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Lilley, Charles Mitford (1890–1955)

by C. A. C. Leggett

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Charles Mitford Lilley (1890-1955), medical practitioner, was born on 28 January 1890 at Kelvin Grove, Brisbane, son of Edwyn Mitford Lilley, barrister, and his wife Kate, née Goggs, both Queensland born. His grandfather was Sir Charles Lilley and Kathleen Mitford Lilley was a sister. Charles was educated at Brisbane Grammar School where he played in the Rugby fifteen and in 1908 was champion rifle-shot of the school's accomplished Empire Cup shooting team. He graduated from the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M.) in March 1914 as a student of St Andrew's College.

Lilley at first worked as resident medical officer at the Brisbane Hospital where he was briefly acting medical superintendent in 1917. Next year, after enlisting as captain with the Australian Imperial Force, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Ireland). He served in France from July to October with the 2nd Field Ambulance and for another year with various units.

After demobilization he was appointed to the surgical staff of the Brisbane Hospital in 1920 and remained a general consultant for thirty-four years. But Charles Lilley was first of all a general practitioner, living and practising at Bardon. He had great ability in general medicine and his skills embraced the full range of medical practice of the era. His superb surgical skill eventually became so apparent that he forsook general practice and became a consultant general surgeon in Wickham Terrace. He was without doubt in the very forefront of Australian surgeons, especially in the surgery of the head and neck. His technique was meticulous and matched by humble dedication to his craft. Dr J. V. Duhig remarked that he was 'rated higher as a thyroid surgeon than anybody else in Australia in his time, while many old timers think him the best surgeon Queensland has ever had'.

Monetary reward was the least of Lilley's interests: he billed his impecunious patients with token charges and was honorary surgeon for Anglican orders of nuns. He never sought the limelight and hated sham and humbug. Unfortunately he had limited powers of communication: he was a poor public speaker, he avoided conferences, even after his election in 1931 to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, and he did not contribute to surgical literature because of lack of confidence in his powers of expression. The medical profession suffered because of these shortcomings, for he had unrivalled surgical experience and had much to teach. He taught by example and never shirked his Hippocratic responsibilities. He was utterly devoted to his patients and the hour of day or night mattered little if his skills were required. He was a great man and a most humble man.

Lilley's general reading was wide. Especially fond of Pepys, he spoke with authority on the British Navy in the later seventeenth century. Boating and fishing were his leisure activities. Briefly president of the Brisbane Grammar Old Boys' Association, he was a member of the Queensland Club from 1944.

Unmarried, Lilley died at Windsor of bronchopneumonia, arteriosclerosis and coronary disease on 16 April 1955 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His medical friends established the Charles Mitford Lilley Memorial Fund within the faculty of medicine, University of Queensland, to encourage surgical studies.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Stephenson, Annals of the Brisbane Grammar School (Brisb, 1923)
  • T. M. Hawkins, The Queensland Great Public Schools (Brisb, 1965)
  • R. Goodman, Secondary Education in Queensland, 1860-1960 (Canb, 1968)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Aug 1955
  • private information.

Citation details

C. A. C. Leggett, 'Lilley, Charles Mitford (1890–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lilley-charles-mitford-7195/text12443, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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