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Biographical entry Somerset, John Bowie (1908 - 1983)

ED 1945; MRCS and FRCS 1935; MB, BS Melbourne 1931; MD 1934; FRACS 1937.

6 July 1908
Mount Morgan, Queensland, Australia
4 May 1983


John Bowie Somerset was born on 6 July 1908 at Mount Morgan, Queensland, the son of H St J Somerset of Melbourne. His early education was at St Peter's College, Adelaide, and in 1926 he entered Trinity College at the University of Melbourne. He qualified in 1931 having obtained second class honours in surgery and medicine as well as first class honours and the Fulton Scholarship in obstetrics and gynaecology. In addition to his academic attainments he represented his university at boxing and was awarded a half blue.

His first appointment was as resident medical officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital after which he was Beaney Scholar in pathology. He gained the degree of MD in 1934 and then came to England with the aim of becoming a urological surgeon. He passed the FRCS in 1935 and was later resident surgical officer at St Peter's Hospital for Stone under Clifford Morson and Ogier Ward. On his return home in 1937 he passed the FRACS and was appointed honorary assistant surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, tutor in pathology at Trinity College and tutor in surgery at Ormond College.

In 1932 he had been commissioned as a Captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps and in October 1939 he joined the Australian Imperial Forces, serving until August 1945. He was one of the first to enlist and he was so proud of his low AIF number (VX223) that he subsequently used it as a car registration number. Initially he was in the Middle East, Libya and Syria with the 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station, performing forward surgery, but in 1942 he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in command of the 2/11th Australian General Hospital in the South Pacific Area in Buna, Lae, Salamaua and Finchhafen. His war service was recognised by the award of the Efficiency Decoration in 1945.

He returned to Melbourne after demobilisation and in 1947 was appointed urologist to the Repatriation Hospital, Heidelberg. In 1948 he became honorary assistant urologist to Prince Henry's Hospital for five years until he was appointed honorary urologist to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He worked hard to promote his specialty and became President of the Urological Society of Australasia in 1954. At the beginning of his career there were only 3 urologists in the Melbourne area, whereas upon his retirement there were 36, 20 of whom he had trained. He was examiner in urology on the Court of Examiners of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons from 1954 to 1964 and served as a member of the Victorian State Committee of the College from 1958 to 1968 and chairman of the committee during the last two years. He was elected Vice-President of the Australia Kidney Foundation in 1968, the year he retired from his hospital practice and was appointed consultant urologist.

At the time of his retirement his wife Penelope became ill and she died in 1970. Despite this great personal loss he continued private practice until 1982 when he became seriously ill from a malignancy.

He died at home on 4 May 1983 and is survived by two sons, John and Nigel, and his companion, Kay.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1984, 140, 168 with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England