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Biographical entry Bonnin, Noel James (1909 - 1989)

MRCS and FRCS 1936; MB BS Adelaide 1932; MS 1944, FRACS 1938.

25 December 1909
Adelaide, Australia
July 1989
Urological surgeon


Noel James Bonnin was born on Christmas Day 1909 in Adelaide. He was the son of Winifred, née Turpin, and James Atkinson Bonnin who had become a Fellow of the College in 1898 and was a Foundation Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 1927. His older brother, Lansell, was an orthopaedic surgeon who was also a Fellow of the College and predeceased him in 1966 aged 47. His brother Josiah (FRCP) became senior physician at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and his brother James (FRACP) became Director of the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide. His sister Kathleen was awarded the Royal Red Cross for service in the Australian Army Medical Corps.

Bonnin was educated at Queen's School and then St Peter's College, Adelaide, where he enjoyed a notable athletic career. His medical training was at the University of Adelaide. After house appointments he came to England in 1933 and held posts at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Great Ormond Street (where he particularly recalled Sir Denis Browne) and St James's Hospital, Balham. He passed the FRCS in 1936.

Returning to Australia he was honorary clinical assistant in surgery from 1938 to 1946 at the Royal Adelaide Hospital but took leave of absence for war service 1940¬1946. He served with the Australian Imperial Services in field ambulances, a casualty clearing station, a field transfusion unit and eventually as Officer Commanding of a surgical division in Australian General Hospitals. He served in the Middle East, Syria, Western Desert, Borneo, Brunei and Morotai, reaching the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He recalled one occasion in the Western Desert with the 8th Army when he found himself on a casualty clearing station only yards from its German equivalent. The soldiers fought it out while the scientists worked harmoniously with the prospect that, at some point, one side or other would be taken prisoner. The Germans lost, but to no-one's regret, the doctors escaped.

After the war he was appointed honorary assistant surgeon at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and, with a Carnegie Travelling Fellowship he studied urology in the United States, England and Canada - under Reid Nesbitt in Ann Arbor and Nathan Berry in Kingston, Ontario. He was appointed honorary surgeon in charge of the new urological clinic in Adelaide but this proved unsatisfactory and he continued his work in urology at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital as honorary assistant surgeon from 1959 and honorary surgeon from 1961 to 1969.

His eponymous operation, Bonnin's operation for the removal of the prostate gland, was first described in the Journal of urology, 1955. It was first quoted in Bailey and Love's Short practice of surgery, 15th edition, 1971, and eventually had a chapter devoted to it in Current operative urology by Whitehead and Leiter; Harper and Row, 1975. It was demonstrated on closed circuit television to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons at a meeting in Adelaide in 1968. He was President of the South Australian branch of the AMA, a senior member of BAUS and Fellow of the Urological Association of Australasia.

Bonnin was a man of practical and inventive mind and technology was a lifelong passion. His hobby of offshore fishing led him to design and patent a tunnel hull for small craft which is used in some commercial fishing. In retirement he established a red poll cattle stud and patented a significant development in electric fencing. Other hobbies included rowing, lacrosse, tennis, golf, bowls, and painting.

He married Helen Prudence May. Her father, Sir Herbert Mayo was senior puisne judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia and the family had several eminent medical relations including John Mayo (FRCS Ed) the first Chairman of the South Australia Anti-Cancer Committee; Elton Mayo, Professor of Industrial Psychology at Harvard; and George Mayo (his wife's great-grandfather) who settled in Australia in 1839 and revisited England in 1851 obtaining his FRCS on 18 December 1851 and became the first Fellow of the College in the State of South Australia.

Noel and Helen had two sons and two daughters, one of whom, Priscilla, became a nurse. He died in July 1989 aged 79 years.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Daily Telegraph 18 July 1989].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England