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Biographical entry Mather, Barrington Sherwood (1932 - 2012)

LMSSA 1957; BChir Cambridge 1957; MB 1958; MRCS 1958; LRCP 1958; DObst RCOG 1960; FRCS 1961; FRACS 1963; MD Queensland 1969.

15 February 1932
31 May 2012
General practitioner, General surgeon and Orthopaedic surgeon


Barrington Sherwood Mather, known as 'Barrie', was a surgeon in Cairns and Melbourne, Australia. He was born in Birmingham on 15 February 1932, the eldest of three children of Cecil Aubrey Mather, a general practitioner, and Dorothy Collins Mather née Guest. His brother John also became a doctor and worked as an anaesthetist in Birmingham. Barrie was a 'wartime educational casualty' (as he noted on his CV), attending nine primary schools before settling at King Edward's School in Birmingham for his secondary education. He studied medicine at Trinity College, Cambridge, and St Bartholomew's Hospital.

In July 1959 he married Janet Michelle Guenault, who was also a doctor. Barrie was keen to travel to Australia, and to possibly work there as a flying doctor. To this end, the couple sought to gain a range of skills that would be valuable in isolated areas. Barrie obtained his diploma in obstetrics in 1960 and his FRCS in 1961.

In June 1962, with his wife and infant son, he flew to Australia to take up the position of superintendent at Dalby Hospital in Queensland. He soon realised there was little scope there for his surgical skills and, in February 1963, was granted a transfer to Cairns Base Hospital as a surgical registrar. Here he was able to gain valuable experience and take on much of the accident and orthopaedic load, as these cases were not favoured by the superintendent, who was a general surgeon.

In 1964 he gained a position as a teaching registrar with the University of Queensland's department of surgery at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Their policy encouraged registrars to take on a research project and, following his interest in treating fractures, he embarked on the study of the mechanical properties of human long bones, work which had relevance to crash protection in transport design. His research was partly funded by a grant from the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council, and became his MD thesis.

The analysis of his research data involved complex calculations, requiring him to develop an interest and expertise in the use of early computers. This led him to join a team in the Department of Health in New South Wales which was developing clinical information systems. In 1971 he moved to Melbourne, to develop computer applications for the Royal Children's Hospital.

He stayed in Melbourne for ten years, but left when the toxic atmosphere of hospital politics made his position untenable. As he had spent 13 years away from surgery, returning was not possible, so he decided to complete some refresher sessions to enable him to work as a GP. In practice in rural Victoria he discovered he had not lost his diagnostic skills or his ability to perform minor surgical procedures. He always valued his surgical qualifications and the rewarding experience of the work, particularly the wide range of surgery in Cairns. He often regretted leaving there.

Barrie retired in late 1998 and devoted himself to his great passion, the production, preparation and consumption of good organic food and wine, living on his smallholding in rural Victoria. He was a keen gardener and enjoyed providing a bountiful table for his family as it expanded to include sons- and daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

In 2004, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, but continued to live at home with Janet, until a fall in 2012, when he had to be admitted to the local hospital. He died peacefully a few weeks later, on 31 May 2012, aged 80. Despite his condition, his last years were happy and he made the most of his love of literature and poetry, his connections with his family and community, and retained his sense of humour and his dignity. He was survived by his wife Janet, his sons, Andrew and Jeremy, his daughters, Jenny and Kathleen, and eight grandchildren.

Janet Mather
Kathleen Mather

The Royal College of Surgeons of England