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Wilson, Sir Thomas George (1876–1958)

by J. H. Love

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

Sir Thomas George Wilson (1876-1958), obstetrician and gynaecologist, was born on 27 March 1876 at Armidale, New South Wales, fourth of six children of Irish-born parents Charles Graham Wilson, council clerk, and his wife Annie Jane, née McBride. George was educated at New England Grammar School and the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1899; M.D., 1904). He qualified as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, in 1901 and undertook postgraduate work in London, Dublin and Vienna.

Settling in Adelaide, Wilson practised first as a physician and then as a surgeon. On 4 June 1902 at Christ Church, Adelaide, he married with Anglican rites Alice May, daughter of (Sir) George Brookman. They had no children and were later divorced. He was an honorary gynaecologist (1902-27) at the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital and honorary obstetrician (1903-46) at the Queen's Home (Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital). In 1909 he helped to found the Ru Rua private hospital. Believing that routine examination of all pregnant women would reduce the occurrence of complications, he established a pioneering ante-natal clinic at the Adelaide Hospital in 1910. Two years later he was appointed tutor in obstetrics at the University of Adelaide.

On 19 October 1914 Wilson was commissioned major, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He served in Egypt and on Lemnos (January-July 1915) with the 1st Australian Stationary Hospital before being repatriated because of illness. His A.I.F. appointment was terminated in January 1916. He returned to his medical practice and academic duties. On 15 May he was reappointed to the A.I.F. as lieutenant colonel and officer commanding troops in the hospital ship Karoola. In March-August 1918 he accompanied Major General R. H. J. Fetherston, director general of medical services, Australian Military Forces, on a tour of North America, Britain and Europe. From September Wilson was attached to the 1st Australian General Hospital in France then in England. His military service ended in Adelaide on 4 August 1919.

Resuming his practice, Wilson revived the ante-natal clinic which had lapsed in his absence. It was transferred to the Queen's Home in 1927, and named after him in 1932. Exerting a strong influence on the hospital's policy and development, Wilson was a member of the committee of management from 1908 and president in 1935-50. New accommodation for nurses, opened in 1949, was named after him. At the university he had become lecturer in gynaecology in 1920, and in obstetrics in 1924. On 1 February 1923 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Adelaide, he married Elsa May Cuzens, a nurse.

While overseas in 1935 Wilson investigated ways of reducing maternal mortality; he reported that this could best be achieved by improved medical training. His recommendations led to the appointment of a full-time director in obstetrics at the university in 1940, and ultimately to the establishment of a chair in obstetrics and gynaecology. Having retired in January 1940, Wilson returned in September, on the resignation of the first director, to fill the vacancy until April 1942. He then continued in an advisory capacity until December 1943. Although no longer lecturing, he continued to examine in obstetrics until 1947.

Never occupying a full-time university position, and receiving no payment as a hospital honorary, Wilson derived virtually all his income from private practice. In both practice and teaching he concentrated on the essentials, while insisting on adequate practical obstetrical experience for students. Recognizing the importance of nurses' education, he strove, in conflict with the State government, to maintain the high midwifery standards of the Australasian Trained Nurses' Association. He was a founder (1905) of its South Australian branch and later president then patron. As an inaugural member (1920) of the State Nurses Registration Board, he helped to draw up regulations for training nurses in midwifery and served as an examiner for the board for many years.

A founding fellow of the (Royal) Australasian College of Surgeons (1927) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, London (1929), Wilson was elected (1924) a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was president of the South Australian branch of the British Medical Association (1922) and of the Mothers and Babies' Health Association (1935). He gave money and equipment to the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital, endowed (1938) a travelling scholarship in obstetrics at the university and contributed in 1940 to the salary of the new director of obstetrics. Appointed C.M.G. in 1942, he was knighted in 1950.

A big man, deaf in later years, Sir George was impressive and dominant, arousing both gratitude and ire. Known generally as 'T.G.' (or 'Tin Guts' to some irreverent young men), he was highly regarded by nurses and students, who found him considerate and fair, despite his gruff manner. He was a member of the Adelaide Club from 1905. A keen sportsman, he had played tennis for New South Wales, rowed for the University of Sydney, and served as captain (1931-33) and president (1941-50) of the Royal Adelaide Golf Club. He played golf and tennis into his seventies. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 15 March 1958 in his North Adelaide home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Proceedings at the Opening of the T. G. Wilson Wing by His Excellency the Governor, Sir Willoughby Norrie (Adel, 1949)
  • J. E. Hughes, A History of the Royal Adelaide Hospital (Adel, 1982)
  • P. Kenny (ed), The Founders of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (Melb, 1984)
  • I. L. D. Forbes, The Queen Victoria Hospital, Rose Park, South Australia, 1901-1987 (Adel, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 28 June 1958, p 19
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Jan 1942, 2 Jan 1950, 17 Mar 1958
  • University of Adelaide Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

J. H. Love, 'Wilson, Sir Thomas George (1876–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wilson-sir-thomas-george-12051/text21615, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 18 July 2019.

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

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