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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ross, Chisholm (1857–1934)

by Stephen Garton

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

Chisholm Ross (1857-1934), psychiatrist, was born on 29 October 1857 at Byron, near Inverell, New South Wales, fifth of ten children of Colin Ross, storekeeper and later grazier, and his Sydney-born wife Rose, née Brown. The Ross family became prominent landowners near Inverell and traced a proud Scottish lineage back to the earls of Ross and the chieftainship of Clan Anrias. Chisholm was educated at The King's School, Parramatta (1872-74), then worked on his father's property and trained as a wool expert. From 1879 he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1883).

Returning to Sydney late in 1883, on 2 February next year Ross was appointed assistant medical officer at the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, where he collaborated with Eric Sinclair in developing surgical treatments for various mental disorders. On 20 December 1884 he married Margaret Rowan Shiels at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church. In 1886 he graduated M.D. from the University of Sydney. He was medical superintendent at the Hospital for the Insane, and health officer for Newcastle (1891-94), superintendent of Kenmore, the new mental hospital near Goulburn (1895-1900), and from 1 October 1900 superintendent at Callan Park hospital, one of the prized appointments in the mental hospital service.

In 1903 Ross resigned and was one of the first mental hospital doctors to establish himself as a specialist in Phillip Street. He also opened private hospitals for treating neurotics at Lane Cove and Randwick. He lectured in psychological medicine at the University of Sydney (1889-1907), was a member of the Medical Board of New South Wales (1903-06) and the Central Board for Old-Age Pensions (1905-11), and in 1914 was president of the neurology and psychiatry section of the Australasian Medical Congress.

His most important position was visiting medical officer at the Reception House for the Insane, Darlinghurst, from 1 February 1909. Responsible for certifying the majority of persons admitted to mental hospitals in the State, Ross was in a position that involved conflict with some patients and was sued, unsuccessfully, for wrongful confinement several times. He was central in the certification and confinement in 1912 and 1916 of the sex reformer William Chidley.

Quiet and thoughtful, Ross was round-faced with short-cropped hair and a moustache, admired by his colleagues for his 'love of truth, keen insights and sympathy for the suffering of others'. He remained interested in the land, published a paper on making ensilage in the Agricultural Gazette of New South Wales (1900) and, indulging his 'passion for trees', supervised planting many at Kenmore. He was one of the State's most eminent psychiatrists but his final professional years were marred by controversy. In 1930 his evidence on the competence of Gerald Massey to make a will was deemed unreliable: Justice (Sir) Colin Davidson declared Ross to be 'a menace to the public and a disgrace to the profession'. He was cleared of any wrong-doing by a Medical Board inquiry, nevertheless resigned his position at the Reception House in 1931. In September 1934 he fell while alighting from a train, died at his North Sydney home on 6 October and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His wife, four sons and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Scottish Australasian, Nov 1913
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 8 Dec 1934
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Oct 1930, 8 Oct 1934.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Stephen Garton, 'Ross, Chisholm (1857–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 11

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