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Sydney Fancourt McDonald (1885–1947)

by John H. Pearn

This article was published:

Sydney Fancourt McDonald (1885-1947), paediatrician and army doctor, was born on 18 November 1885 at Rocklea near Brisbane, youngest son of George Thomas McDonald, a Scottish surveyor, and his wife Amelia Margaret, daughter of Sir William Mitchell. Sydney was educated at the Normal School, Brisbane, and at Brisbane Grammar. As a medical student, resident at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, he won prizes and exhibitions (M.B., 1909; B.S., 1910; M.D., 1913) and was prominent in student affairs. After staff appointments at the Queen's Memorial Infectious Diseases and Alfred hospitals, McDonald was assistant senior resident surgeon at the Children's Hospital (1912-14). He undertook further studies as a resident medical officer at Queen Charlotte's Hospital, London (1914).

His military involvements began in 1904 when he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Australian Militia Engineers. From 1910 he was the first officer commanding the Melbourne University Rifles, and was promoted major in 1913. In London he enlisted on 4 August 1914 as captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps and was posted to the 4th (British) General Hospital, Versailles, France. He served as an anaesthetist and radiographer and was mentioned in dispatches. McDonald also served with the 33rd and 51st Casualty Clearing stations and the 46th Stationary Hospital. On 11 October 1916 he married Marjorie Caroline Peck (d.1940) in London. For a time he was chief lecturer at the R.A.M.C. school at Béthune, France. In 1919 he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, London.

Returning to practise in Brisbane, McDonald was appointed out-patient physician to the Hospital for Sick Children in 1920, succeeding Colonel A. G. Butler as senior in-patient physician in 1923. A secretary to the Hospital Clinical Society, McDonald also became a councillor of the British Medical Association (Queensland branch) in 1923-44 (president, 1930), and a councillor of the Medical Defence Society of Queensland from 1928. He became chief medical examiner for the Department of Civil Aviation (Queensland) that year. He was president of the section on paediatrics at the Australasian Medical Congress, Hobart, in 1934, and a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938.

His principal contributions to medical knowledge were in the field of clinical paediatrics, with particular emphasis on differential diagnosis and the natural history of certain childhood disorders. McDonald wrote major papers on nephritis, lead poisoning in children, poliomyelitis and pink disease. His name is the most frequent in the index of the Medical Journal of Australia in 1920-46. He was the first Queensland doctor, and probably the first Australian paediatrician, to be elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London (1940).

McDonald had remained involved with the armed services as medical examiner to the Royal Australian Air Force and, in 1923, as physician to Rosemount Military Hospital; he was a consultant physician at Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital in 1940-47. He was commissioned wing commander, R.A.A.F., in 1937 and became group captain, medical branch, in 1941. As Jackson orator, McDonald spoke on 'Some debts of medicine to the fighting services' (M.J.A., 1940), and wrote the official text, 'Tropical and subtropical fevers', for army medical manuals in World War II. He delivered the Stawell oration on 'The mosquito: a teacher of medicine' (M.J.A., 1943). Having a sympathetic interest in ex-servicemen suffering from neuroses, he wrote extensively about anxiety neurosis and nephritis, with major papers on the problems of the pensioner and on nervous and neurological disorders.

Meanwhile from 1925 McDonald was a foundation member of the Queensland postgraduate committee of the B.M.A. (chairman 1930-47). In 1938 he was the first (part-time) clinical lecturer in paediatrics appointed to the faculty of medicine within the University of Queensland, from 1944 a member of the faculty board, and from 1946 chairman of its advisory committee on paediatric studies.

McDonald married Annie Emilie Jane Darvall, née Goertz, on 18 December 1941; he was very fond of children but childless. A tall, powerful figure with a diffident, shy and intellectual demeanour, he was a person who was 'very proper, very correct and formal, who lived his professional life in the tradition of the highest ideals of clinical medicine'. A scholar with extensive knowledge of the classics and of literature, he also left many clinical photographs and scenes of Queensland town and marine life.

Survived by his wife, McDonald died of cardio-renal failure at his Brisbane home on 8 August 1947 and was cremated after a funeral with full military honours at St John's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pearn, A Worthy Tradition—the Biography of Sydney Fancourt McDonald (Brisb, 1985)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2, 1947, p 502
  • Bulletin, 20 Aug 1947
  • private information.

Citation details

John H. Pearn, 'McDonald, Sydney Fancourt (1885–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 November, 1885
Rocklea, Queensland, Australia


8 August, 1947 (aged 61)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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