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J.T. WILSON, PROFESSOR ANATOMY, UNIVERSITY SYDNEY & ARMY OFFICER

The ‘On active Service’ cover has a pair of the red 1d ‘Roo on Map of Australia’ stamp, with the ‘OS’ perfin is cancelled with the straight two-line ‘Simpsonhafen/ (Deutsch Neu-Guinea) postmark. It is addressed to Mrs. J.T. Wilson, Eurotas, Edgecliffe Rd., Woollahra, Sydney, N.S.W., Australia. At the lower left there is a ms. ‘JS / 567' (Figure 1).

 

The reverse has a roller cancel of SYDNEY/ 6/ NO 20 – PM/ N.S. W/ 1914 (Figure 2).

The vendor has identified ‘JS’ as Julian HC Simpson, and he is further identified at the Australian War Memorial site as Regimental Number: 567; Rank: Sergeant; Unit: Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (Tropical Unit) (1 Battalion) who embarked on the HMAT Berrima on 19 August 1914 at Sydney. At the time of enlistment he was a single 20 year old, pastoral student living with his mother in Sydney.

The addressee was the wife of Professor J.T. Wilson living at the unusually named ‘Eurotas’, Edgecliffe Road and the home was first listed in the 1894 Sands Sydney Directory as the home of the Hon. William Henry Suttor MLC JP. There were two other owners of the home prior to J.T. Wilson in 1913, when the house was renumbered to 322 Egecliffe Road. The name of the house is probably named after a small butterfly, Telicota Eurotas (Figure 3).

James Thomas Wilson, anatomist, was born on 14 April 1861 in Scotland, son of Thomas Wilson, a Free Church schoolmaster, and his wife Helen, née Brown, also a teacher. James was educated by his parents and by an eccentric medical naturalist, Dr T. B. Grierson at the University of Edinburgh (M.B., C.M., 1883). There followed six months as resident house surgeon at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, two winter sessions demonstrating anatomy under Professor Sir William Turner at the university, and three voyages to China as ship's surgeon. For reasons of health, finances and career prospects, in 1887 Wilson accepted (Sir) Thomas Anderson Stuart’s offer as a demonstrator in anatomy at the University of Sydney’s new medical school and arrived in Sydney in February 1887. In 1890 Wilson became the first occupant of the Challis chair of anatomy. That year on 4 September he married Jane Elizabeth Smith, and Jane died on 14 July 1891, leaving a 3-day-old daughter. On 14 September 1898 at Woollahra Presbyterian Church, Sydney, he married Mabel Mildred Millicent (d.1944).

A keen naturalist from boyhood, Wilson readily espoused Edinburgh's traditional emphasis on comparative anatomy. His great achievements were to found in Sydney an anatomy school in the Edinburgh mould and to build a tradition of research which drew international respect. He taught anatomy as a biological science, emphasizing dissection and museum and laboratory techniques in which he was highly accomplished. For thirty years he ran a rapidly expanding department with heavy teaching commitments, assisted only by a small technical staff and teams of student demonstrators. Tall, spare and severe, but really the kindest of men, a dull lecturer who yet inspired his students by his fierce dedication to his subject, 'Jummy'—as he was called by staff and students, was at his best in the laboratory 'advising, criticizing and, above all, encouraging, all with great vehemence'.

In 1909 Wilson was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, London. Whereas Anderson Stuart built the Sydney medical school, Wilson furnished it with a reputation. His research efforts declined as his teaching and administrative loads increased, and as colleagues dispersed, but his enduring interest in neurology led him to build an excellent undergraduate course in neuro-anatomy and generated a growing enthusiasm for postgraduate neurological research. As president of the anatomy, physiology and pharmacology section of the Australasian Medical Congress (1908), he reviewed current work, controversies and clinical implications in neurology.

Having been commissioned in 1898 in the New South Wales Scottish Rifles, 5th Infantry Regiment, Wilson was promoted captain in 1899; a major, he succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Gerald Campbell as commandant in 1907. In 1908-13 he was appointed State commandant of the new Australian Intelligence Corps. On the outbreak of war, Wilson was immediately called up with the rank of lieutenant-colonel to organize and command the censor's office, 2nd Military District (New South Wales). Ill health forced his retirement in December 1915; he was mentioned in military orders for 'meritorious services'. On 1 December 1917 he was recruited as an honorary adviser to the intelligence section, General Staff and he retired from the army in August 1920.

An able but unwilling administrator, Wilson was chairman (1908-13, 1916-20) of the professorial board and ex officio fellow of the senate from 1916. In 1919 his administrative burden increased due to post-war student numbers. He devised an improved faculty system with provision for research, planned a new anatomical institute and pushed for the establishment of a second chair in physiology. A long rift between the two leaders of the medical faculty ended with the death of Anderson Stuart in 1920. Dean of medicine for the first time, Wilson promptly reclaimed histology (microscopical anatomy) from the physiology department.

Before he left New South Wales in August 1920 to take the chair of anatomy at the University of Cambridge he arranged for the young John Irvine Hunter to succeed him. In 1924 Wilson declined to return to Sydney as the university's first executive vice-chancellor. Wilson began to mellow long before he retired in 1934, and he died on 2 September 1945 at Cambridge. The daughter of his first marriage survived him, as did the three daughters and three sons of his second. At the University of Sydney he is commemorated by an anatomical museum. A picture of James Thomas Wilson is seen in Figure 4.

I acknowledge the assistance of Jane Britten, Librarian, Woollahra Library, Sydney for information on the home, Eurotas, and am indebted to the Australian Dictionary of Biography for all the information on Professor Wilson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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