Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edgar Frederick Thomson (1903–1977)

by James C. McAllester and W. D. Refshauge

This article was published:

Edgar Frederick Thomson (1903-1977), pathologist and army officer, was born on 4 April 1903 at Invercargill, New Zealand, son of New Zealand-born parents Frederick Augustus Thomson, carriage-painter, and his wife Ada, née Neal. Educated at Southland Boys' High School and the University of Otago, Dunedin (M.B., Ch.B., N.Z., 1926), Edgar worked (from 1927) for the professors of pathology and bacteriology at the Otago medical school before becoming assistant-pathologist at Christchurch Hospital in 1929. On 10 December that year at the Presbyterian Church, Owaka, he married Ellen Doris Latta. In 1933 he was appointed bacteriologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. He resumed his former post at Christchurch in 1937, but returned to R.P.A.H. in 1939 and that year began lecturing part time at the University of Sydney.

In December 1939 Thomson organized the blood-grouping of all members of the 16th Brigade, Australian Imperial Force. The task was completed in three weeks and with such precision that no soldier was subsequently reported to have received incompatible blood. On 22 May 1940 Thomson was appointed major, Australian Army Medical Corps, A.I.F. He sailed for the Middle East in October as pathologist to the 2nd/5th Australian General Hospital. After briefly commanding a British mobile bacteriological laboratory, he embarked for Greece with the 2nd/5th A.G.H. in April 1941. During the campaign his vigilant concern for the health and welfare of members of his unit endeared him to them. He assisted Matron K. A. L. Best to evacuate the nursing staff to Crete without loss of life.

Thomson returned to Australia in March 1942 and commanded the 2nd/3rd Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory from October. In May 1943 he was appointed assistant-director of pathology at Land Headquarters, Melbourne. Promoted lieutenant colonel in October 1944, he visited army medical units in the field and helped his chief E. V. Keogh to make arrangements for manufacturing penicillin in Australia. Thomson transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 8 March 1946. Active in the Citizen Military Forces as commander of the 1st General Hospital (1952-57) and as deputy-director of medical services, Eastern Command (1957-62), he retired with the rank of honorary colonel.

Back at R.P.A.H., Thomson had become director of the Fairfax Institute of Pathology in 1947. He was the hospital's general superintendent in 1958-66. As chairman (1947-68) of the Australian Red Cross Society's national transfusion committee, he encouraged co-operation between State directors of the Blood Transfusion Service. In 1963 he was appointed C.M.G. He chaired (1963-66) the Australian Drug Evaluation Committee and the National Health and Medical Research Council's antibiotics advisory committee; his long experience with antibiotics proved invaluable in guiding national policy on their use.

Thomson was founding president (1956-57) of the (Royal) College of Pathologists of Australia and the first recipient (1977) of its gold medal for outstanding service. He was a council-member and president (1956-57) of the New South Wales branch of the British (Australian) Medical Association, and a councillor of the federal organization. As the A.M.A.'s full-time secretary-general in 1967-72, he was frequently involved in negotiations with the Commonwealth government. Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 4 September 1977 at R.P.A.H. and was cremated. Graeme Inson's portrait of Thomson is held by the Australian Red Cross, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Clinical Problems of War (Canb, 1952)
  • AMA Gazette, 15 Sept 1977, 19 Jan, 8 June 1978
  • British Medical Journal, 26 Nov 1977, p 1422
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 22 Apr 1978, p 440
  • private information.

Citation details

James C. McAllester and W. D. Refshauge, 'Thomson, Edgar Frederick (1903–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 April, 1903
Invercargill, New Zealand


4 September, 1977 (aged 74)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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