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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rennie, George Edward (1861–1923)

by Rosslyn Finn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

George Edward Rennie (1861-1923), physician, was born on 10 September 1861 at Balmain, Sydney, fifth child of Edward Alexander Rennie, government clerk and later auditor-general, and his wife Harriet, née Cummins, both Londoners. Like his brother Edward, he was educated at Sydney Grammar School where he was school captain (1878) and won the senior Knox prize in 1878 and the Salting exhibition (1879). At the University of Sydney he was greatly influenced by Professor Charles Badham and graduated B.A. in 1882 with first-class honours and the Belmore gold medal in classics and natural science. Awarded the Gilchrist travelling scholarship, he sailed for England and enrolled at University College Hospital (M.B., 1887; M.D., 1888, University of London; M.R.C.S., 1887; M.R.C.P., 1899; F.R.C.P., 1907). He coached other students and won scholarships, bursaries and medals. He remained at the hospital as a resident under (Sir) Victor Horsley and (Sir) William Gowers who helped to develop his interest in neurology, in which he later specialized. On 27 December he married Grace Elizabeth Sully at the Baptist chapel, Burnham, Somerset.

Returning to Sydney in March 1889, Rennie set up practice in College Street, was appointed pathologist to Sydney Hospital and in 1894 honorary assistant physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. His wife died that year, leaving three children. On 10 April 1895 he married Hester Evangeline Brookes at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Summer Hill. He took his family to London in 1898; and gained further neurological experience at the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic.

Rennie practised in College Street until moving to Macquarie Street in 1904. Reappointed to R.P.A.H. as senior assistant physician, in 1906 he became honorary physician. In 1910 he was acting lecturer in medicine at the university and was disappointed not to get the permanent appointment. He continued to lecture in clinical medicine at the hospital where he used the Socratic method of question, coupled with great diagnostic skill, and was regarded as a brilliant exponent of conservative medicine. With his closest friend and partner, Dr W. H. Crago, he was very active in medical affairs: council-member (1896-1914), honorary secretary and president (1902) of the State branch of the British Medical Association and a member of the Medical Board (1902-22). In 1901-14 he edited the Australasian Medical Gazette; he published some sixteen articles, mainly in the Transactions of the Australasian Medical Congress and the Medical Journal of Australia.

Naturally reserved and shunning publicity, Rennie lived out his deep religious faith in his private and professional life. Household prayers were held daily and with his family he regularly attended the Jersey Road, Woollahra, Congregational church, where he was deacon (later senior deacon) for twenty-one years. He was a leader in Christian education and president of the Congregational theological Camden College council.

A keen tennis and billiards player, Rennie greatly loved the sea. He had 'a tall, erect figure with a high forehead, bright blue eyes and a greying moustache'. He never fully recovered from the deaths of two of his sons in World War I and carried on their service, as he put it, at the Military Hospital, Randwick. He died of cerebral thrombosis in Sydney on 10 August 1923 and was buried in Waverley cemetery. His wife and a son and daughter of each marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. G. McDonald, The Life and Times of Dr. George Edward Rennie (Syd, 1952)
  • A Beloved Physician (Syd, 1924)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 25 Aug 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11, 13 Aug 1923
  • private information.

Citation details

Rosslyn Finn, 'Rennie, George Edward (1861–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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