The Clinic Williamstown, Victoria

Dr Johnston's new residence

In 1894, on land situated opposite Chinese market gardens he purchased from the Presbyterian Church, Dr John Johnston, a well known Williamstown identity of the time, moved into a residence he had designed to be his home and surgery. The site of this residence was 107 Ferguson Street, Williamstown, Victoria.

The severe depression affecting Australia in the 1890s was at its peak, and Williamstown had been particularly affected. There were record numbers of unemployed and poor applying for relief; there were more unoccupied houses and bankrupt businesses than ever before.

A writer of the period observed, ‘Williamstown is not regarded with favour as an aristocratic suburb, it is essentially a community of toilers, and remains in many aspects the same old fishing village as it was fifty years ago when John Pasco Fawkner gave it that name.'

Businesses in Nelson Place had been adversely affected by the downturn in shipping that came with the depression. Douglas Parade and Ferguson Street, which were located in the centre of the resident population, were becoming more important locations for new shops and businesses.

Johnston, a canny Scot, had been practicing in Parker Street since coming to Williamstown in 1889. He could see the sense in positioning his new practice away from the port and closer to the resident population, and he was able to build when prices for labour and materials were low.

During the depression, Johnston and the other medicos in Williamstown were trying to cope with unusually severe outbreaks of measles, typhoid diphtheria and other infectious diseases. The 1893 measles epidemic resulted in 27 deaths in Williamstown alone, while typhoid claimed 16 lives between 1889–1893, and diphtheria 24 in the same period. Dr Johnston was so concerned with the epidemics that he gave a well attended public lecture in June 1894, a few weeks before moving into his new house. The lecture, entitled ‘Healthy Homes', offered advice on hygiene, the correct cooking of meat and vegetables, and how to boil water and milk, as well as the need for fresh air, adequate exercise and sleep.

Johnston, along with his wife Bessie, moved into their new abode on Tuesday 19 July 1894. Johnston had designed the building and drawn up the plans himself. Lynne Strahan, in her history of the Williamstown Hospital, The Bay To Look Upon, writes, ‘the house in Ferguson Street was marked by the firm hand of Scottish baronial dourness.' Since that date more than a century ago, doctors have continued to practice in the building – and many of them have lived in it.

Coincidentally, the Williamstown Hospital opened in the same month, taking its first patients on Friday 27 July. Nearly all the doctors who have practiced in the Ferguson Street surgery during its 100 years have held appointments at the local hospital. The bonds between the institutions are very strong.

A present day artist's impression of how the original building looked is edifying. There were two entrances: the main front entrance, surrounded by cathedral glass, led into a waiting room, which, in turn, led into a doctor's consulting room. Although now sealed, the main door can be seen in the present waiting room, which was added in the 1930s. The other entrance, for patients, is still in use today.

A striking external feature of the original building was the upstairs balcony. The balcony added to the character of the building and gave superb views down Ferguson Street and across to Nelson Place . Decades later, the balcony was enclosed to create another bedroom. In the intervening years the view from this part of the house was largely obscured by the growth of trees, and to a lesser extent, new buildings in Williamstown.

The building was described by a writer in the Williamstown Advertiser as being in the Tudor style – an unusual style for the period. Two other prominent buildings in Williamstown, ‘Tudor House' at 54 Pasco Street and the ‘Craigantina' building at 125 Nelson Place, have a similar style, with castellated parapets and drip moulds around arched door and window openings. Dr Johnston's design appears to have been influenced by these other two buildings.

John Johnston

MB CHM MD (1861 - 1937)

Dr John Johnston, a public spirited Scottish native, lived and worked in the building he had designed from 1894 until 1896. He returned in 1901 and stayed until 1908.

Born in 1861 at Kilwinning in Ayrshire, Johnston was educated in his native country and commenced his studies as a medical student at the age of 16 at Glasgow University. He completed the course within a month of his 20th birthday. Shortly before graduating in 1882, Johnston travelled on a whaling ship up the west coast of Greenland. After completing his bachelor degrees in medicine and surgery, the young doctor sailed for Australia in 1883 on the ‘Loch Etive' as a ship's surgeon.

