Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Walter Charles Burfitt (1874–1956)

by Walter Furneaux Burfitt

This article was published:

Walter Charles Fitzmaurice Burfitt (1874-1956), surgeon, was born on 16 February 1874 at Dubbo, New South Wales, son of Charles Trimby Burfitt (d.1927), native-born storekeeper, and his Irish-born wife Annie, née Fitzmaurice. His father later became a stock and station agent in Sydney; he wrote History of the Founding of the Wool Industry of Australia (1907) and was honorary secretary of the Australian Historical Society in 1909-14, president in 1915 and an original fellow. Walter was educated at St Aloysius' College, Sydney, from 1885 and in 1890 went on to St Ignatius' College, Riverview. In 1892 he won a scholarship to St John's College, University of Sydney (B.A., 1894; B.Sc., 1898; M.B., Ch.M., 1900). Helped by an aunt, he financed his studies by winning some eight prizes and scholarships, and in 1900 won the University Medal. That year he became resident medical officer at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and in 1901-12 was in general practice at Glebe. On 9 June 1908 at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Randwick, he married Esmey Mary Elliott Mann.

In 1912 Burfitt moved to Macquarie Street where he practised as a consultant surgeon until 1940. He was surgeon and later gynaecologist at Lewisham Hospital in 1901-40, medical officer at St Vincent's Hospital from 1901 and at the diphtheria clinic of the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, and visiting surgeon at Parramatta District and Western Suburbs hospitals. He became known for his deft and extremely rapid operations.

A life member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1898, with a lifelong interest in geology, in 1927 he gave £500 to the society (later raised to £1000 by his wife) for the Walter Burfitt Prize and Medal for published research; he always invited the recipients to his home at Elizabeth Bay to meet the family. In 1925 he had given £1000 for the Walter Burfitt Scholarship in physics or chemistry at the University of Sydney. A founding member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1928, he was also a founder and sometime president of the Medical Benevolent Association of New South Wales; with Katharine Ogilvie he set up and was sometime chairman of the Hospital Almoners' Guild. He was a member of the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke, a fellow of St John's College and chairman of the Council of Sancta Sophia College, University of Sydney, from 1929.

Burfitt was a member of the Australian Jockey and Royal Sydney Golf clubs and of the Sydney Cricket Ground, and also of the Union and University clubs. He joined his family at Mount Wilson whenever possible during the summer, and was a keen gardener. In 1940 he was appointed a knight commander of the Papal Order of St Sylvester.

After suffering a stroke in 1944, Burfitt ceased to practise. He died at Lewisham Hospital on 1 June 1956 and was buried in the Catholic section of Waverley cemetery. He was survived by his wife, two sons and three married daughters — both sons and his daughter Barbara followed him in medicine. He left an estate valued for probate at £80,390. His portrait, painted in 1924 by Dorafield Hardy, R.A., is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • JRAHS, 13 (1927), p 378
  • Royal Society New South Wales, Proceedings, 91 (1957), no 1
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Aug 1927.

Citation details

Walter Furneaux Burfitt, 'Burfitt, Walter Charles (1874–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 February, 1874
Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia


1 June, 1956 (aged 82)
Lewisham, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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