TRACY - Tracy, Dr Richard Thomas


19 September 1826 - 7 November 1874

Tracy was one of the doctors who together with his colleague John Maund and a committee of gentlewomen founded the Melbourne Lying-in Hospital and Infirmary for Women and Children in Eastern Hill (East Melbourne) in August 1856.

Tracy was born in Ireland and while very young decided to become a doctor. After some time working as a dresser he commenced formal training in Dublin where after three years he gained the Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. That year, 1848, he went to Paris, observing surgical work then moved on to Glasgow where he took charge of the City Cholera Hospital. In May 1849 he took the Degree of M.D. in the University of Glasgow. Several positions followed in England and Ireland and in 1851 he decided his future lay in Australia.

Tracy and his wife first settled in Adelaide; was then drawn to the Victorian goldfields, from where he moved to Melbourne, where he was to remain. He began practice in Brunswick St., Fitzroy in 1852, in a house which also hosted the fledgling Medical Society’s meetings. In 1864 he built an imposing house in Collins Street, where Melbourne’s medical fraternity lived and worked.

Tracy specialised in the diseases of women and developed a large and highly successful practice. He was held in the highest regard by both his colleagues and patients.

He and Maund were well aware of the plight of many impoverished women in Melbourne and his concern for them led to his involvement with the committee of ladies who were simultaneously attempting to found a lying-in hospital. Their joint efforts led to the creation of the Melbourne Lying-in Hospital and Infirmary for Women and Children in a two story terrace house in Albert Street, Eastern hill (now East Melbourne).

Tracy remained closely associated with the hospital for the remainder of his life and held the position of Honorary Physician. Only terminal illness in his late 40s caused him to relinquish this role.

Tracy’s public responsibilities did not end with the hospital. He was also a founding trustee of St. Mark’s Church of England, Fitzroy and the first health officer of that municipality. He was an Honorary Magistrate; he was active in the Volunteer Militia movement, and a surgeon of the old East Melbourne Artillery Corps from its foundation to his death. He was a foundation member of the Victorian Medical Association (founded late 1852), and he joined the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Victoria when it was formed three years later. After they merged to form the Medical Society of Victoria he served as President in 1860.

So highly and widespread was the regard in which he was held that in 1871 Obstetrical Society of London elected him an Honorary Fellow, of which there were only nine at that time.

In 1873 Tracy undertook a long trip back to Britain. His health was failing and he had been forced to retire from active medical practice. On his departure the Medical Society, his friends and patients presented him with £600 to be spent at his discretion on a service of plate or other permanent memorial.

Tracy visited his surgical hero and mentor, Spencer Wells and witnessed several oviarotomy procedures – the operation that he had performed so successfully in Melbourne with only written guidance from Spencer Wells. Although not the first to operate for this condition in Australia, Tracy was certainly the most successful. Tracy visited the medical fraternity and to represented his Australian colleagues in Britain, but his health continued to deteriorate. By the time he returned to Melbourne early in 1874 he was a very ill man and he died seven months later.

The Committee of management recported his death in the 1874 Annual Report in the following terms.

"It is with the deepest regret that the Committee have to record in this report the death of the much-lamented Dr. Tracy, the Senior Physician, and one of the founders of the Institution. His high personal character, and extraordinary professional ability, have caused his death to be regarded as a public calamity; but to this Institution, which was the special object of his care, and in which his professional skill was so remarkably manifested, his loss will be peculiarly severe."

Published by the The Royal Women's Hospital Archives Department, November 2006
Listed by Robyn Waymouth
HTML edition Robyn Waymouth
Updated 28 November 2006

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