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Biographical entry Madigan, Michael Roebourne (1923 - 2014)

MB BS Adelaide 1952; BSc 1953; FRCS 1959; FRCS Edin 1959.

7 February 1923
Adelaide, Australia
28 June 2014
Bishop's Stortford
General surgeon


Michael Madigan was a consultant general surgeon at Bishop's Stortford and Hertford hospitals. He was the son of Cecil Thomas Madigan, a distinguished Australian geologist and explorer, who extensively surveyed Central Australia and led the first major expedition across the Simpson Desert. He was also the geologist on the 1911 Australian Antarctic expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson: Michael retraced the route by invitation a century later.

We know little of Michael's early years, beyond finding that, with the advent of the Second World War and just after leaving school or during his first year at university, he volunteered to train as a pilot. He boarded a ship at Brisbane for Canada and was totally incapacitated by seasickness all the way to Vancouver. He trained in Alberta, emerging as a navigator and was then sent to the United Kingdom. He joined 207 Squadron of Lancaster bombers at Spilsby, near Skegness in Lincolnshire. The overall casualty rate for bomber crews was in the region of 50%. The Allies were later accused of bombing civilians, but Michael firmly stated that before each raid they were given coordinates on the North Sea or Channel for dropping bombs that could not be dropped on targets. Nevertheless, there was reluctance to honour them and the Bomber Command memorial in Green Park was inaugurated as late as 2012, by which time Michael was too frail to be taken to see it.

After the war, Michael returned to Adelaide, and gained his MB BS in 1952 and a BSc in 1953. Now married to Claire, he decided to return to Britain to train as a surgeon. He travelled, like so many of his compatriots, as a ship's doctor, while Claire had to pay her fare. They arrived with £30 between them!

One of the first surgeons he visited was Norman Tanner at St James' Hospital, Balham. Michael never forgot the honour he felt at the immediate invitation to scrub and assist. Arthur Porritt was also supportive. Michael was fortunate to train with Paul Savage at the Whittington Hospital, remaining a friend thereafter. After acquiring both the fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and England in 1959, he became a senior registrar at St Mary's and Paddington General hospitals, completing his training as a resident surgical officer at St Mark's Hospital. He then became a consultant surgeon at Bishop's Stortford and Hertford hospitals.

As a general surgeon with a special interest in colorectal surgery, Michael became an apostle and friend of Nils Kock in Sweden, who had developed a technique for creating a pouched and valved ileostomy following total colorectal resection for ulcerative colitis. He published an article on this topic in the Annals of the RCS ('The continent ileostomy and the isolated ileal bladder' Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 1976 Jan;58[1]:62-9). My introduction to him started when, as editor, I had the temerity to remark on the length of his sentences. The ensuing sharp admonishment to read Dickens was the foundation of our friendship.

Another of his interests was domiciliary hernia repair performed under local anaesthesia, offering patients an alternative to in-hospital procedures. It was a great success, without any complications. Sadly, he was forbidden to continue. Clearly, using individual common sense makes the authorities uncomfortable.

Michael was committed to sports, notably cricket, squash and skiing. He and Claire qualified as pilots and owned an aeroplane. Michael's brother, also an aeroplane owner and pilot, was awarded one of the last knighthoods accepted by the Australians. He flew his single-engined plane to collect it and then asked Michael and Claire to fly the plane back to Adelaide, which they did, by stages. During one of the RCS presidential tri-annual overseas visits to Pakistan and other countries, we entered our hotel in Karachi. The manager greeted them as though they were royalty, expressing his honour at accommodating them. Apparently the Madigans had stayed at this hotel during their flight back to Adelaide. Their visit had been widely reported in the press at the time and included that adjective seemingly reserved for pioneering pilots: 'Mr and Mrs Madigan, two intrepid Australian pilots are flying a single-engined aeroplane from England back to Australia.'

Michael and Claire were highly intelligent, cultured, loyal and admired friends. Like so many in the old Commonwealth, Michael had instantly volunteered in the Second World War to help what used to be called 'the mother country', as their fathers had done in the First. Michael had very firm views on many aspects of life. He was a strong monarchist, in the mould of the former Prime Minister of Australia, Sir Robert Menzies. He and Claire retained their Australian passports and sometimes suffered the inconvenient and patronising treatment of immigration officials.

Claire fell, fracturing her ankle, and then sustained a second fall and died in an ambulance en route to hospital. Shortly afterwards, Michael was found semi-comatose, having also fallen in the night. He died in hospital a few days later, on 30 June 2014. He had deliberately not organised a memorial service for him or Claire, but friends are arranging for a bench to be placed in the Memorial Gardens in Bishop's Stortford, with a plaque stating 'In fond memory of Michael and Clare Madigan.' Michael would be scathingly intolerant of it!

R M Kirk

The Royal College of Surgeons of England