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Biographical entry Sutherland, Hamilton D'arcy (1913 - 2008)

CBE 1980; MB BS Adelaide 1937; MS 1944; FRACS 1945; FRCS 1947; Hon FACS 1979.

9 September 1913
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
19 July 2008
Cardiothoracic surgeon


Hamilton D'Arcy Sutherland was born in Adelaide in 1913. His father, Alan, was killed in 1917 as a result of a flying accident while serving as a pilot officer in the Royal Flying Corps - predecessor to the Royal Air Force. D'Arcy's only sibling, Lance, joined the RAAF and died in a very similar accident practising aerobatics just before WW2.

D'Arcy and his brother attended St Peter's College on a bursary for the sons of old scholars who had died on active service. The decision for D'Arcy to do medicine was made by the Head Master, Cannon Julian Bickersteth, and he attended the University of Adelaide on a Sir Samuel McCaughey Scholarship graduating MB BS in 1937.

He was an excellent sportsman playing cricket in the St Peter's College First Eleven, earning University and Australian Blues in Baseball and he had a single figure golf handicap for over forty years (lowest 3).

In 1938 he went to London to commence surgical training. He passed the Primary Examination of the Royal College of Surgeons six weeks after his arrival and World War 2 broke out a few months later. He immediately returned to Australia spending the next five years in the RANVR rising to the rank of Surgeon Lieut. Commander. During the War he served at various Military Hospitals and on ships including HMAS Platypus and HMAS Australia. He was on the Platypus when the Japanese bombed Darwin Harbour. He passed the Fellowship examination of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1944 and was also awarded a Master of Surgery (Adelaide).

Because he was interested in the emerging specialty of Thoracic Surgery, much of which was based on new surgical and anaesthetic techniques developed during the war, he returned to London in 1947 on a Nuffield Dominion Travelling Fellowship. He had the good fortune to work at the Harefield Hospital under the doyen of British thoracic surgery Russell (later Lord) Brock. During this time he also achieved the Fellowship of the English College.

On his return to Adelaide in 1949 he set up the new thoracic surgery unit largely under the auspices of the South Australian TB Service. The Unit was immediately busy dealing primarily with TB and other lung problems. By the mid 1950s they were doing closed cardiac surgery along with the other pioneering Australian teams. The first open heart operation was in 1960 and soon the unit had an enviable national and international reputation based on its outstanding results. D'Arcy Sutherland not only proved himself to be one of the outstanding surgeons of his generation but one of the first to understand the importance of surgical teams and the meticulous collection of data.

He married Margaret Higgins in 1940 and they had three children Andrew, Elizabeth and Peter. Margaret died in 1977. Elizabeth pursued a career in public administration and Andrew and Peter both became surgeons - Andrew in Orthopaedics and Peter in Urology. D'Arcy was able to attend the Annual Scientific Congress in Christchurch in 2007 at the age of 93 when his son Andrew became College President - the first father/son combination to do so.

During his professional career he presented numerous papers, addresses and reports and served on many State, National and International Committees. He was President of the Cardiac Society of ANZ from 1968 to 1970, President of the SA Division of the National Heart Foundation and Vice President of the National body from 1969 to 1977. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1979 and Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1980 for services to surgery.

D'Arcy Sutherland was President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1978/79 having been on the Council since 1967. He was Censor in Chief in 1974, Junior Vice President in 1975 and 1976 and Senior Vice President in 1977. The College was a major influence and commitment in his life. He was proud of his role as an Office Bearer at a time when surgical training was becoming more structured and better organised as a precursor to the present modern curriculum based specialty programmes.

It has been said that D'Arcy retired several times. He finished as Director of the Cardiothoracic Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1977 to take up the Directorship of the Cardiac Surgery Unit at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. He remained in Melbourne to 1980 and was instrumental in establishing the RCH unit as a world leader. On returning to Adelaide he was invited to be the Director of the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science from 1981 to 1983 and then Director of Outpatient Services at the Flinders Medical Centre for the next five years finally finishing paid employment at the age of 75. Following his final retirement he and Rosie who he married in 1980 established an excellent cool climate vineyard in the Adelaide Hills.

D'Arcy will be remembered as a man determined to be the best at everything he attempted whether that was surgery, sport or viticulture. His dedication to his patients was legendary. Many of the patients who attended his Memorial Service were happy to recall his personal concern for them and often the pride that they felt in being one of the first to undergo a certain procedure. He was an outstanding leader and master surgeon of the immediate post war era when new technologies opened up opportunities especially in cardiothoracic surgery.

Andrew Sutherland

Sources used to compile this entry: [Republished by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons from In Memoriam (].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England