Johnston was registered as a medical practitioner in Victoria on 7 March 1884. Shortly afterwards, he began practice in Nathalia, where he met and married Bessie Pelling and remained for 5 years. He took a great interest in the public affairs of the town and was made a justice of the peace.

In 1889, the Johnstons moved to Williamstown. Prior to building his house in Ferguson Street, Johnston practiced in Parker Street for nearly 5 years.

A brief report in the Williamstown Advertiser early in 1895 mentioned that a new German cure for diphtheria, an antitoxin, had been made available in Williamstown by Johnston.

Johnston became a town councillor representing the south ward in August 1895 and was the first councillor to advocate municipalising the gas supply in Williamstown. News that his mother was severely ill in Scotland meant that he had to resign as a councillor in July 1896. Leasing his practice to John Ellinson, a former colleague in Nathalia, Johnston returned to Scotland to visit his mother shortly before she died in 1896. While he was there, he was finally able to get his doctorate of medicine from Glasgow University. Johnstone had passed all the necessary subjects for the degree in 1882, but at that time was only 21 years old; the degree could not be conferred on anyone younger than 24 years of age. During his stay in Scotland, Johnston also took the opportunity to do a postgraduate course in bacteriology.

On returning to Melbourne in 1897, Johnston and his wife took up residence in Riversdale Road, Hawthorn. For a few months, Johnston worked as a medical officer at the Yarra Bend Asylum, before beginning a practice in Collins Street.

Johnston maintained a lifelong interest in the military life, and for several years held the rank of surgeon general on the army's medical staff. He eventually resigned his post as surgeon general in order to take a commission on the combatant staff in the Garrison Artillery No 5 Company (formerly known as the Williamstown Artillery), for which he became a lieutenant and, later, captain.

After an absence of 5 years, Johnston returned to Williamston in June 1901 and took over the Ferguson Street practice, which had been vacated by John Ellinson. Two months later he contested and won back his seat as a south ward town councillor.

At a public meeting during the election campaign, Johnston outlined his ideas for Williamstown, many of which he had gleaned by investigating municipal matters in the ‘old country', particularly in Glasgow He favoured tree planting, the making of unmade roads, foreshore reclamation and the building of a town hall (with the proviso that it not be extravagant). He wanted Nelson Place extended as a picturesque road around to the beach and encouraged steam ships to call at the former Stevedore Street pier. He was opposed to the Esplanade being leased as a cow paddock!

Johnston became the mayor of Williamstown in August 1904. During his year in office, he edited a guide to Williamstown called ‘Williamstown Illustrated', intended for use by local citizens and visitors to the town. Only a few copies of this booklet remain today. Containing numerous photographs of local buildings and landmarks of the time, the booklet is of great interest to students of Williamstown's history. (Unfortunately, Johnston did not include a photograph of his surgery in the booklet.)

In November 1907, Johnston resigned from the council to accept an appointment as health officer for Williamstown. Johnston maintained a keen interest in public health, and had coveted this position for years. Since December 1903, he had been the municipal representative of the councils of the north Yarra group on the State Board of Health. (After resigning from the council, however, he was no longer eligible for this position.) As health officer, Johnston was responsible for advising the council on matters affecting the health of the town and providing public vaccinations against smallpox. As it turned out, Johnston would hold the position for only 6 months. In May 1908, he was appointed to a full time position that was even more appealing to him: assistant medical inspector with the Victorian Board of Health.

This appointment meant that Johnston had to give up general practice and resign as an honorary medical officer at the Williamstown Hospital , a post he had held since September 1902. In May 1908, Johnston also resigned as a member of the hospital's committee of management, a position he had been elected to less than a year before.

A man of forthright opinions, he once remarked that women on hospital committees were more harmful than useful. When challenged on this point, he added hastily, ‘excepting Williamstown'. On another occasion Johnston was criticized for admitting a woman to the hospital who could have afforded private treatment elsewhere. He dismissed the allegation by saying the choice for the woman was between the Williamstown Hospital and the Williamstown cemetery. Just before he resigned from the hospital committee, he proposed that fly wire doors be purchased as he found flies a nuisance in the wards. At the hospital's annual general meeting in 1909, Johnston was made a life governor of the hospital.

