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Biographical entry White, James Renfrew (1888 - 1961)

MRCS 12 February 1914; FRCS 10 June 1915; FRACS foundation 1927; LRCP 1914; MB BS Otago 1913; ChM 1922; MusBac.

Dunedin, New Zealand
29 December 1961
Dunedin, New Zealand
Orthopaedic surgeon


Born at Dunedin, New Zealand in 1888 son of David Renfrew White (MA NZ 1884), Professor of Education in the University of Otago 1909-12, he graduated there in 1913 and then came to London, where he was a resident at St Bartholomew's, the Middlesex, and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospitals. He was commissioned in the RAMC, serving first as a physical-medicine specialist and later as an orthopaedic surgeon at the Army Orthopaedic Hospital at Shepherd's Bush, and took the Fellowship during his war service.

The New Zealand Government appointed him its official orthopaedic specialist, and he transferred to the New Zealand Army Medical Corps with the rank of Major, which he continued to use throughout his civilian career. Under Professor Sir Louis Barnett FRCS he built up a flourishing department of orthopaedics at Dunedin Hospital and was surgical tutor in orthopaedics at the University from 1920 till he retired in 1948. He was the first surgeon to take the degree of Master of Surgery, when it was instituted at Otago in 1922, and a foundation Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He practised at 456 George Street, Dunedin.

White encouraged the development of physical education in New Zealand, started a school of physiotherapy, and wrote handbooks for students and the general public. He was secretary and afterwards chairman of the Otago division of the British Medical Association, and vice-president of the section of orthopaedics at the BMA Annual Meeting in 1935. After retirement he studied music, took the degree of Bachelor of Music and composed a good deal in various forms. He also made a long stay in London and collected material for a history of the City churches. He had great intellectual originality and influential practical ability.

Renfrew White was twice married. He died at Dunedin on 29 December 1961 aged 73, survived by his wife and family. His first wife had died in the 1940s.

Chronic traumatic osteomyelitis. London, H. K. Lewis 1919. 144 pages.
Elementary surgical handicraft. London, Churchill 1936, 250 pages.

Sources used to compile this entry: [NZ med J. 1962, 61, 115 by Sir Gordon Bell with portrait, where his father's name is wrongly stated; Brit med J. 1962, 1, 266 and p 574 by WRM; J Bone Jt Surg. 1963, 45 B, 201-202 by HWF with portrait; D W Carmalt Jones Annals of Otago Medical School 1945, pp 181ff; information from Professor K F Russell and Mr H D Erlam, Librarian of Otago Medical School].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England