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Julian Augustus Smith (1873–1947)

by K. F. Russell

This article was published:

Julian Augustus Smith (1873-1947), surgeon and photographer, was born on 5 December 1873 at Camberwell, Surrey, England, son of Julian Augustus James Smith, master mariner, and his wife Rose Amelia, née Pooley. His family came to Australia in 1876, settling in Adelaide, where he was educated at Prince Alfred College and the University of Adelaide (B.Sc., 1892). After graduation he briefly taught mathematics and physics at his former school. Recognizing his unusual ability, Professor (Sir) William Bragg tried to persuade Smith to take up a career in physics but he decided to study medicine, entering the medical school in 1893.

A dispute between the board of management of the (Royal) Adelaide Hospital and the government led to the resignation in 1896 of all honorary physicians and surgeons, making clinical instruction impossible. In 1897 seventeen students including Smith moved to Melbourne to complete their course. Smith graduated (M.B., 1898; B.S., 1899) at the top of his year, gaining exhibitions. He then became senior resident medical officer at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, acting for a time as medical superintendent. In 1901 he obtained his M.D. (Melbourne) and in 1908 the M.S. (Adelaide). As a student he rowed in the winning Adelaide university crew in 1895-96 and in 1897-98 rowed in and coached the Ormond College crew in Melbourne.

On 24 September 1901 Smith married Edith Reynolds at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. That year he began general practice at Morwell, Gippsland, where he remained until 1905 when he became a junior partner in the Melbourne surgical practice of Frederic Bird. In 1906 he went to England where he worked at St Mary's Hospital, London, on vaccines and vaccine therapy. Smith was appointed to the honorary surgical staff of St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, in 1908 and with (Sir) Hugh Devine, (Sir) Thomas Dunhill and David Murray Morton did much to obtain its recognition as a clinical school of the university in 1909. A high standard of surgical teaching was thus established. Smith remained on the staff until 1929 when he retired and was appointed consulting surgeon.

About 1912 he ended his partnership with Bird and established himself in Collins Street. He was a skilled, inventive and careful surgeon whose post-operative care endeared him to his many patients. His clinical teaching to students was inspiring, his methods being dogmatic and realistic. In 1927 he became a foundation fellow of the (Royal) Australasian College of Surgeons.

Although well-known as one of the most distinguished surgeons in Melbourne, Smith was known to the artistic world as an eminent photographer. He took up the study of photography late in life, but soon became renowned for his outstanding portraits which could be readily identified, even if unsigned. Exhibiting locally and overseas he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. He developed an unorthodox but remarkably successful technique for the processing of his prints. Fellow photographer Jack Cato claimed that 'he had no superior in any part of the world'. Shortly after his death Kodak published a portfolio of Smith's portraits, Fifty Masterpieces of Photography, which contained a selection of his finest prints.

In 1936 he retired from practice, but on the outbreak of World War II returned to surgery, taking over the work of his sons who had enlisted. He now began a new phase of activity. Interested in haematology, he devised an efficient pump for giving blood direct from donor to patient and made the prototypes himself. He also invented a simple machine for sharpening and polishing transfusion and other needles. His work on transfusion had an important impact on surgical treatment.

Smith was an active member of the British Medical Association in 1901-36. He expressed his surgical views in discussions at branch meetings, particularly on diseases of the urinary tract. His urological research and his work on transfusion was published in the Medical Journal of Australia. Forceful, even at times explosive, and always colourful, Smith was kind, gracious and generous to his patients and colleagues. He died of cancer on 13 November 1947 at his East Melbourne home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, two sons and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 3 (Melb, 1905)
  • J. Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia (Melb, 1955)
  • J. E. Hughes, A History of the Royal Adelaide Hospital (Adel, 1967)
  • K. F. Russell, The Melbourne Medical School 1862-1962 (Melb, 1977)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 31 Jan 1948, p 152.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

K. F. Russell, 'Smith, Julian Augustus (1873–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 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

Julian Augustus Smith (1873-1947), by Harold Cazneaux, 1930s

Julian Augustus Smith (1873-1947), by Harold Cazneaux, 1930s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2383942-1, with the permission of the Cazneaux family

Life Summary [details]


5 December, 1873
London, Middlesex, England


13 November, 1947 (aged 73)
East Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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