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DR. HAROLD RITCHIE, PHYSICIAN SYDNEY HOSPITAL & PRESIDENT R.A.C.P.

I freely admit that this paper has nothing to do with postal history or social philately, but I have a personal interest in Dr. Harold Ritchie, even though I never met him, but I did have a professional relationship with his son, Dr. Frank Ritchie at Sydney Hospital when I was a student, resident, pathology registrar, outpatient registrar, assistant medical registrar, and assistant medical superintendent at Sydney Hospital from 1951 until 1960. Thus when I saw the prescription labelled as ‘Scotts Dressing’ that Dr. Ritchie senior wrote for a patient, I considered that this was an entrée for me to document him (Figure 1).

The prescription was contained in an unposted advertising envelope for one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Sydney (Figure 2).

John Scott (1798–1846), surgeon, born in 1798, was only son of James Scott, a general practitioner of medicine, living in Kent. His father acquired a large practice, and was particularly successful in the treatment of chronic ulcers and of diseased joints. He was admitted a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries on 29 April 1819, and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England on 2 June 1820. He practised with his father at Bromley for a short time, but after marrying he came to London, and on 24 Nov. 1826 he was elected surgeon to the Ophthalmic Hospital in Moorfields in succession to [Sir] William Lawrence. Scott was elected assistant surgeon to the London Hospital on 18 July 1827. He was appointed full surgeon on 28 March 1831, resigning on 3 Dec. 1845. He died at Brighton, after a prolonged illness, on 11 April 1846.

Scott revolutionised one department of surgery by introducing the passive treatment of diseased joints. His method, however, was distasteful to his contemporaries owing to the unnecessary complications with which he surrounded it; but stripped of these, his principle remains a potent factor in surgery. He treated chronic ulcers by the method his father had taught him of strapping the leg from the toes upwards Scott's dressing and Scott's ointment are still known to every student of surgery, though they are now rarely used. His dressing had, as its base, a camphorated mercurial compound. Constant practice is said to have rendered him the most skillful bandager in London, at a time when bandaging in the London hospitals was almost a fine art. This was the only reference to ‘Scotts Dressing’ I could find and I have doubts about if this John Scott and his dressing are strictly relevant.

Harold John Ritchie, a foundation Fellow of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, was born in Bega NSW on 19 June, 1884. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School and at St Paul's College. He graduated MB ChM with credits (University of Sydney) in 1908. He then began an association with Sydney Hospital extending over a period of forty years during which he served the Hospital with the utmost distinction as clinician, teacher and administrator. His outstanding intellectual ability was soon recognised and whilst in his senior resident year, he had the unique honour of being appointed honorary assistant physician. He was appointed honorary physician in 1922, and honorary consultant physician upon his retirement from the active staff in 1944.


Dr Ritchie played a major role in the development of the Sydney Hospital Clinical School. He was appointed to the board of medical studies in 1910, and towards the end of the first Great War, he and Dr. Archie Aspinall were deputed by the medical board to develop a more defined relationship with the University of Sydney and more specifically to obtain equal status with the teachers of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. Even then, the relationship between the two hospitals was less than cordial. His son Frank, also FRACP, and a senior physician, Sydney Hospital, shared his devotion to the Hospital and was to spend much of his life in a vain attempt to prevent its destruction as a teaching hospital.

In 1921, Harold Ritchie was appointed tutor in clinical medicine, facing the impossible task of teaching physical signs to more than seventy students. He resigned in 1923 and between 1926 and 1944 he was lecturer in clinical medicine. He represented Sydney Hospital on the faculty of medicine for eighteen years. Additional appointments were to Prince Henry Hospital, initially as associate physician and later as consultant, and to the Medical Board of New South Wales. He represented the College on the National Health and Medical Research Council.

With Dr. Holmes a' Court, Ritchie played a major role in the negotiations with the Association of Physicians of Australasia which led to the formation of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (R.A.C.P.) in 1938. He was a foundation Fellow of the College with certificate no.4, councillor 1938-40 and 1948-51, member of the executive committee 1938-51, member of the board of censors 1938-44, vice-president 1940-44, president 1944-46, immediate past president 1946-48, member of the New South Wales state committee 1938-52. He was elected FRCP London, in 1950.

As a physician, Ritchie was a paradigm of his era. Lacking therapeutic tools of any consequence, the consulting physician of those times had only his clinical diagnostic skills, his learning and his authority to offer the patient and the doctor seeking his advice. Reserved but forceful, a courteous, learned gentleman, Ritchie was regarded by his colleagues as a master of clinical medicine and above all as a superb teacher. Though possessing a certain hauteur, which distanced him from people, he possessed the art of communication of all great teachers and of making his students see and feel and hear - he taught informed observation. His tutorials were famous, attracting students from the other teaching hospitals. An unfortunate student would be selected to go through the details of the case with Dr Ritchie, cant and humbug would be ruthlessly exposed and in the end the student and the whole group would be the more honest intellectually for the experience. He and Professor Lambie were a formidable pair to encounter in the professorial viva and woe betide the student who mistook Ritchie's transient risus as a gesture of familiarity.

He does not appear to have done any research himself but he encouraged the development of the Kanematsu Research Institute at Sydney Hospital. The only published paper that can be traced was the Anne MacKenzie Oration – ‘The Interaction of Mind and Body’,(Med J Aus, 1940, 2, 253-5) which reflected his considerable interest in psychosomatic medicine. A photo of Harold Ritchie is seen in Figure 3.

Addendum (December 2011): The following was found in the prestigious medical journal ‘The Lancet’ on December 18, 1858 in ‘Clinical Records’ (Figure 4).



 

 
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