FITZGERALD, Sir Thomas Naghten (1838 1908)

FITZGERALD, Sir Thomas Naghten (1838 1908)
son of John FitzGerald of Trinity College, Dublin, was born at Tullamore, Ireland, on 1 August 1838. He was educated at St Mary's College, Kingston, and studied for the medical profession at Mercer's hospital, Dublin. He passed his examination for licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland, in 1857 and in the following year went to Australia. He arrived in Melbourne on 7 July and shortly afterwards was appointed house surgeon to the Melbourne hospital. In 1860 he began to practise in Lonsdale-street, where he afterwards established a private hospital, and in the same year he was elected full surgeon to the Melbourne hospital, a position he held for over 40 years. His reputation as a surgeon grew steadily and it eventually spread all over Australia. He was rapid, resourceful and successful in the operations that were possible at that period, and invented original methods such as the subcutaneous introduction of gold wire in cases of inguinal hernia and fractured patella, special appliances in operating for cleft palate, and an original method in the operation for talipes. To his dexterity as an operator was joined remarkable skill in diagnosis, it seemed almost to be an extra sense and he could describe the position of fragments of a fracture as though he could see it in an X-ray skiagraph. In 1884 FitzGerald visited Ireland and obtained the diploma of fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was twice president of the Medical Society of Victoria, and in 1889 was elected president of the Australasian medical congress. In 1900 he went to the South African war as a consultant surgeon to the Imperial forces. An account of his visit was published in the Intercolonial Medical Journal of Australasia for December 1900. Soon after his return FitzGerald relinquished much of his private practice and retired from hospital work. His health began to fail and a voyage to Europe gave him little benefit. He died at sea while on a voyage to Cairns, Queensland, on 8 July 1908. He married Margaret, daughter of James Robertson, who predeceased him, and was survived by three daughters. He was knighted in 1897; C.B. 1900.
FitzGerald was slightly below medium height with a fine head and natural dignity of manner. Though a man of great rapidity of thought he was not expansive in conversation, and his pupils learned more from what he did than from what he said. He was extremely active, played tennis regularly until late in life, and did much riding and driving. Under the name of T. Naghten he bred and raced horses with some success. His surgical life covered a period in which the arts of surgery and medicine were revolutionized. In an interesting presidential address to the Medical Society of Victoria delivered in January 1900, FitzGerald reviewed some of the changes that had occurred in the previous 40 years. "Will such a difference ever re-occur", he said. "Shall we ever again go through such a period of unlearning, such a period of relinquishing beliefs, of learning that almost all those remedies in which we at one time had so much faith, were in reality delusions, more harmful than beneficial." In his own branch he felt that it was "not until 1874, about 10 years after Lister had commenced his experiments, that things began to wake up in operative surgery . . . In some respects, perhaps no art or science has had so much to unlearn as ours". It was possibly his recognition of this that helped to make FitzGerald so great a surgeon. Though he had made a reputation at an early age and had gained some renown for methods he had himself introduced, he refused to get into a rut, and kept abreast of all the advances in surgical knowledge. At the time of his death two old friends and pupils (Sir) H. B. Allen (q.v.) and (Sir) G. A. Syme (q.v.) wrote appreciations of him and his work in which both speak of him as "a genius".
Intercolonial Medical Journal, 1908, p. 379, 1900. pp. 1, 549; The Lancet, 18 July, 1908; The Argus, Melbourne, 10 July 1908; The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903; The Australasian Medical Gazette, August, 1908, p. 428.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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  • FitzGerald — /fɪtsˈdʒɛrəld/ (say fits jeruhld) noun 1. James Edward, 1818–96, NZ politician; leader of the first National Cabinet, 1854–56. 2. R(obert) D(avid), 1902–87, influential Australian poet of intellectual themes; poems include The Face of the Waters …  

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