Sir Sidney Valentine Sewell 1881 - 1971
By Diana Kennedy
This article was originally published in the April 2007 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society
In The Australian Dictionary of Biography which is now on line, there are two Sewell names mentioned, Sir Sidney Valentine and Lady Alice Maud, husband and wife.
Sidney’s great grandfather was Richard Sewell born about 1773 who married Isabella Blamire on the 28th September 1799 at St Cuthbert’s, in Carlisle. Richard and Isabella had eleven children, one of their sons was a William Willoughby born 21st December 1805 who married Harriet Buckle 27th March 1833 at Bolton le Moor, Lancashire. Their son Richard Blamire was born the 21st January 1837, and was the father of Sidney Valentine.
Richard Blamire, an engineer, migrated to Victoria, Australia, on the Winifred which arrived on the 2nd of June 1858 at Hobson’s Bay. During the voyage he met Emma Cottrill and they were married on 12th December 1859.
Sidney Valentine was born on the 14th February 1880 at Ballarat, Victoria, the youngest of the ten surviving children of Richard Blamire and Emma. Sidney was educated at Caulfield Grammar School and hoped to study medicine. However because of family financial problems caused by the bank crash of 1893, Sidney first taught for two years at Hamilton College and Brighton Grammar. While at Brighton he sought to learn Latin to prepare him for his medical entrance examination and was tutored by Alice Maud Cunning who he was later to marry.
He finally entered Queen’s College, at the University of Melbourne in 1901 and graduated in 1906 with first class honours, in medicine, surgery and obstetrics. He also won the Beaney Scholarship in Surgery which entitled him to be a senior resident medical officer at Melbourne hospital for 12months. This was followed by a lectureship in pathology at the university.
Sidney married Alice Maud Cunning at St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Elsternwick, on 18th March 1908. Almost immediately after their marriage Sidney was engaged as a ship’s surgeon and he and Alice travelled to Germany where Sidney worked in the laboratory of Professor August von Wasserman, famous for his work on venereal disease. They then went to London where he worked with Sir Victor Horsley, a leading Neurologist and Neurosurgeon.
On their return to Melbourne in 1910, Sidney was awarded his M.D. and appointed Neurologist at St Vincent’s Hospital and later became Physician in out-patients at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Based on his overseas experience he delivered a very successful course of lectures on neurology and on the nervous system at the medical school. He later began a private practice, initially as assistant to (Sir) Richard Stawell, but rapidly developed a very large consulting practice.
With the outbreak of the First World War he was disappointed at being rejected for service because of a persistent infection after appendicitis. He turned to devoting his energy in the care of repatriated soldiers with ‘shell shock’.
In the early 1920’s he became interested in the early diagnosis and management of pulmonary tuberculosis. He went to the hospital for Consumption and Disease of the Chest in Brompton, London to learn the technique of artificial pneumothorax, and to clinics in the USA to study the management of tuberculosis. His aim being to establish a State tuberculosis service in Victoria and to arrange proper financial support for sanatorium patients, inspite of considerable criticism and unpopularity.
With Sir Richard Stawell he founded the Association of Physicians of Australasia in 1930, later to become the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938. He was vice-president in 1938-40 and president in 1940-42. In 1939 he retired from the Royal Melbourne Hospital as consulting physician and was elected honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London.
At the outbreak of the Second World War many doctors joined the armed forces in 1939, Sidney returned to full duties at the hospital and finally retired in 1946, having been knighted on 14th June 1945. He was also very active in the struggle to have a pension paid to TB sufferers and campaigned for the mass X-ray of the public to help control the disease. He continued to advise the Victorian government on tuberculosis until a few weeks before his death.
Among his hobbies he was an expert in tree-grafting and cattle-breeding. He died at his home in Berwick on 13th March 1949 of coronary vascular disease. Survived by his wife and two sons, both medical graduates and four daughters. His portrait by Charles Wheeler is held by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Sydney.
His wife Lady Alice Maud Sewell nee Cunning was born 16th February 1881. She was educated at the Presbyterian Ladies’ College and the University of Melbourne, obtaining her B.A in 1902 and M.A in 1906. She was the first woman to win the Wyselaskie scholarship in classical and comparative philology and logic. With Ethel Osborne she founded the Lyceum Club in Melbourne. Active in the Country Women’s Association, she chaired the handicrafts and home industries committee 1937-40 and was appointed a member of honour. She was also a member of the Victoria League and the Ormond Women’s Association. In 1937 she was awarded the Coronation Medal. She died at Berwick on 16th February 1971.
Thanks to Bob Cunning for his help in providing extra information
The Australian Dictionary of Biography
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