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Biographical entry Syme, Sir George Adlington (1859 - 1929)

KBE 1924; MRCS April 26th 1884; FRCS Dec 10th 1885; MB Melbourne 1881; MS 1888; LLD Melbourne; Hon Fellow Australasian College of Surgeons; LLD University of Wales 1928.

13 July 1859
19 April 1929
Melbourne, Australia
General surgeon


Born in Nottingham on July 13th, 1859, the son of George Alexander Syme, MA. He was educated at Wesley College, Melbourne, and graduated MB at the University of Melbourne in 1881, with 1st class honours and a scholarship, proceeding to the Master in Surgery in 1888. He was Resident Medical Officer at the Melbourne Hospital for the year 1882-1883, and then came to London, entering at King's College and working under Lister. He acted as Clinical Assistant at the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, Moorfields, at the Central Throat and Ear Hospital in Golden Square, and at the Hospital for Women in Soho Square.

He returned to Victoria in 1887 and was appointed Demonstrator and Examiner in Anatomy at the University. He was also Pathologist at the Women's Hospital, Surgeon to Out-patients at the Melbourne Hospital from 1887-1893, and Surgeon to In-patients from 1903-1919. During the year 1888-1889 he was Secretary to the Royal Commission on the sanitary condition of Melbourne. He acted as Surgeon to the Police Force from 1889, and was Surgeon to St Vincent's Hospital from 1893.

At the University of Melbourne he was Lecturer on Anatomy and a member of the Faculty of Medicine from 1900-1904; was a member of the University Council from 1912, and was the University representative on the Advisory Board of the Melbourne Hospital.

He was three times President of the Victoria Branch of the British Medical Association and served as Secretary, Treasurer, and President of the Sections of State Medicine, Medical Ethics, and of Surgery. In 1922 he was appointed Chairman of the Federal Committee, and was reappointed annually until his death. In 1923 he was President of the Australasian Medical Congress (British Medical Association) when the first session was held in Melbourne; in the same year he was elected a Vice-President of the Association.

Syme was for many years the admitted leader of the medical profession in Australia, and after his retirement from active practice in June, 1924, the Victorian Branch recognized his many services to the Association and the medical profession by presenting him with his portrait painted in oils by Sir John Longstaff; the Branch further established in 1925 a Syme Foundation under the name of 'George Adlington Syme Prize'. In June, 1924, he was gazetted a Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (civil division), and in the following year he was Chairman of the Federal Royal Commission on Health.

The formation of the College of Surgeons of Australasia was greatly helped by his co-operation, and in 1927 he was elected the first President. Among his other public appointments may be mentioned the following as indicating the breadth of his outlook: he was a member of the Appeal Board of the Commonwealth Repatriation Department; President of the Repertory Theatre, Victoria; Trustee of the Medical Society of Victoria; and member of the committee of the new Presbyterian Church of Australia. He was the author of numerous contributions to medical literature, and published various lectures and addresses. During the War he held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel Australian Imperial Force, and was Chief of the Surgical Staff of the First Australian General Hospital; he was also Consulting Surgeon to HMS Gascon, a hospital ship.

He achieved a long-cherished desire when he came to England in 1928 in connection with the Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association in Cardiff. Together with two prominent South African members of the Association he was the guest of honour at a luncheon given by the officers of the Association on July 6th, 1928. The degree of Doctor of Laws of the University of Wales honoris causa was conferred upon him, and Professor A W Sheen, who introduced him, spoke of the high appreciation felt by the University for the professional public work of one who was welcomed as a worthy representative of the medical profession of the Dominions and of the British Medical Association. He made an impression on those with whom he came into close contact in this country, which explained the high estimation in which he was held in Australia and the confidence which was reposed in his judgement.

He married Mabel, daughter of William Berry, of New Zealand, who survived him with one son and three daughters. He died at Melbourne on April 19th, 1929.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Brit Med Jour, 1925, i, 134; 1929, i, 791, with portrait from a photograph].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England