Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cecil Purser (1862–1953)

by Rosslyn Finn

This article was published:

Cecil Purser (1862-1953), physician, was born on 16 December 1862 at Castle Hill, New South Wales, eldest son of native-born James Purser, bootmaker and later orchardist, and his Scottish wife Mary Ann, née Kyle. He attended school at Castle Hill and Newington College, where he later became a council-member and president of the old boys' union. While at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1885; M.B., Ch.M., 1890), he resided in St Andrew's College, captained the university cricket team and was a successful athlete. He was a foundation member (president 1891-92) of the Sydney University Medical Society.

An able and industrious student at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Purser assisted (Sir) Alexander MacCormick. In 1890 he was resident medical officer and next year became medical superintendent. He began private practice at Petersham in 1893 and on 11 October married Louisa Victoria Brierley (d.1937) with Congregational forms. His family practice extended to Dulwich Hill and Lewisham. He joined the honorary staff of Royal Prince Alfred in 1896 and was a consultant physician in 1912-53.

A skilled administrator, Purser was appointed a director of the hospital board and elected to the university senate in 1909; he was vice-chairman of the hospital board in 1920-23, chairman in 1924-33, vice-chancellor in 1917-18 and 1923 under the old constitution, and deputy chancellor in 1924-25. In this dual role he supervised important developments in clinical teaching with the appointment of the Bosch professors and the construction of the Rockefeller building. Forced to close 200 beds in 1931, he became increasingly frustrated by the shortage of government funding and resigned. He was an examiner in medicine in 1911-30 and a trustee of St Andrew's, Wesley and Women's colleges.

Interested in the prevention and treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, Purser was a director (chairman from 1915) of the Carrington Centennial Hospital for Convalescents, Camden, a foundation member of the Queen Victoria Homes for Consumptives, honorary consultant to the Home for Consumptives, Waterfall, and medical examiner to the R. T. Hall Sanatorium, Hazelbrook. In 1912 he was appointed to the Tuberculosis Advisory Board and two years later to the Board of Health. He was a council-member of the War Memorial Hospital, Waverley, a life governor of the Women's Hospital, Crown Street, and in 1916 became honorary major in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve.

Affectionately known as 'Charlie', Purser was a gentle, modest man, yet decisive and efficient. His students and colleagues admired him; his charm, cheerfulness, sympathy and generosity endeared him to patients. He was a foundation member and later president of the Western Suburbs Medical Association and a council-member of the local branch of the British Medical Association. He practised in Macquarie Street from 1912. A member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1893, he chaired its public health and kindred sciences section in 1917. He was a foundation fellow in 1938 of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Purser was chairman of the Australian Drug Co. Ltd and, after a rearrangement of companies in 1930, became chairman of Australian Drug (Investments) Ltd and Elliotts and Australian Drug Ltd. He was also a director of Commonwealth General Assurance Corporation Ltd and Milpura Ltd. A member of the University Club, he enjoyed bowls and gardening. He died at his Wahroonga home on 13 January 1953 and was cremated. His daughter, and two sons whom he had settled on the land, survived him. His portrait by Jerrold Nathan is held by the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Young et al, Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine (Syd, 1984)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 28 Mar 1953
  • Royal Prince Alfred Gazette, 22 July 1933
  • Sydney University Medical Journal, June 1917
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 1933, 2 May 1941.

Citation details

Rosslyn Finn, 'Purser, Cecil (1862–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 December, 1862
Castle Hill, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


13 January, 1953 (aged 90)
Wahroonga, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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