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Hugh Collis Barry (1912–1994)

by T. K. F. Taylor

This article was published:

Hugh Collis Barry (1912–1994), orthopaedic surgeon, was born on 13 January 1912 at Orange, New South Wales, only son and elder child of locally born Duncan Robertson Barry, chemist, and his Queensland-born wife, Laura Jane, née Gaulter. His parents were living in Fiji when his mother became pregnant. Laura travelled to Australia to have Hugh before returning to Fiji, where Duncan worked for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. The family moved to northern New South Wales in 1916 and settled at Wahroonga, Sydney, after World War I. Hugh attended Wahroonga Grammar School; Mowbray House School, Chatswood; and Sydney Grammar School. In 1930 he was awarded a public exhibition to the University of Sydney to study medicine. He served as secretary, later vice-president, of the Medical Society and was a member of the Students’ Representative Council. A keen sportsman, he earned a Blue for rugby union in 1933. The next year he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and proceeded to New College, Oxford (BSc, 1936). There he worked with (Sir) Howard Florey at the Sir William Dunn school of pathology, before completing his medical studies at the London Hospital (LRCP, 1938).

Having volunteered for service in World War II, on 13 January 1942 Barry was appointed as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. He was immediately posted to the 2/3rd Australian Field Ambulance in the Middle East. During the battle of El Alamein (October–November), he was lent to the 2/8th AFA’s main dressing station in the forward area. Later he served as a major (1943) with several medical units in Papua and New Guinea (1943–44) and with the 2/1st Australian General Hospital on Bougainville (1944–45). Back in Australia, he performed orthopaedic surgery at the 1st Australian Orthopaedic Hospital, Toowoomba, Queensland (1945), and the 113th Military Hospital, Concord, Sydney (1946). He married Lieutenant Mary Gordon Matters, AAMC, a physiotherapist, on 24 April 1946 at St Augustine’s Church of England, Unley, Adelaide. On 5 July he transferred to the Reserve of Officers in Sydney.

Barry entered private orthopaedic practice and soon after joined the surgical staff of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the major teaching hospital of the University of Sydney. He later credited his wife’s uncle, (Sir) Reginald Matters, an Adelaide-based obstetrician and gynaecologist, as helping with his appointment. Conscious of his lack of formal training in orthopaedics, he travelled to England and the United States of America in 1955 to meet with senior orthopaedic surgeons. The three-month trip ‘brought [him] up to date with orthopaedic opinions and procedures and gave [him] confidence in [his] work’ (Barry 2004, 154) at the hospital. His overseas contacts and genial manner enabled him to move effortlessly in Sydney’s establishment circles at a time when social connections could help to advance a medical career. In 1964 he became the senior orthopaedic surgeon, a position he retained until his retirement in 1972. Continuing in private practice, he developed an extensive medico-legal consultancy and was president (1970–72) of the Medico-Legal Society of New South Wales. He was appointed to the New South Wales Medical Board in 1973.

From early in his career, Barry had maintained an active interest in the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He became a fellow in 1945, served on various State committees, and was chairman (1955–57) of the New South Wales body and a member of the college’s Council and its Court of Examiners (1958–70). After being passed over for president in 1970, he distanced himself from the affairs of the college, which he felt looked upon orthopaedics ‘as a rather weak section of General Surgery’ (Barry 2004, 190). He had been appointed president of the Australian Orthopaedic Association (AOA) in 1969. The next year the AOA hosted the fifth combined meeting of the American, British, Canadian, Australia, New Zealand, and South African orthopaedic associations. It was the first time that Australia had hosted the meeting. Typically self-effacing, Barry reflected that the ‘scientific part of the Meeting was interesting and adequate but without any exceptional value to the visitors’ (Barry 2004, 189). What really captured their imagination, he claimed, and resulted in the meeting being hailed a great success, was ‘the weather and the various social events’ (Barry 2004, 189) organised by his wife.

Barry’s most important contribution to medicine was in the field of diplomacy—an underrated but vitally important area. He travelled widely overseas as an invited lecturer and visiting professor, helping to open previously closed doors and foster international relationships in China, North America, and Europe. Quiet and unpretentious, he had an unusually good speaking voice and never used notes in his lectures. Penmanship with a historical flair was another of his talents. His first monograph, Paget’s Disease of Bone, was published in 1969. In 1983 he produced an authoritative history of the AOA, Orthopaedics in Australia. The AOA had awarded him its L. O. Betts memorial medal in 1978. In recognition of his service to medicine, the University of Sydney conferred an honorary doctorate of medicine on him in 1989. A commemorative issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery celebrated his career in 1992. He was appointed AM that year. Almost 180 centimetres tall with blue eyes and fair hair, he enjoyed ornithology and golf and was a member of the Elanora Country Club. After a long illness, he died on 17 September 1994 at Palm Beach and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their two sons and one daughter. His memoir, A Modest Man, was published in 2004.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Barry, Hugh Collis. A Modest Man. [Sydney]: [s.n.], 2004
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney). ‘The Surprise of His Life.’ 25 November 1933, 8
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX77362
  • Taylor, Thomas. ‘Gifted Surgeon with Talent for Diplomacy.’ Australian, 29 September 1994, 21

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Citation details

T. K. F. Taylor, 'Barry, Hugh Collis (1912–1994)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2020, accessed online 23 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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