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A priceless piece of medical history is preserved for future generations to view.

Scot Skirving's 1895 medical journal

March 2018

A priceless piece of medical history is preserved for future generations to view.

A priceless piece of medical history is preserved for future generations to view.

Dr Robert Scot Skirving (1859-1956) was a Scottish-born, Edinburgh-trained physician and surgeon. He was appointed Medical Superintendent at (Royal) Prince Alfred Hospital in November 1883 by chairman Professor Thomas Anderson Stuart.

He was successively honorary assistant physician (1884-89), honorary physician (1889-1911) and honorary consultant at RPA from 1911 until his death, age 97.

Scot Skirving’s leather-bound 1895 medical journal was found wet and damaged in the basement of a private residence many decades later.

It was donated to the RPA Museum by the estate of the late Emeritus Professor Charles Ruthven Bickerton Blackburn AC, the distinguished academic and clinical research leader at the University of Sydney and RPA, following his death in 2016.

This invaluable record has been stabilised, preserved and box mounted for exhibition by Heights Heritage Conservation and presented to the RPA Museum. The project was funded by the Graduate Nurses Association.

RPA’s Manager of Museum and Educational Facilities, Scott Andrews, said the journal is “priceless”.

“It represents a snapshot of medical record keeping in the 1890’s, and is a priceless piece of RPA cultural and medical history now preserved for future generations to view.”

Scot Skirving first came to Australia in 1875 as an apprentice in the merchant navy on board the Tantallon Castle on a voyage to Port Adelaide.

On the return voyage Scot Skirving developed beriberi, also known as thiamine deficiency, which led him in 1876 to enrol in medicine at the University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1881). He came fifth in a year which also included (Sir) Alexander MacCormick(Sir) Thomas Anderson Stuart and (Sir) Arthur Conan Doyle. After further studies in Dublin and Vienna he was appointed house physician at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, in 1881. Early in 1883 Scot Skirving joined the migrant ship, Ellora, as ship's surgeon and returned to Australia, where he practised in Queensland, before moving to Sydney.

He was the lecturer in clinical medicine at the University of Sydney (1889-1911), and was president of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association (1891-92).

During the Second Boer War he served with Australian troops in South Africa alongside Alexander MacCormick. In the First World War he returned to Britain serving as a Major in the Royal Army Medical Corps, based at an auxiliary hospital in Essex. He then moved as a specialist surgeon to treat wounded at the Queen Alexandra Military Hospital in Millbank, London. He returned to Sydney in January 1919.

During World War II he was persuaded by (Sir) Herbert Schlink to lecture at RPA.

He was proud to be a foundation fellow of both the (Royal) Australasian College of Surgeons (1927) and of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (1938) and an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (1953).

Scot Skirving published extensively on medical and more general subjects in the Australian Medical Gazette and the Medical Journal of Australia, including his reminiscences of his voyages to Australia. He wrote on subjects as diverse as diseases of the tongue, sore throats in anaemic persons, facial anaesthesia, treatment of fractures, sea-faring doctors, surgery at sea, and fits and faints.

His name is commemorated at the University of Sydney by a prize in medicine and surgery.

The RPA museum is open Wednesdays and Thursdays 10am-2pm. For more information, see

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