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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Shields, Sir Douglas Andrew (1876–1952)

by Leonard J. T. Murphy

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

Sir Douglas Andrew Shields (1876-1952), surgeon, was born on 21 July 1876 at North Melbourne, sixth of eight children of Andrew Shields, medical practitioner, and his wife Agnes, née Weir. Educated at Scotch College, he matriculated with distinction aged 15 and commenced medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., 1897; B.S., 1898; M.D., 1901). After a brilliant undergraduate career, he graduated at the top of the honours list. In 1898 he was a resident medical officer at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital and next year began practice at Seymour, as a first step towards becoming a specialist surgeon. On 20 December 1899 at Albury, New South Wales, he married Mary Ellen Shirrefs with Anglican rites. He was then reported to be a handsome well-built man of medium height.

A member of Sir William Clarke's half-battery of Royal Horse Artillery at Rupertswood, Sunbury, Shields enlisted in 1902 for service in the South African War with the 6th Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, but arrived too late to see action. He returned to Australia in July as medical officer in charge of the Drayton Grange: gross overcrowding, lack of discipline and hygiene, and disease and death during the voyage were the subjects of a royal commission.

Shields resumed practice in Seymour until 1905 when he moved to Melbourne to further his surgical career. He was appointed assistant surgeon to in-patients at St Vincent's Hospital and soon invented the Shields anaesthetic mask, an improvement on those in general use. In 1908 he became senior surgeon to the hospital. He then, for the fifth time, failed the M.S. examination. He twice protested unsuccessfully at these results which conflicted with his experience and reputation. In 1910, however, he was appointed surgeon to the governor-general and, amid intense public interest, successfully operated on the Countess of Dudley.

On a return voyage from England in 1911 Shields was asked by the widow of the Victorian financier Benjamin Fink to attend her only son who was gravely ill. He was unable to save her son, but Mrs Fink bought a mansion at 17 Park Lane, London, which she converted into a private hospital for Shields, the Harold Fink Private Hospital; in 1912 Shields moved to London.

During World War I he served as surgeon in chief of the Australian Voluntary Hospital, with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Later appointed consultant surgeon to the Royal Navy with the rank of rear admiral, he was posted to the Grand Fleet at Rosyth, Scotland. He was also promoted brigadier general in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Shields's hospital became the Hospital for Wounded Officers and as surgeon-in-chief, he operated on over 2000 officers during the war years. After the war the hospital became his private clinic. He was knighted in 1919 and, in 1922, received an honorary LL.D. from the University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Lacking a senior surgical degree and a position on the surgical staff of a London hospital, Shields was not accepted into the fraternity of London surgeons, but his practice flourished, especially among the aristocracy, the rich and the famous. Factors in his success were his pleasant personality, his sympathetic attitude towards his patients and his well-recognized surgical skill. Among his distinguished patients were the Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, Jay Gould, Ramsay MacDonald, John Galsworthy, Sir James Barrie, Dame Nellie Melba and (Sir) Donald Bradman, who, in 1934, underwent appendicectomy. At his country home, Colinswood, Shields entertained many Australian visitors and sporting teams, especially cricketers.

In 1931 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. On his retirement he bought Oakley, a Surrey estate. Sir Douglas Shields died on 22 February 1952 of coronary thrombosis at Oakley and was buried in the family grave in the old Paddington cemetery. His son, Dr Douglas Clive Shields, survived him. A portrait by Rudolph Sauter is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1901-02, 2 (3), p 115
  • Crossing Place, 2, no 4, 1974, p 25
  • British Medical Journal, 8 Mar 1952
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 Nov 1910
  • Times (London), 23 Feb 1952
  • D. Shields, Autobiography of a Surgeon. Life in Different Parts of the World (typescript, 1951, privately held)
  • private information.

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Citation details

Leonard J. T. Murphy, 'Shields, Sir Douglas Andrew (1876–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 31 October 2020.

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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