Browse Fellows


www Lives

Biographical entry Starr, Sir Kenneth William (1908 - 1976)

Kt 1971; CMG 1956; DBE 1941; ED 1946; MRCS and FRCS 1936; MB, BS Sydney 1930; MS Melbourne 1940; FRACS 1940; FACS 1954.

9 January 1908
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
General surgeon


When an aspiring surgeon wins the Hallett Prize in the Primary FRCS examination, passes the Final FRCS in the following month and later wins the Jacksonian Prize (a prize double not hitherto achieved) then it is certain that a surgeon will have rare qualities and is one likely to succeed. Such a man was Ken Starr, known affectionately as 'Stella' to his admiring fellow students.

Kenneth Starr was born on 9 January 1908 in Wellington, New South Wales. He was educated at Fort Street High School and Sydney University. His father had died when he was a child so Ken had largely to finance his own education by any jobs he could obtain - from bricklaying to tutoring (sometimes people senior to himself). His mother, like his father, had also become afflicted with cerebrovascular disease and so he had to support her towards the end of his medical course. Despite these crushing responsibilities he graduated with first class honours and the University Medal in 1930, collecting many prizes on the way. After three years residency at the Royal Albert Hospital, Sydney (plus a demonstratorship in anatomy and a tutorship in medicine), he became surgeon superintendent at Newcastle Hospital, 1933-1936. Then he came to England, gaining the FRCS and the Hallett Prize and after study in Europe and the USA he returned to Newcastle as assistant surgeon.

In 1939 he enlisted, although classified 'B'. It was while he was Deputy Assistant Director, General Medical Services, Army HO in Melbourne, 1940 that he took the opportunity of obtaining the MS (Melbourne) and the FRACS. Soon after he sailed to the Middle East and was appointed Assistant Director of Medical Services, Headquarters, Australian Imperial Force, Middle East. In 1942 he was made Lieutenant-Colonel OC Surgical Division 2/5 AGH and served in Eritrea. After an adventurous sea voyage to England he spent six months training in plastic and maxillofacial surgery under Sir Harold Gillies. From then until 1944 he worked as Lieutenant-Colonel OC surgical division on the Island of Morotai, Indonesia, enduring long hours of operative surgery in a makeshift theatre. He was appointed OBE in 1941.

After demobilisation the authorities of Sydney Hospital appointed him senior surgeon over the heads of others who, it is said, were resentful. Nevertheless his operative skill, his teaching prowess and his special ability to relate to patients and particularly children enabled him to establish a great and lucrative surgical practice as a much sought after consultant.

In 1955 a change of direction in his life took place, calling on all his great abilities. He was invited by the New South Wales Government to create and organise a special unit for the investigation and treatment of cancer and became its first Honorary Director. He performed many advisory tasks for the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments concerning the creation of a second New South Wales medical school, the administration and policy of New South Wales hospitals and the Canberra District Hospital and medical aspects of housing programmes. He headed commissions regarding educational and health services, the 'Starr' Reports. He was member and later President of the New South Wales Medical Board. He was appointed CMG in 1956 and was knighted in 1971.

On the academic side of surgery, his Jacksonian Prize Essay (1944) was on Delayed union of fractures. He contributed chapters to the Medical history of the war and to the British encyclopaedia of surgery. He was a consulting editor to Surgery, gynaecology and obstetrics and the Journal of the American Postgraduate Federation. He wrote and lectured widely, particularly on cancer. He was a Hunterian Professor at the College. In 1965 he became President of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

In 1940 he married Alison Howse, daughter of Sir Neville Howse, VC FRCS Ed, and they had two sons and three daughters. He died in 1976 after a long illness during which he was cared for with great devotion by his wife.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1977, 1, 560-62].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England