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Arthur Mitchell Wilson (1888–1947)

by John Ritchie

This article was published:

Arthur Mitchell Wilson (1888-1947), obstetrician, was born on 24 August 1888 in South Melbourne, only son of Victorian-born parents David Wilson (d.1891), chemist, and his wife Helen, née Mitchell. Arthur won scholarships in 1902 to Scotch College and in 1907 to Ormond College, University of Melbourne. He gained blues in athletics and football, graduated (M.B., B.Ch., 1911; M.D., 1913) and took a post as a resident medical officer at the Melbourne Hospital. Having made a trip to China as a ship's surgeon, he joined the resident staff at the Women's Hospital under R. H. J. Fetherston who helped to influence his love for obstetrics.

At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 6 May 1915 Wilson married with Presbyterian forms Sarah Marguerita, a 24-year-old typist and daughter of the cricketer R. W. McLeod. As a captain in the Australian Imperial Force, Wilson had been allotted to the 3rd Australian General Hospital and embarked on 18 May. He served at Gallipoli, in Egypt and in France. Promoted major (25 February 1916) and lieutenant-colonel (2 May 1918), he commanded the 7th Field Ambulance; he thought that surgeons should be as close to the front line as possible and wrote a report on ways of transporting casualties. Twice mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his work near Amiens in August 1918. He embarked for Melbourne on 24 January 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 31 May.

Commencing private practice at Prahran with R. N. Wawn, in 1920 Wilson became honorary obstetric surgeon at the Women's Hospital. In 1926 he was appointed lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at the university; he proved a popular teacher and had charge until R. M. Allan accepted the new chair in 1929. Wilson was a foundation fellow (1929) of the Australian branch of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

From 1931 he concentrated on his private and consulting practices. The most eminent Victorian obstetrician of his day, he delivered on average one thousand babies a year. The wives of more than six hundred doctors had him attend their labour. Wilson's judgement, experience, gentleness and manipulative technique achieved excellent results: in his care, only one mother died from caesarean section during his ten-year term at the Women's Hospital. He worked at all hours. When he relaxed by going to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he carried a pocketful of pennies with which to telephone to inquire about his patients' progress. In 1943 he broke professional custom by writing a signed letter to the Herald expressing his concern at the shortage of beds for maternity cases in inner-suburban hospitals.

Spare and drawn, Wilson was unassuming, equable and kind, with a manner that dispelled fear. He devoted his life to helping people and retained sympathy for the poor: he kept his fees low and is said to have never refused a request for help. Ingenuous by nature, he paid little attention to his appearance, and liked a cup of tea, a cigarette and a chat. Survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, he died of cancer on 19 December 1947 at Epworth Private Hospital, Richmond, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £25,615.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Macdonald (ed), A Book of Remembrance, vol 1 (Melb, 1956)
  • J. Peel (ed), The Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists 1929-1969 (Lond, 1976)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 24 Apr 1948, p 545, 2 July 1955, p 1
  • Victorian Historical Magazine, Feb 1961, p 141
  • Herald (Melbourne), 12 May 1943.

Citation details

John Ritchie, 'Wilson, Arthur Mitchell (1888–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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