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Quick, Balcombe (1883–1969)

by R. R. Andrew

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Balcombe Quick (1883-1969), surgeon, was born on 12 May 1883 at Dunedin, New Zealand, only son of William Hichens Quick (1850-1921), a banker who had migrated from England to New Zealand in 1876, and his wife Lucia Emily (1855-1942), daughter of Alexander Beatson Balcombe. She was a maternal aunt of Dame Mabel Brookes. The family left New Zealand in the early 1880s and Quick set up as a stockbroker in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Balcombe was sent to a private school, Cumloden, then enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., 1904; B.S., 1905); he was a member of Trinity College. He was appointed resident medical officer at Alfred Hospital, thus beginning a professional relationship with that hospital of fifty-seven years. He was attracted to surgery and did his postgraduate training in London (F.R.C.S., 1910). On his return to Melbourne he was appointed an out-patient honorary surgeon in 1912 at Alfred Hospital.

Quick was commissioned captain in the militia (1912), enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 August 1914, and was gazetted captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He embarked for Egypt on 19 October with the 2nd Field Ambulance which had several officers who became notable in the A.A.M.C. and in civilian practice, including (Sir) Victor Hurley and Roy Chambers. He landed on Gallipoli on 30 May 1915 and began his distinguished surgical career under the primitive conditions and constant challenges there. Transferred to Egypt in December 1915 and promoted major in the 1st Australian General Hospital, he was with his unit when they disembarked in France on 6 April 1916.

Promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel on 7 November, he was confirmed in rank on 20 February 1917 and in September was posted as surgical specialist to the 2nd Casualty Clearing Station at Rouen where, with his large experience in the surgery of wounds, he was influential in the treatment of battle casualties.

Quick was one of the earliest exponents of the early treatment of wounds by débridgement and of the development of resuscitation teams. His valuable work on the treatment of wounds of joints was highly praised in the official history of the A.A.M.C. and led to an authoritative publication in the Medical Journal of Australia (8, 22 June 1918). His unit claimed 'the distinction of being the first in the British Army to use an X-ray apparatus in the field'.

Quick was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order (June 1918), the citation stating that he 'has consistently done most excellent work with field Imperial Units at the front'. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 17 January 1919; he remained on the A.A.M.C. Reserve from 1921 to 1944.

Quick's association with Alfred Hospital continued with his appointment as an in-patient surgeon in 1919, and as a consultant from 1945. He was dean of the clinical school 1938-45, member of the board of management 1934-62 (vice-president 1958-60), and a board-member of the Baker Medical Research Institute 1942-65. Other appointments included visiting surgeon to the Caulfield Repatriation Hospital and Stewart lecturer in surgery at the University of Melbourne.

His practice as a general surgeon was augmented by his earlier training in plastic surgery. He never attained a quite outstanding reputation, for his peer group was a dazzling one which included Sir Hugh Devine, Sir Alan Newton, Julian Smith, Sir Victor Hurley and, at Alfred Hospital, Hamilton Russell and Fay Maclure, but he was a remarkably influential teacher. He became a foundation fellow of the (Royal) Australasian College of Surgeons in 1927 (council-member in 1933-48 and honorary treasurer in 1937-49).

Quick was a tall and handsome man, somewhat aloof and fastidious but highly regarded by his colleagues and students. Sartorially impeccable down to his spats, he spoke with precision and wrote concisely. His patients recognized the patrician gentleman. He was a highly successful photographer, a trout fisherman and, perhaps consequently, was an early conservationist, being a member of the governing committee of Wilson's Promontory National Park. He was a member of the Melbourne Club.

On 9 February 1927 Quick married Hilary Stephens, who survived him, with their son, when he died in Melbourne on 5 September 1969. He was cremated after a service at Toorak Presbyterian Church.

Select Bibliography

  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War, 1914-18, vols 2, 3 (Canb, 1940, 1943)
  • T. E. Lowe, The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute (Melb, 1974)
  • A. M. Mitchell, The Hospital South of the Yarra (Melb, 1977)
  • London Gazette, 24 May, 3 June 1918
  • family papers (privately held).

Citation details

R. R. Andrew, 'Quick, Balcombe (1883–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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