Lives of the fellows

Henry Norman Burgess Wettenhall

b.18 September 1915 d.27 November 2000
AM MB BS Melbourne(1940) MRACP(1945) MD(1947) FRACP(1958) FRCP(1969)

Norman Wettenhall was a paediatrician in Melbourne, Australia, and a renowned conservationist. He was born in Farnborough, the son of Roland Ravenscroft Wettenhall, an Australian doctor, and Jane Vera née Creswick. His parents had married in 1910 and went to England in 1912. On the outbreak of the First World War, Roland joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served in France and on a hospital ship in the Dardanelles. The family returned to Australia during 1916, at which time Norman’s father transferred to the Australian Army Medical Corps. Norman was educated at Geelong College and then studied medicine at the University of Melbourne, where he graduated with honours in 1940. He held a junior resident post at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and for, two months, at the Eye and Ear Hospital.

In 1942 he enlisted as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy. He served at sea on HMAS Nepal based in the UK and at Mombasa in East Africa, and on HMAS Shropshire in New Guinea, until ill-health forced his discharge.

In 1944 he joined Melbourne’s Children’s Hospital, as a resident registrar, the start of a lifelong association with the hospital. From 1947 to 1949 he was in England, carrying out postgraduate studies. He obtained his MRCP, was a house physician at Great Ormond Street, and visited many centres, including Sir James Spence [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.386] in Newcastle and also centres in Europe. In 1948, whilst still working in London, he was appointed honorary physician to outpatients at the Melbourne Children’s Hospital. He was subsequently senior physician, endocrinologist and then honorary consulting endocrinologist.

As Australia’s first specialist paediatric endocrinologist, in 1962 he established the endocrine clinic at the hospital and was internationally recognised for his clinical trials of oestrogen for tall girls and oxandrolone for short boys. A 15-year follow up showed that, while some height reduction was achieved for the girls, many had had significant side effects.

Wettenhall was associated with many national and local organisations, including the National Trust, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the National Museum of Victoria and the Heide Museum of Modern Art. He was also a keen ornithologist and conservationist. He did much to bring about the publication of The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds (South Melbourne, Victoria, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990-2006), possibly the most comprehensive book on the subject ever published. His private collection of some 300 fine volumes covering natural history, as well as books on Australia and Antarctica, was sold in 1995 to raise funds for the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, which seeks to maintain Australia’s environment and habitat, with a particular emphasis on bird life.

Gary Warne, who succeeded Wettenhall as director of endocrinology, said: “as a clinician, Norman was warm and compassionate, and a meticulous observer and recorder of information. As a person he was blessed with an extraordinary good nature, boundless energy and enthusiasm for a wide range of causes, and youthful exuberance. He had a profound sense of contentment about him and was never remotely envious of anyone else, yet neither did he ever doubt his own ability. He was generous to his colleagues and never sought fame or recognition for himself”.

Wettenhall was a devoted family man. He married Joan Lamb, a physiotherapist and the daughter of Leslie Lamb and Helen (née Bowman), in 1947 and they had four children, Gilbert, Adam, Jane and Helen.

RCP editor

[Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians:; Brighton Cemetery:]

(Volume XII, page web)

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