients. Appointed assistant physician at the Royal Infirmary and lecturer in clinical medicine at the university, he published papers on insulin, diabetes and kidney function and was a Beit memorial fellow in 1923-26. From 1926 he also lectured at the school of medicine of the Royal Colleges of Edinburgh.

On 15 April 1925 Lambie married Elizabeth Anne Walton (1892-1965) according to the rites of the Episcopal Church in Scotland; they had two daughters. In 1927 he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, which next year awarded him the Lister fellowship. His doctoral thesis 'On the locus of insulin action' (1927) gained him a gold medal.

In 1929 Lambie applied for the chairs in medicine in the universities of Aberdeen and Sydney. Offered both, he chose the G. H. Bosch chair in Sydney, taking up his post on 21 January 1931. By the end of 1932 he and Professor H. R. Dew, the first Bosch professor of surgery, had completely recast the clinical curriculum into a form which remained unchanged until 1974.

Affectionately known as the 'Wee Mon' by students, Lambie was an excellent teacher. His approach was theoretical rather than practical, in accord with his belief that the inculcation of attitudes and basic skills was more important for students than a facility with routine procedures. His lectures and addresses, always scholarly and well-adorned with classical allusions, were orations. Lambie campaigned for a broad-based secondary curriculum to enable students to enter the university equipped with a liberal education. He also pressed for a university course of 120 lectures for all students, covering the sciences and humanities.

Aloof from the established medical hierarchy, Lambie was, in some of his ideas, ahead of his time. An honorary physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he failed to achieve the unity between the university and the hospital that he believed desirable, but most of his ideas were later carried out. At a council-meeting of the newly founded Association of Physicians of Australasia in May 1931, he proposed that a college of physicians be established. Although the council rejected his proposal the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, when inaugurated in 1938, had essentially the same aims as those which he proposed. Lambie was a foundation fellow but took no further part in its development.

Owing to a shortage of staff and money, Lambie's research in Sydney was limited, but he collaborated in studies on the purification and actions of thyrotropic hormone. He published some thirty papers in which he described rare diseases, reviewed scholarly works and expressed his ideas on medical education. His chief work was Clinical diagnostic methods (1947), written with Dr Jean Armytage. He contributed a chapter reviewing French contributions to medicine to Light out of France (1951). After a serious illness in 1940-42, Lambie was rarely seen outside his university department or hospital ward. Suffering from diabetes and arterial disease, he visited Edinburgh in 1950 for surgical treatment, returning next year. After retiring in 1957 he assisted a committee of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association, chaired by (Sir) William Morrow, inquiring into medical education. At the time of his death he was writing a scholarly medical history.

Lambie was the first full-time academically trained professor of medicine in Australia and profoundly influenced the discipline. Eighteen professors of medicine appointed to Australian universities were his students or graduates of the school which he founded. His meticulous drill-like clinical teaching also had a major influence on many practising doctors.

Reserved, idealistic and punctilious, Lambie was a frugal man who neither smoked tobacco nor drank alcohol and seldom attended social functions other than those connected with music. His most treasured possession was his grand piano. Of wide musical interests, he studied composition with Edgar Bainton and received favourable notices from Sydney critics. He learned Italian, German, and French and had some familiarity with Hindustani and Arabic. A committed Christian, he translated the New Testament from English into Greek. He died of coronary vascular disease on 28 August 1961 in the Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His wife and two daughters survived him. A portrait by Nora Heysen is held by the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • London Gazette, 16 Sept 1918
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 27 Jan 1962
  • Bulletin of the Postgraduate Committee in Medicine, University of Sydney, 25 Sept 1969
  • Bulletin, 13 Nov 1957
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives (Sydney)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. R. B. Blackburn, 'Lambie, Charles George (1891–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lambie-charles-george-7016/text12201, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 November 2014.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014