Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Story, George Fordyce (1800–1885)

by Mary Bartram Trott

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

George Fordyce Story (1800-1885), medical practitioner, was born on 4 June 1800 in London, the son of George Story, Wesleyan minister. He received his early schooling in London and, after three years apprenticeship to a chemist in Aberdeen, studied medicine in Edinburgh, received his diploma in 1824, and practised in London. On the death of his widowed mother in 1828, he sailed for Sydney as surgeon in the Mary with his childhood friend, Francis Cotton.

Wearied by the long voyage and attracted by his first Australian landfall, he stayed in Van Diemen's Land. In April 1829 he took up the duties of district assistant surgeon at Waterloo Point Military Station, where he had to attend all floggings of prisoners and soldiers, perform post-mortems, vaccinate, inspect the gaol and road-gangs, and make weather reports. Along a sparsely settled sixty miles (97 km) of coastal strip he treated families and their assigned servants for their illnesses, accidents and injuries sustained from attacks by Aboriginals and bushrangers. Though his own life was often endangered when fording flooded rivers, travelling on horseback in all weather or at night on precipitous unmade tracks, and penetrating alone into hostile territory where even soldiers had to go in pairs, he was paid only 3s. a day. His few private fees barely covered the cost of horses and medicines, and to supplement his income he became store-keeper at Waterloo Point. He also received a land grant but lost it because his onerous duties and unaggressive ways prevented him from improving it and defending his claim. His home became Kelvedon, with the Cotton family.

When the convict department was reorganized the store-keeping post ended. In 1844 Story became secretary of the Royal Society of Tasmania at a salary of £200 and superintended the development of the Botanical Gardens. Next year the government grant for this project was not renewed, and he returned to Kelvedon and the medical profession.

An observant and intelligent naturalist, he sent minerals to Lady Jane Franklin, bird skins to her husband, ferns to James Backhouse and botanical specimens to Sir Ferdinand Mueller. In his isolation he tried to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries and experimented with new drugs, chloroform and photographic chemicals. His skill in diagnosis and prescription, and his gentle touch made him unusually successful in saving lives, and kept him in demand even in his last eleven years when he was blind with cataracts. Although studious and retiring he gave long service to his community as a temperance worker, electoral officer, a founder of the Glamorgan Library in Swansea in 1862, and member of the local school board in 1869.

During the journey of Backhouse and Walker he became a Quaker, attended the small Kelvedon, and short-lived Launceston Meeting, and travelled around the island and to South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales to encourage other struggling Meetings.

He died on 7 June 1885, mourned by every family on the east coast, and was buried at Kelvedon next to Anna Maria and Francis Cotton. Early pioneers owed much to his skill and devotion.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Backhouse, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies (Lond, 1843)
  • J. Backhouse and C. Tylor, The Life and Labours of George Washington Walker (Lond, 1862)
  • Monthly Meeting minute books (Society of Friends, Hobart)
  • G. F. Story, journals and correspondence (in Cotton papers, University of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1 & 5 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Mary Bartram Trott, 'Story, George Fordyce (1800–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/story-george-fordyce-2706/text3799, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 28 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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