Lives of the fellows

(Edward) Graeme Robertson

b.20 October 1903 d.25 December 1975
MB BS Melb(1927) MD(1930) MRCP(1930) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1946) Hon FCRA(1958)

Graeme Robertson was born in Melbourne, Australia, the son of John Robertson, merchant, and his wife Cecil Hooper. He was educated in the Scotch College and the Royal Melbourne Hospital Medical School, Melbourne University. After appointments in the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1928-29 he came to England, was house physician at Bethlem Royal Hospital, 1930; house physician and RMO at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, 1931-34, and a first assistant (neurology) at the London Postgraduate Teaching School, Hammersmith. Returning to Australia, he was honorary physician to Out-Patients, Royal Melbourne Hospital, 1935-44; honorary neurologist at the same hospital 1944; consulting neurologist, Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, 1944; honorary neurologist, Royal Childrens’ Hospital, Melbourne, 1944; neurologist to the Department of Health, Tasmania, 1947; neurologist Royal Women’s Hospital, Melbourne and consulting neurologist, Royal Australian Navy, 1949.

He married Mildred Jane, daughter of Thomas Duce, a farmer in Herefordshire, England, in 1935 and they had one son, Dr Denis Robertson, and one daughter, Joan.

Like so many neurologists of the past generation, Graeme Robertson was an eccentric, but an amiable, lovable one. His professional attainments were as great as his photographic and other technical skills. To the now almost out-moded practice of air-encephalography he dedicated his meticulous expertise, and secured a position as its internationally supreme exponent. And yet he was the acme of worldly innocence. His extensive travels were many, but always he seemed to be a little lost, hazy about the date, even the place in which he currently found himself. His luggage would go astray, he would constantly be losing valuable items of equipment, his hotel arrangements were muddled. But wherever he appeared there were always friends who came to his rescue, providing him with counsel and shelter, even the key of the door so that he could come and go as his whim ordained. He seemed so helpless and yet so calm that he converted friends into Samaritans, eager to assist. His colleagues’ wives were particularly touched, their motherly instincts being invariably aroused.

Beneath this mask of an innocent abroad, he was a diplomat whose abilities came to the fore in the perfection with which he organised such important events as the Asian-Australasian Neurological Congresses. He gave valuable support as Vice-President of the World Federation of Neurology, and he was instrumental in founding the Australian Association of Neurology, and also its outstanding periodical. In 1962 he served as Vice-President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Graeme Robertson had other interests. He amassed an important collection of early Australiana. He was a shrewd collector of antique English furniture. He was probably the definitive authority on early cast iron work, and with his considerable skill with a camera he prepared a series of beautiful albums on the ironwork of Melbourne and Sydney, and later of New Orleans and Greenwich Village, published in 1960 and 1962. He also published Early Houses of Northern Tasmania, with E.N. Craig, 1964.

Such was the personality which overlaid the ordinary success story of a wise but very modest physician. An Australian by birth, he displayed none of the sporting or athletic preoccupations of his countrymen but was a serious scholar. After qualifying MB from his local university in 1927 he proceeded to take his Doctorate three years later, coming to London in 1930. During the three years he served as house physician at the National Hospital, Queen Square, he was associated with Denny-Brown, Denis Brinton and Hugh Garland. He became particularly attached to one of his chiefs, Gordon Holmes. He kept in close touch with him, never failing to call upon him in Farnham whenever he revisited England. It was a great disappointment to Graeme that ill health precluded his attendance at the celebrations which marked the centenary of Gordon Holmes’s birth early in 1977. However, in contribution, he forwarded a film which he had pieced together over the years and which displayed the notables of the National Hospital at various stages from the early 1930s onwards.

His contributions to medicine were of high quality, particularly his volumes on Pneumoencephalography.

Macdonald Critchley

(Volume VI, page 392)

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