South Australian Medical Heritage Society Inc

Website for the Virtual Museum


Past meetings

About the

Galleries of the Virtual Museum

Main Galleries

Hospitals,other    organisations
Individuals of    note

Small Galleries


Ethnic medicine
     - Aboriginal
     - Chinese
     - Mediterran

Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn  (1874-1972)

BA(Adel)1893, MB ChM 1899, MD (1903), Hon D Litt 1965, FRACP (Foundation member), PRACP,  Hon FRCP.

Acknowledgments:  We are grateful to Dr. Tony Swain for his suggestion regarding Charles Blackburn’s Adelaide education, Rev. Susan Straub in relation to his Port Lincoln stay, Robert Fisher archivist St. Peters College about his stay there, Professor Donald Simpson about the early days of the Adelaide Medical School and Sandra Bonnett the St. Peters Cathedral Archivist for information about Sir Charles’s father Thomas Blackburn. Dr. Millicent Hughes was a medical student in Sydney and gave us her personal recollections.

blackburn pic 1.jpg Photo

Portrait of Sir Charles Bickerton Blackburn (left). 

Photograph taken during Sir William Slim’s visit (right).


Charles Blackburn was born at Greenhithe Kent, the second son of Rev. Thomas Blackburn, a keen lepidopterist. When Charles was seven years old, his father moved to Hawaii which was then a British Colony to take up the appointment of Acting Anglican Dean of Honolulu (1881-1882). The move may have been partly to further his interest in the study of insects.

A year later Thomas Blackburn moves to Australia and became an Anglican Priest in Port Lincoln in South Australia.

In 1866 Thomas Blackburn and family moved to Adelaide where he became Rector of St. Margaret’s Woodville.

Charles’ initial education was at home but in 1866 he attended St. Peter’s College in Adelaide. He was made a prefect in 1890 and was the recipient of several scholarships including the Short scholarship for classics to the University of Adelaide where he gained his BA degree in 1893


Extracts from St. Peter’s school magazine announcing C.B.Blackburn’s appointment as a school prefect.


His next aim was to study medicine at the Medical School of Adelaide. Unfortunately the Medical School closed in 1896 because of an unresolved issue involving the nurses and later the doctors and medical teachers at the then Adelaide Hospital. Rather than wait for the resolution of the “hospital crisis” several medical students decided to continue their studies elsewhere. Henry Simpson Newland (later Sir) preferred London, others moved to Melbourne and Charles Blackburn transferred to Sydney.

Charles graduated in 1899, topped each year and obtained his MD four years later. His dissertation was on polycystic disease of the kidneys and liver,
His medical career was also spectacular. Within 3 years of internship at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital he became the Medical Superintendent, then an assistant Physician (1903) and Consultant, (1911).

In 1916 he joined the army as lieutenant colonel, worked in Cairo in the 14th.Australian Hospital, was mentioned in dispatches and was granted an OBE in 1919.

He was the president and chairman of several medical and hospital groups and gave numerous orations  (Lister oration in Adelaide 1923). In 1937 he was a founding Member of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and became it’s first President.

He was a very eloquent speaker, a successful fund-raiser and great supporter of the University of Sydney. He was appointed University Chancellor in 1941 and awarded KCMG in 1960. He was a natural communicator and a friend to academics, politicians and other prominent personalities.

His more personal interests were his vegetable garden, trout fishing and golf at the Royal Sydney Golf Club. He enjoyed clinical medicine and continued to see his old patients, one or two a day, 3 to 4 times a week, even in his 90s. He died suddenly aged 98 at his home in Belleview Hill.

He is survived by one of his two sons, Charles Ruthven Bickerton, now a Professor of Medicine at the Sydney University and daughter Vera, an accomplished artist.

Photograph of the Blackburn building in 1999 also known as the New Medical School. (above).  

Photograph of the same building in 1931 now named the Rockefeller Building (below).

Site of the Blackburn BuildingSite of the Blackburn Building (blue) lower right next to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

linocut by his daughter VeraA linocut by his daughter Vera (left) 

Photograph of his son Ruthven (right)

Photographs and details of Sir Charles' career were found in following web-sites:



Virtual tours of the Blackburn Building