Lives of the fellows

Ralph (Sir) Whishaw

b.29 March 1895 d.13 July 1976
Kt(1958) CBE(1957) MB ChM Sydney(1918) MRCP Lond(1935) FRACP(1938) FRCP(1954)

Ralph Whishaw was born in Croydon, England, the son of Reginald Robert Wishaw FRCS and his wife Isabel Rhoda. His family can trace its lineage back to the 15th century. After the early death of his wife, his father emigrated to Tasmania in 1904, when Ralph was nine years old, and practised medicine in Macquarie Street, Hobart. Ralph was educated at the Friends’ School, Hobart, and at the University of Sydney, NSW. At the outbreak of the first world war he was a third year student at Sydney University Medical School. He enlisted in the Army in 1915 and became a staff sergeant (pharmaceutical duties) in C Section of the 7th Field Ambulance, AIF, and served at Gallipoli. Later he took up an option to return to Sydney and complete his medical studies, with a view to rejoining the AIF. After graduation he became an assistant to Bettingham-Moore, and was later associated with Hamish Scott Reid. At the close of the war he commenced practice in Hobart, where he soon became recognized as one of the most outstanding men in his profession. He became consultant physician to the Royal Hobart Hospital, and visiting consultant in medicine to the Repatriation General Hospital, Tasmania. He was also consultant medical officer for the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Mutual Provident Society. On return to Tasmania from postgraduate studies in London, he brought with him the first electrocardiograph machine to be used in the island. He achieved eminence as a cardiologist and was chairman of the Australian Cardiac Society in 1954. He had already been elected a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938, and became vice-president of the College in 1954.

In 1955 he retired prematurely from the Royal Hobart Hospital which he had served loyally and faithfully, and with such distinction, for many years. He received the CBE in 1957 and became a Knight Bachelor in 1958, honours which were richly deserved.

During World War II he served with the Australian Army Medical Corps in the Middle East, returning to Hobart at a time when Australia was exposed to invasion by the Japanese armed forces. He did invaluable work among returned servicemen, especially among the shell shocked and psychotic patients, and would differ profoundly with a decision to send back to duty any man whom he considered should have further treatment. His own family were deeply involved in war service, and he was profoundly affected by the deaths of many of his relatives.

In 1921 he married Violet Beckley, by whom he had a daughter, named Dat. Violet Beckley had come across to Tasmania from Victoria with her father who had been appointed general manager to the Cascade Brewery. In 1938 the Whishaw family settled down in a delightful old rambling house, ‘Sentosa’, which overlooked the beautiful Derwent Estuary. The word sentosa is Malayan and means, aptly enough, ‘house of peace and contentment’. It became a happy and popular rendezvous for many members of the RACP, and several prominent physicians in Australia owe their success to its tranquil and inspiring atmosphere - for they sat there for their written paper for the membership. His married life with Violet was a long and happy one.

His leisure activities included cabinet making, of which he was a master, and photography. After the end of the second world war he acquired some American blueprints for a first class cruising yacht, and he built his own 38ft 15 ton yacht which he christened Fortuna, and later sailed her in the Sydney - Hobart race in 1947, coming home in fifth place.

His quiet, determined character made him an excellent leader, and he had a profound influence on all who were associated with him. His legacies to his residents at the Royal Hobart Hospital were a passion for meticulous detail in history taking and records, a sense of humour, and a balanced viewpoint.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Med.J.Aust., 1976, 2, 657; Med. Directory of Aust; 1974; Who’s Who in Aust., 1974]

(Volume VII, page 594)

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