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Wade, Sir Robert Blakeway (1874–1954)

by C. R. B. Blackburn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Sir Robert Blakeway Wade (1874-1954), orthopaedic surgeon, was born on 27 January 1874 at Bathurst, New South Wales, son of English-born William Burton Wade, civil engineer, and his native-born wife Anne McBean, née Duguid. (Sir) Charles and Leslie were his brothers. Robert attended Sydney Grammar School and studied medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., 1896; M.D., 1904; Ch.M., 1907). He was resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and in 1897 joined the staff of the Hospital for Sick Children (Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children) where he became honorary registrar and anaesthetist in 1901; he was awarded his doctorate for a thesis on ether anaesthesia. Honorary assistant surgeon (1901-13), honorary surgeon (1913-33) and consultant (from 1934), he had been associated with (Sir) Charles Clubbe; Wade developed an interest in orthopaedic surgery and became director of the gymnasium and massage department in 1912. At St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, on 13 June 1903 he had married Maude May, a nurse and daughter of T. F. Furber; they were to have three daughters.

A major in the Australian Army Medical Corps, during World War I Wade was surgeon at the Military Hospital, Randwick; promoted lieutenant-colonel, he became consultant orthopaedic surgeon. Following his involvement with children during the poliomyelitis epidemic in 1915-16 and with the orthopaedic problems of wounded soldiers, he became particularly interested in the treatment of cripples, and in preventive medicine and rehabilitation.

Active and vocal as a councillor (1917-33) and president (1925-26) of the State branch of the British Medical Association, Wade was inaugural president (1937) of the orthopaedic section of the Australasian Medical Congress. He published in the Medical Journal of Australia. An able administrator, he was vice-president (1920-33) and president (1933-43) of the board of management of the R.A.H.C. He was a foundation fellow (1927) of the (Royal) Australasian College of Surgeons (president 1935-37); chairman of his State's medical board, the Australian Advisory Council for the Physically Handicapped and the New South Wales Institute of Hospital Almoners; a director, vice-chairman and honorary surgeon at the Prince Henry Hospital, and an honorary at Marrickville and Royal South Sydney hospitals.

In improving health care in the community, Wade played an outstanding role. At the R.A.H.C. he was largely responsible for establishing the Physically Handicapped Children's School (1930), the department of social work (1930), speech therapy unit (1931) and orthopaedic clinic (1932). As lecturer in paediatric surgery at the hospital from 1924 and at the university in 1926-32, he took a large part in making the R.A.H.C. clinical school a major undergraduate teaching facility of the university: he publicly declared the need for a chair in child health and paediatrics four years before it was established in 1949. In his Clubbe oration (1945) Wade also expressed his beliefs in the 'need to improve both the social welfare and the general health of our people', in the importance of 'ample supplies of suitable food at prices possible for everyone' and in 'slum clearance and building of sanitary houses for all'. He saw and sought broad ends and considered that good health began pre-natally and in childhood.

Solid, self-contained and seemingly unhurried, Wade had presence, without any aura of self-importance, and was as readily approached by adults as by children. Rather than irony or humour, his smile revealed the pleasure and interest he showed in his patients, colleagues and friends. For relaxation, he belonged to Royal Sydney Golf Club and went trout-fishing. Elected honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, in 1937, he was knighted next year. Survived by a daughter, he died on 13 May 1954 at Bathurst, where he had spent his last years in retirement, and was cremated. A portrait by Joshua Smith is held by the R.A.H.C.; another by W. B. McInnes is held by the R.A.C.S., Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 4 Aug 1945, 7 Aug 1954
  • Bulletin of the Post-Graduate Committee in Medicine of the University of Sydney, Oct 1965, p 111
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

C. R. B. Blackburn, 'Wade, Sir Robert Blakeway (1874–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wade-sir-robert-blakeway-8941/text15713, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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