Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Ellis, James Morrison (1922 - 2009)

AM 1994; BA Sydney; MB BS 1943; FRSTM&H 1949; FRCS 1953; FRACS.

17 February 1922
Rylstone, New South Wales, Australia
14 June 2009
Military surgeon and Orthopaedic surgeon


Jim Ellis was an orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney, Australia. He was born in Rylstone, New South Wales, in 1922, the second of five children of Ashley Ellis and his wife, Flora Ellis née Morrison. Ashley worked in many jobs, then became a stock inspector. Flora had been a teacher and, after Ashley retired, returned to her love of art. She was still painting at 97. James was tutored at home as well as at local schools. He entered Sydney University at 16, graduated with a BA degree and then went on to study medicine, training at the Royal North Shore Hospital and qualifying MB BS in 1943.

He served with the Australian Army at the end of the war, in New Guinea and New Britain. He was a medical officer at the Japanese War Crimes Tribunal in Rabaul, helped rebuild medical facilities in New Britain and cared for prisoners. His duties involved dealing with the repatriation of thousands of Japanese soldiers and several thousand Indian and Chinese who had been co-opted to do war work. He remained in the regular Army until 1948.

He had developed an interest in tropical medicine, and on his return to Australia attended Sydney University to study for his fellowship of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (FRSTM&H). He worked at Concord Repatriation Hospital.

In 1952 he went to London, where he trained at St Thomas' Hospital as a registrar with Sir Denis Browne and George Perkins. He passed his FRCS in 1953.

Returning to Sydney, he settled on the North Shore. From 1957 he was in private practice, until 1964, when he joined Mona Vale and Sydney hospitals. He was a consultant orthopaedic surgeon for 30 years. He was president of the Australian Hand Surgery Society on two occasions, and pioneered open reduction, internal fixation and grafting of complex fractures, as well as new ways of treating pelvic fractures.

From 1967 he also worked in war zones with the Red Cross and the federal Foreign Affairs Department, in Vietnam, East Timor, Cambodia and Thailand. During the Vietnam War he spent six months as a surgeon at Le Loi Hospital in Vung Tau. Here he operated on many victims of war, as well as more routine surgical cases in austere conditions. This was the period of the Tet Offensive and the workload was heavy. In 1972 he returned to Vietnam, to Bien Hoa Hospital, which was also a busy appointment. In 1975 he was in East Timor during the civil war, working near to the area where Indonesia had invaded. In 1984 he served as a surgeon in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border.

He loved to teach and helped surgeons from the Far East regions to go to Australia to train, and returned many times to Cambodia, in particular, to support and nurture the surgical profession there. At the time of his death he was working on a field guide for surgeons operating in war conditions. 136 quick surgical tricks contains many practical tips and tricks for medical staff working away from well-stocked hospitals.

He was awarded the Australian Red Cross medal for meritorious service, and in 1994 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for services to orthopaedics.

Jim Ellis died on 14 June 2009, aged 87, and was survived by his wife Ruth (née Cameron), a former nurse whom he married in 1945, their children, Sue, Michael, Elizabeth, Peter and Andrew, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Norman Kirby

Sources used to compile this entry: [5th Field Ambulance RAAMC Association Battle for Australia Newsletter August 2009; M H Ellis; Sydney Morning Herald 15 July 2009 - accessed 7 Aril 2015].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England