Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Edmund Shepherd (1867–1942)

by W. D. Refshauge

This article was published:

Arthur Edmund Shepherd (1867-1942), medical practitioner and army medical officer, was born on 21 October 1867 at Norwood, Adelaide, son of Emanuel Shepherd, an English-born architect. He was educated at Norwood Grammar School and Prince Alfred College, and at the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow (L. & L.M., R.C.P. & S. Edin; L.F.P.S. Glasg). Granted medical registration by the South Australian Medical Board on 8 September 1891, he began practice at Norwood. On 6 November 1895, in St Matthew's Anglican Church, Kensington, he married Emma Tarrant Amanda Shepherd; they had four sons and two daughters.

In 1895 a dispute at the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital resulted in the resignations of the honorary medical staff. Two medical officers were recruited from England and five volunteers were brought into service; among the latter was Shepherd who was appointed an honorary associated surgeon. An honorary surgeon in 1898-1903 and honorary gynaecologist in 1903-06, he combined these professional services and a busy medical practice with a deep involvement in community affairs. The original officer of health and a founding member of the East Torrens County Board of Health (1898), from 1907 he was club doctor and vice-president of Norwood Football Club. In 1909 he became the first vice-president of the Boy Scouts' first council in South Australia as well as the first State commissioner. He was a founding committee-member of the South Australian Esperanto Society in 1911.

In 1900 Shepherd had joined the Volunteer Medical Corps which became in 1902 part of the Australian Army Medical Corps. Commissioned lieutenant on 3 April 1900, he was promoted captain in 1903, major in 1909 and lieutenant-colonel commanding the 19th Field Ambulance in 1912. On the outbreak of World War I he offered his services to the Australian Imperial Force but did not accept a proposed appointment as major. In December 1914 he was made acting principal medical officer of the 4th Military District and on 4 August 1915 was appointed lieutenant-colonel commanding the 8th Field Ambulance, A.I.F. However, that month he was transferred to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, to act as director-general of medical services while Colonel Richard Fetherston went overseas. Shepherd introduced 'a policy (already overdue) of administrative devolution and development at Headquarters', though this was 'perhaps somewhat overdone'. He reorganized army dental services throughout the Commonwealth, put the principal medical officers in the military districts on a full-time basis and enlisted the co-operation of the medical profession in the form of numerous expert committees of advice and technical advisers.

On his return in January 1916 Surgeon General Fetherston reversed some of Shepherd's changes but generally they were retained. Shepherd had also made preparations to include paratyphoid in typhoid inoculations because of increased occurrence among Australian troops overseas, but Fetherston delayed this programme for twelve months after his return. Shepherd had also introduced the British system of dealing with soldiers invalided home, insisting that 'the invalid soldier was to be provided by the Defence Department with medical attendance “till well” and was to be discharged from the army only when “fit to earn his living or actually pensioned”'. He also proposed 'establishment of a “Commonwealth Limb Factory” in conjunction with a Central Auxiliary Hospital in Melbourne where all necessary construction, education, treatment and exercises could be carried out'. Initially overridden, this suggestion was adopted with the establishment of a limb factory at Caulfield Hospital, Melbourne, in August 1916.

On 28 December 1915 Shepherd embarked for overseas service as lieutenant-colonel commanding the 8th Field Ambulance, A.I.F, which saw action during 1916-17 in the battles of Fromelles, the Somme, Bapaume, Bullecourt and Ypres. Conditions on the Western Front were appalling and his foremost priority was to improve conditions both for the casualties and for his men evacuating and caring for the sick and wounded. During the Somme winter stretcher-bearers had the almost insuperable task of carrying wounded over 6000 yards (5500 m) through mud sometimes up to their knees. Shepherd used flat-bottomed sledges which slid over the mud. He also advocated the use of bearer companies with infantry officers trained in first aid. In November 1917 he was appointed assistant director of medical services, 2nd Australian Division, and was promoted colonel in April 1918. As A.D.M.S. he was responsible for the medical arrangements of his sector from August 1918 onwards—in the battles of Mont St Quentin, Peronne and the attack on the Hindenburg line. He encouraged the innovation of the 'Standardised' Advanced Dressing Station in order to better deal with the vital factors of evacuation of casualties: 'time and distance on the one hand and … vital reaction to trauma on the other'.

In April 1919 Shepherd was appointed senior medical officer to the Australian Corps. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in June 1918, was appointed C.M.G. and received the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française in 1919 and was mentioned in dispatches three times. His A.I.F. appointment ended in November 1919 and in 1920-32 he was principal medical officer of the South Australian branch of the Repatriation Department.

Shepherd was of medium height and slightish build with a serious manner but a dry sense of humour. He had a dignified presence and a strong personality. Two of his sons served as privates in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment in the Middle East. Survived by his six children, Arthur Shepherd died in Adelaide of prostate disease on 27 April 1942.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Hughes, A History of the Royal Adelaide Hospital (Adel, 1967)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War 1914-18, vol 1 (Melb, 1938)
  • A. E. Shepherd file (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

W. D. Refshauge, 'Shepherd, Arthur Edmund (1867–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 28 May 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]


21 October, 1867
Norwood, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


27 April, 1942 (aged 74)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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