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Simpson, George (1899–1960)

by Janet McCalman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

George Simpson (1899-1960), obstetrician and gynaecologist, was born on 14 May 1899 at Clifton, near Hamilton, Victoria, third of six children of Archibald Joseph Simpson, grazier, and his wife Mary, née Robertson, both Victorian born. George's grandfather had been a moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria, and the boy came under the spiritual influence of two other Presbyterian ministers, Andrew Barber and John Flynn. While boarding at Scotch College, Melbourne, he began a lifelong association with the family of the headmaster, William Littlejohn.

After graduating from the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1922) in tenth place in a medical class which included (Dame) Jean Macnamara, (Sir) Roy Cameron, (Professor) Rupert Willis, (Sir) Macfarlane Burnet and (Dame) Kate Campbell, Simpson held residencies at the Melbourne and Children's hospitals. He travelled to Britain and qualified as a member (1926) of the Royal College of Physicians, London. A residency at Queen Charlotte's Maternity Hospital and further study at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, drew him to specialize in obstetrics and gynaecology.

In 1927 Simpson returned to Melbourne. He obtained a diploma of gynaecology and obstetrics (1933) from the university, and became a member (1935) and fellow (1951) of the British (Royal) College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. At Holy Trinity Church, Kew, on 18 May 1931 he married with Anglican rites Nesta Cecil Annie Miller. Next year he joined the honorary staff of the (Royal) Women's Hospital. Appointed flight lieutenant, Royal Australian Air Force Reserve, on 25 November 1940, he served full time in 1942-44 with medical units at Daly Waters, Northern Territory, and Heidelberg, Melbourne, and rose to squadron leader.

Simpson's boyhood spiritual mentor, Flynn, had asked him in 1927 to be medical adviser to the Australian Inland Mission. That year Simpson and Barber undertook a three-month survey by motorcar of the medical needs of the outback. Their report convinced the A.I.M.'s councillors to authorize in 1928 experimental flights for what became the Aerial Medical Service (Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia). Simpson remained close to its administration for the rest of his life and presided over the federal council in 1947.

The A.M.S. was the first of a series of commitments which Simpson made to outreach-medicine for those denied professional care, either by distance or poverty. In 1930 he was appointed honorary obstetrician to the antenatal department of the Melbourne District Nursing Society (Service), the only provider of home midwifery to the poor. Over the next thirty-two years, until it was disbanded in 1952 due to the wholesale move to hospital births, the midwifery service delivered 7617 babies, with the loss of only five mothers. With Dr (Dame) Mary Herring and Dr Victor Wallace, Simpson succeeded in 1934 in persuading the M.D.N.S. to open the Women's Welfare Clinic, Melbourne's first birth-control centre. He was a serving brother (from 1936) of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and secretary (from 1945) of the Victorian Bush Nursing Association.

Driven by a deep compassion for women, Simpson was a gifted clinician who championed home midwifery and argued for judicious intervention at a time when many doctors trusted almost everything to nature. He was an elder of the Presbyterian Church and lived his faith daily. In 1957 he was appointed O.B.E. Nesta supported his outreach-work, and served as president of the M.D.N.S. in 1952-64. Simpson died of haematemesis on 24 November 1960 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his wife and their two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Rosenthal, People—Not Cases (Melb, 1974)
  • Walkabout, Jan 1963, p 35
  • Simpson papers (Archives of Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, East Melbourne).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Janet McCalman, 'Simpson, George (1899–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/simpson-george-11696/text20903, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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