Lives of the fellows

Charles Bickerton (Sir) Blackburn

b.22 April 1874 d.20 July 1972
OBE(1919) Kt(1936) KCMG(1960) MB ChM(1899) MD Sydney(1903) Hon FRCPE(1938) Hon FRCP(1939) FRACP(1960)

Charles Blackburn was born at Greenhithe, Kent, the son of Rev. Thomas Blackburn who was ‘called’ to Hawaii, then British territory. Here part of his childhood was spent until, at the age of seven, his family moved to Woodville, near Adelaide, South Australia.

Graduating in Arts from the University of Adelaide in 1893, he began the study of medicine in the Medical School of that University but completed his course in Sydney, where he graduated MB, ChM in 1899. He proceeded MD in 1903.

He was appointed resident medical officer to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and was medical superintendent from 1901-4. He was appointed assistant physician to that hospital, and in 1911 became full physician until 1934, when he became consultant.

He was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine from 1932-35.

Blackburn was one of the founders, and the first President of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and served on its Council until he retired from it in 1958.

He served the University as a Member of the Senate for forty five years, and as Chancellor for twenty three years - a record term. He was absent from Senate meetings only twice; he was abroad on both occasions - once representing the University of Sydney.

He was a member of the Branch Council of the BMA, from 1910, President 1921-22, and Chairman of the Ethics Committee until his death. Here his judicial mind was most valuable.

He served in both wars; in the first in Egypt as a pathologist. For his services he was awarded an OBE and was twice mentioned in despatches. In the Second World War he served as a consultant physician with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Honours were many; KB in 1936, KCMG in 1960, Honorary Fellowships of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of London and Edinburgh, and Honorary Degrees of the Universities of Sydney, New South Wales, Melbourne, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and New England.

An honour which must have given him the greatest pleasure was the title of Chancellor Emeritus, conferred upon him by special resolution of the Senate in March 1965.

Few men have shown such wisdom in their lives and utterances. This was notable in his addresses to graduates after the ceremony of Conferring of Degrees. He had conferred some 31,000 during his Chancellorship. These addresses appeared to be impromptu, and may have been, but they suggested intense preparation.

He was superb in committee - his knowledge and wisdom providing the solution to many a debated question.

His mind was clear and keen to the end and his fund of anecdotes drawn from his rich and varied experience was a joy to many a dining table. He loved the company of the young and seemed to draw strength from them. Often a group of young doctors has listened fascinated to his stories of medical practice and practitioners in the early decades of this country.

Golf and gardening were his hobbies. He was as successful in his garden as he had been in everything else. He loved golf and liked to win. Though his shots from the tee and fairway diminished in distance with advancing years, his putting remained deadly. He was never to be taken lightly as an opponent - he kept to the fairway and his putter rarely failed him. This, coupled with his own delightful brand of gamesmanship, proved a formidable combination.

He rigidly controlled his life and, though enjoying good food and wine, permitted himself no excesses.

Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn really was 'The beloved physician,’ and became a legend in his own lifetime. ‘Blackie,’ as he was known affectionately by his friends, was certain to be sorely missed by legions of them all over the world.

Sir Kenneth Noad

[Times, 22 July 1972]

(Volume VI, page 48)

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