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Biographical entry Brown, Sir Charles James Officer (1897 - 1984)

Kt 1969; MRCS and FRCS 1924; MB, BS Melbourne 1920; MD 1922; FRACS 1928.

24 September 1897
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
22 August 1984
Kew, Victoria, Australia
General surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Charles James Officer Brown was born in Melbourne on 24 September 1897, the third child of David Brown and Jamima (née Officer) whose grandfather, Sir Robert Officer, had emigrated as a ship's surgeon to Van Diemen's Land. He attended the Scotch College in Melbourne and proceeded to the Melbourne University Medical School where he attained first place in the final honours list and won prizes in surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology. He graduated in 1920. He spent two years as resident medical officer in the Royal Melbourne Hospital, gaining his MD before travelling to England where he spent two years in surgical training and acquiring the FRCS.

He returned to Australia in 1925 when he endured several years of impecunity and anxiety without any paid hospital appointment. In 1929, the same year he was appointed surgeon to outpatients at the Alfred Hospital, he was found to have pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease that then had an exceedingly poor prognosis. Treatment consisted of rest, fresh air and hope. Officer Brown lived in virtual isolation for nearly two years in an open air pavilion in the garden before he was sufficiently well to resume practice in 1931. This personal experience of pulmonary tuberculosis undoubtedly shaped the direction of his future career.

In September 1934, after practising on animals, he successfully performed a pulmonary lobectomy on a nineteen-year-old girl suffering from bronchiectasis and from this foundation he built his subsequent outstanding surgical career, first in pulmonary surgery and then in cardiac surgery. At the end of the second world war he toured the United States and visited Dr Alfred Blalock where he first heard about a new surgical concept of a shunt operation for the relief of Fallot's tetralogy. After returning to Melbourne he was appointed thoracic surgeon to the Alfred Hospital and after work in the animal laboratory carried out his first shunt operation for Fallot's tetralogy in October 1947. As the demand for surgical treatment for pulmonary tuberculosis and bronchiectasis fell away in the 1950s, the emphasis of his work swung towards cardiac surgery and he became one of the leading cardiac surgeons in Australia. He established open heart surgery in 1956, the year before his sixtieth birthday when he retired from the staff of the Alfred Hospital. He continued work at the Austin Hospital for another ten years. For many years he was responsible for leading a thoracic operating team out to Port Moresby, Papua, where he would perform all the necessary chest surgery for which in the 1950s there was no provision in New Guinea. He had a delightful relationship with all his staff and was a most friendly, warm hearted host to visitors.

Officer Brown was an active member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, being a member of Council between 1956 and 1968. In 1969 he was created Knight Bachelor for his services to medicine.

In private life he was a humble man who made light of his enormous achievements. He wrote many important articles on thoracic and cardiac surgery but he himself claimed that none of them had lasting value. He enjoyed golf, being President of the Melbourne Club in 1968, and dry fly-fishing. He died on 22 August 1984 at the age of 86, and was survived by his wife, Esme, and his two daughters Susan and Caroline.

Sir Barry Jackson

Sources used to compile this entry: [Aust NZJ surg 1986, 56, 179-184].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England