RUSSELL, Robert Hamilton (1860-1933)

RUSSELL, Robert Hamilton (1860-1933)
son of James Russell, was born at Farningham, Kent, England. on 3 September 1860. He was educated at Nassau school, near London, and King's College, London. He was a pupil of Lister's at King's College hospital and eventually became the last of the house surgeons who worked under his personal guidance. He took the diploma of M.R.C.S. in 1882 and, after experience as a house surgeon at King's College hospital, went to Shrewsbury for two Years as resident surgeon to the Shropshire county hospital. He gained his F.R.C.S. in 1888 and in 1889 went to Australia and established himself at Hawthorn, a suburb of Melbourne, as a general practitioner. He was, however, anxious to do surgical work and in 1892 was appointed a member of the honorary staff of the children's hospital, Melbourne. He became particularly interested in the problem of inguinal hernia in the young and read a paper on this subject at the intercolonial medical congress at Brisbane in 1899. This and other papers on allied subjects were published in the Lancet in 1899 and 1900. In 1901 he was appointed to the honorary surgical staff of the Alfred hospital, Melbourne and in 1903 was elected president of the Medical Society of Victoria. His presidential address was a masterly exposition on "The Congenital Origin of Hernia", given in January 1904. His reputation as a surgeon was now established, and his papers in medical journals were giving him world-wide recognition; some particularly important and original work dealt with the treatment of fractures. He was in England when the 1914-18 war broke out and did valuable work both in France and England in the earlier years of it. On his return to Australia he took up his work again at the Alfred and Children's hospitals, but resigned his Alfred hospital appointment in 1920 and five years later retired from the children's hospital. After his retirement he retained his interest in surgery and particularly in the foundation of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons at Melbourne. At the annual meeting of the fellows of that college in 1930 he was presented with his portrait by Lambert (q.v.). He had been a member of the council from its inception, and at the time of his death was as censor-in-chief entrusted with the controlling of admissions to fellowship. In later years he suffered from osteoarthritis, became very lame, and was threatened with the loss of the sight of one of his eyes. This was probably a contributing cause of the accident by which he lost his life while driving a motor car on 30 April 1933. He never married.
Though slightly reserved in manner, Russell was a delightful companion with a pleasant voice, a complete absence of affectation, a delicate sense of humour, and an evident love of mankind. He was an excellent pianist and had much appreciation of the best music. He was a fine surgeon and a remarkable clinical teacher. Every case was made the subject of careful, accurate and complete study, and every student was trained to think on surgical lines, always with the proviso that the recovery of the patient was the important thing. As a student of Lister he believed in the importance of the dressing of the wounds, and to go the rounds with him while he explained the reason for each method of application was an education in itself. He was no believer in complicated methods of surgery and was always seeking the simplest way. There was a comparatively easy way, and that way must be found. All this was allied with the simplicity and sincerity of his own character. He earned the affection and admiration of all his students, and his great ability made him a member of the small band of Australian medical men whose influence has been felt outside his own country. There is a bust of him by Paul Montford at the Alfred hospital, and an intermediate hospital block attached to the Alfred hospital has been named Hamilton Russell House in his memory.
The Medical Journal of Australia, 14 May 1932 and 17 June 1933; The Argus, Melbourne, 1 May 1933; The British Medical Journal, 24 June 1933; The Cyclopedia of Victoria, 1903.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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