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Claude Witherington Stump (1891–1971)

by Jonathan Stone

This article was published:

Claude Witherington Stump (1891-1971), army officer and professor of histology and embryology, was born on 28 October 1891 at Malvern, Adelaide, second of four children of Alfred Augustus Stump, a Tasmanian-born photographer, and his second wife Rosa Ada, née Potter, who was born in South Australia. After attending Kyre College, Unley, Claude enrolled (1910) at the University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.B., 1917; M.D., 1923; D.Sc., 1924). He interrupted his medical studies to serve with a unit of the British Red Cross Society attached to the Serbian army in the Balkan war of 1912-13. After World War I broke out, he was commissioned on 14 December 1914 in the 8th Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers, and fought on the Western Front at Loos, France, and on the Somme. At the end of 1916 he returned to Edinburgh to complete his degree. Back in Adelaide, he was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 4 October 1917 and served in France with the 11th Field Ambulance. He specialized in operating on the most gravely wounded and was to remember this period as the most satisfying of his career. His appointment terminated in Adelaide on 22 November 1919.

From 1920 to 1922 Stump held a Crichton research scholarship in anatomy in Edinburgh. He worked (1920-21) as house physician and then as house surgeon in the Royal Infirmary, and as a demonstrator and lecturer in anatomy at the university. On 30 November 1920 he married Christina Margaret Calder Urquhart (d.1965) at the North British Station Hotel, Edinburgh, with the forms of the Church of Scotland. Late in 1922 he was appointed a Carnegie research fellow. In the following year he was awarded the Gunning Victoria jubilee prize for his M.D. thesis, 'Histogenesis of Bone'.

Sailing for Bangkok with his wife and young family in 1924, Stump took up the chair of anatomy (which was partly funded by the Rockefeller Foundation) at Chulalongkorn University. To gain access to better research facilities, he contacted Arthur Burkitt at the University of Sydney. Stump was appointed associate-professor in the department of anatomy at that university in 1926. He greatly assisted the development of his discipline and faculty by attracting two major endowments. One, offered in 1928 by the Sydney businessman George Henry Bosch, was used to establish chairs in histology and embryology, medicine, surgery, and bacteriology. Stump was Bosch professor of histology and embryology from 1928 until he retired in 1956. The other endowment, a large grant that stemmed from Stump's and Bosch's visit to the Rockefeller Foundation in New York, enabled the building of a new medical school (now known as the Blackburn Building) at the university. These benefactions made Stump an important figure in the growth of the university's faculty of medicine.

Despite his early brilliance as a student and young medical scientist, Stump's scholarly output was limited. In the second half of the 1920s he published substantial studies on myelinogenesis, the morphology of a human blastocyst (an embryo in a very early stage) and the embryology of whales. He was also credited with assembling unique collections of material in mammalian and marsupial embryology. His own account, written in the mid-1930s, of the genesis of the new medical school at the university made clear that he still held the view that 'academic medicine requires the whole time service of a staff trained in the scientific method and enjoying (proper) laboratory facilities and equipment'.

In 1930 Stump was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an honour warranted by his scholarly record and appointment. Thereafter he was virtually silent as a scholar, his voice stilled perhaps by the exigencies of the Depression and World War II. Nevertheless, the drive which took him from Adelaide to Edinburgh, to brilliance in his studies and early research, and to service in two wars before he reached the age of 30, remained evident. He was a demanding teacher who was strict with his students. He was also a demanding colleague, arguing fiercely for the academic independence of his subject and for the establishment of histology and embryology as a separate department.

Stump enjoyed gardening at his Gordon home and later lived at Palm Beach. He died on 23 December 1971 at Mona Vale and was cremated without a religious service. His daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Young et al (eds), Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine (Syd, 1984)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Apr 1926
  • Stump papers (University of Sydney Archives and Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney).

Citation details

Jonathan Stone, 'Stump, Claude Witherington (1891–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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