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Frederick John Clendinnen (1860–1913)

by Robert Bennett

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with Leslie John Clendinnen

Frederick John Clendinnen (1860-1913) and Leslie John Clendinnen (1887-1954), radiologists, were father and son. Frederick John was born on 13 April 1860 at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, son of Joseph James Clendinnen, a jeweller originally from County Limerick, Ireland, and his wife Frances Mary, née Barfoot, widow of William Henry Ede.

Frederick Clendinnen was educated at South Melbourne Grammar School and Scotch College. He matriculated in 1879, in which year he was captain of the unbeaten 'twenty-a-side' school football team. After studying medicine at the university for three years he went overseas, where he attended the Middlesex and St Bartholomew's hospitals, London. He qualified L. and L. Mid., R.C.P. and R.C.S. (Edinburgh) in 1884; in 1885 he obtained the M.D. and also doctorate of midwifery at Brussels, with degrees also from Ireland and London.

In January 1886 Clendinnen returned to Victoria and on 9 June at Carlton married Charlotte Elizabeth Welchman with Wesleyan forms. He became a general practitioner at Hawksburn and developed a laboratory for the study of electrical phenomena. A gifted amateur photographer and a keen microscopist, he experimented with Geissler tubes before W. C. Röntgen made the famous discovery of X-rays on 8 November 1895. On 21 May 1896 Clendinnen purchased his first X-ray apparatus from W. Watson in Melbourne for £5 13s. 9d.; he is acknowledged to be the first medical man in Melbourne to take an X-ray photograph of a patient, though some say that Dr Herbert Hewlett contended for this honour.

Clendinnen wrote about the 'new photography' in the Intercolonial Medical Journal, 20 August 1896, and in October published a striking picture he had made of a seven-month foetus whose arteries had been injected with opaque material. An untiring experimenter and innovator, he soon devoted himself entirely to X-ray work and in 1898 gave up his general practice to become a medical radiologist, one of the first in the world.

Described as 'quiet, reticent, almost taciturn', Fred Clendinnen was a man of many talents. He had fitted up his house at Hawksburn 'like a great electrical museum' full of marvellous contrivances. Among his inventions were an electrical coin catcher for removing swallowed coins, an automatic telephone, a chloroform inhaler and a sound to aid in removal of stones from the bladder. He was also an exceptional marksman, and in 1898 was awarded a prize rifle made for the Melbourne gunsmith James Rosier; he had won the Rosier Trophy three times.

Clendinnen used radium for treatment as well as X-ray for diagnosis. At the end of 1896 he was appointed the first 'honorary skiagraphist' to the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital and also the Eye and Ear Hospital. His early demonstrations were invaluable in convincing the medical profession of the value of X-rays for diagnosis and treatment. Like many of the pioneers he was a martyr to the science, suffering mutilating injuries from radiation as protection was little understood. This led to loss of fingers and possibly contributed towards his death in London on 6 November 1913, a few weeks after an operation for gall-stones. He had been in Britain to attend the International Medical Congress.

His practice was continued by his son Leslie John. 'Jack' Clendinnen, as he was known, was born on 16 May 1887 at South Yarra. He received his secondary education at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School. He matriculated in 1903 and studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B.; Ch.B., 1911). On 16 December 1916 at Long Gully, Bendigo, he married Nellie Winifred Dunstan.

He had been apprenticed to his father who was then practising in Collins Street, Melbourne; at that time there was no systematic instruction in radiology. Clendinnen had planned to proceed to London for surgical training but on his father's death he had to carry on the increasingly large Melbourne radiological practice. He volunteered for service in the Australian Imperial Force at the outbreak of World War I in 1914, but as there were then only four skiagraphists in Melbourne, only (Sir) Stanley Argyle and Charles E. Dennis were allowed to go overseas.

Clendinnen had succeeded his father as honorary skiagraphist at the Melbourne Hospital in 1914, the youngest honorary doctor to be appointed. During the war he also became increasingly involved in work at the Caulfield Military Hospital. At this time he was practising both in diagnosis and therapy; his appointment in 1929 as the first radiotherapist to the Melbourne Hospital showed the growing specialization in radiology. In 1933, at the completion of his term at Melbourne Hospital, he was appointed to a similar position at Prince Henry's Hospital, holding this post until 1953. He was elected a fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists (London) in 1938.

Clendinnen was a pioneer in Australia of the interstitial use of radium needles in the treatment of malignant tumours, but unfortunately he was not given to medical writing. He had first-hand experience of the medico-legal hazards of radiology, and for twenty-two years was an assiduous council-member of the Medical Defence Association of Victoria.

Clendinnen had many interests, but his two main hobbies were birds, particularly budgerigars and native parrots, and flowers. For many years every spare moment was devoted to his aviary, but this hobby became so time consuming that he eventually had to abandon it. He turned to gardening at his country home at Kallista in the Dandenongs. Here he developed a garden on some three acres (1.2 ha), specializing in hydrangeas, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. His interest in natural history was recognized in his appointment as a trustee of Wilson's Promontory National Park and later of the Sir Colin Mackenzie Sanctuary at Healesville. He was a fanatical bridge-player and a keen Rotarian. Like his father, he developed radiation injuries to his hands, with loss of fingers. He died suddenly on 29 January 1954, survived by his wife and two sons. He was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • W. Watson & Sons Ltd, Salute to the X-ray Pioneers of Australia (Syd, 1946)
  • Scientific Australian, 20 Dec 1898
  • Australian Medical Journal, 22 Nov 1913
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, 36 (1965), p 136
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 12 June 1954
  • Royal Melbourne Hospital, Clinical Reports, 24 (1954)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Mar 1896, 8 Nov 1913
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 7 Apr 1904
  • Punch (Melbourne), 12 Nov 1908
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Nov 1913
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Bennett, 'Clendinnen, Frederick John (1860–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 April, 1860
South Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


6 November, 1913 (aged 53)
London, Middlesex, England

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