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Biographical entry Thomas, David John (1813 - 1871)

MRCS Jan 19th 1838; FRCS Feb 14th 1856; LSA 1838; MD St Andrews 1853.

12 September 1813
Llwynyberllan, Carmarthenshire
1 June 1871
General surgeon


Born at Llwynyberllan, Carmarthenshire, on Sept 12th, 1813, the eldest son of William Thomas, of that town. At the age of 16 he began his professional training at Swansea Infirmary, and subsequently studied at University College, then known as London University. As the medical degrees were not yet conferred by that body, he qualified LSA and MRCS and in 1838 sailed for Port Philip, a voyage which was then regarded as an unusual adventure.

In 1839, instead of returning home as he had intended to do, he began to practise in Melbourne, having been persuaded thereto by the old colonists. The Melbourne Hospital was founded in 1840, and he was its first Surgeon. The hospital building, as now known, did not exist till 1848 - its site being 'bush' - and the work of this earliest of medical charities in Victoria was carried on in an unpretending building lent for the purpose by a Mr Fawkner. At first there were only twenty beds. Thomas continued on the staff of the hospital till 1853, when he came to England for a well-earned holiday. In 1840 he had entered into partnership with Dr Farquhar McCrae, after whose death he joined Dr Barker in 1850. In that year he had the leading practice in the Colony of Victoria, and as the roads there were mostly bush-tracks, his duty necessitated much physical exertion. In those days a ride of fifty miles up the country to see a patient was an ordinary occurrence, so that good horsemanship was an essential accomplishment in a medical man at that time.

During the six years which he spent at home he visited all the principal hospitals and medical schools in England and on the Continent, diligently attending lectures, dissecting carefully, and also using the microscope. In 1853 he became MD St Andrews.

Returning to Victoria in 1859, he found great changes in the Colony. The gold rush had occurred, and this, curiously enough, had much depreciated landed property. Thomas suffered with others and was compelled to sell land for £500 for which he had been offered £12,000 when on his travels. His old patients had left the ever-changing Colony, and an influx of medical practitioners had greatly intensified professional competition. He was obliged to begin life all over again, and did so courageously. He regained his position almost at once; was elected at the head of the poll when, in 1860, a second increase in the honorary staff of the Melbourne Hospital was decided upon; in 1862 became an Examiner in Anatomy and Physiology in Melbourne University; in 1865 was appointed by Government a Member of the Medical Board, and in 1868 Official Visitor to the Hospital for the Insane. He was also Hon Physician to the Deaf and Dumb Institution, to the St James's Training Institute, and in 1864 President of the Medical Society, where he delivered an interesting valedictory address in which he reviewed the early history of the profession in the Colony. From the Melbourne Hospital he sent, up to the last, admirable reports to the Australian Medical Journal. He was one of the earliest of those who associated together for scientific discussion in Australia, and in 1847 he read the first paper before the original Medical Society of Victoria (then known as the Port Philip Medical Society), his subject being the then new one of "The Inhalation of the Vapour of Ether, with Cases". He married the sister of his partner, Dr McCrae. This lady, with four daughters, survived him. His death from apoplexy occurred on June 1st, 1871.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England