Johnston left Williamstown in May 1908, selling the practice to Douglas Yuille. He and Bessie moved to St Kilda, where they lived until his death in 1937. After leaving Williamstown, Johnston worked as a medical inspector with the Board of Health until the organisation was disbanded in 1921.

On 16 July 1908, the Williamstown Council held a smoke night in honour of John Johnston. Various citizens of the town spoke warmly of his abilities as a councillor, doctor, justice of the peace and businessman. One of his colleagues, Dr AW Esler, said, “Dr Johnston had been a soldier, sailor, doctor and everything but a parson. Like [Sir Arthur] Conan Doyle, he had been whaling too. He had started on whales and was now finishing up on microbes.” Esler said he hoped Johnston would not kill all the microbes but would leave others in the profession a chance of earning a living!

John Ellison

MD CM (1862–1903)

John Ellison, an Irishman known for his genial disposition, leased the practice from Johnston for 5 years.

A native of Belfast, Ellison was a graduate of the Royal University of Ireland, obtaining an MD in 1883 and a CM in 1887. Migrating to Australia in 1889, Ellison lived briefly in Caulfield before moving to Nathalia in rural Victoria in 1890. There he purchased a medical practice from Johnston after Johnston left the town to live and work in Williamstown. Ellison practised in Nathalia until 1896, when Johnston offered him the Ferguson Street residence and practice.

Ellison practised in Williamstown from July 1896 until June 1901. During that period, he was one of the four honorary medical officers at the new Williamstown Hospital. Ellison enjoyed life in Williamstown. When Dr Johnston returned, he planned to move to another practice in Douglas Parade, but ill health forced him to abandon that idea. He gave up practice and moved to Hawthorn, where he died of a stroke on 6 June 1903 at only 41 years of age.

Ellison never married, and was survived by his father, a linen manufacturer in Belfast. He is buried in the Williamstown cemetery, where, sadly, his gravesite is no longer identifiable.

William Douglas Yuille


The third doctor to reside and work at the Ferguson Street practice was another British graduate, Douglas Yuille. Yuille practiced at the clinic from May 1908 until September 1909, his tenure the briefest of the principal doctors in the practice's 100 year history.

Yuille obtained licentiates from Edinburgh 's Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1904; he migrated to Australia the same year. He was registered in Victoria on 1 July 1904 and soon after moved to the little town of Birregurra at the base of the Otway Ranges. For a time, he was the acting medical officer of health for the shire of Winchelsea.

In 1907, Dr Andrew Honman, who had practiced at 231 Nelson Place, Williamstown, (now ‘Sails' restaurant) for many years, decided to give up general practice and move to Spring Street, Melbourne, to concentrate on surgery. Yuille took over the Nelson Street practice, applying for the position of council medical officer vacated by Honman. The Williamstown Council, however, appointed the only other applicant: John Johnston. (The Nelson Place building, which began as a medical practice in the 1850s, remained in use until the 1970s.)

Yuille bought the Ferguson Street practice from Johnston the following year, after Johnston left to take up another full time position. In less than 12 months, Yuille had acquired the combined practices of Honman and Johnston. He moved into the Ferguson Street residence on 3 May 1908, leasing out the Nelson Place clinic.

In the same year, Yuille replaced Johnston as the City of Williamstown 's medical officer and became an honorary medical officer at the Williamstown Hospital.

In the early years of the 20 th century, tuberculosis (TB) was still a great scourge in Victoria . While death rates from TB in Europe had declined, in Victoria they remained alarmingly high. In 1905, TB accounted for more than 7% of deaths in Williamstown. At a municipal conference on TB in July 1908, Dr William Norris, the chairman of the Board of Health, proposed that consumptive wards be established at the Williamstown and Cheltenham hospitals. Dr Yuille and local councillors opposed the plan. In addition to the fear of contagion, it was argued that Williamstown would become a dumping ground for people with the disease and the suburb already had ‘enough prejudices, without this one being added'. The proposal did not go ahead.

Douglas Yuille was forced to resign from the both council and the hospital in September 1909 due to ill health. A brief report in the Williamstown Advertiser on 6 October 1909 suggests that he went on to try and buy a practice just outside Sydney. Beyond this, it is not known what became of him.

Charles Featherstonhaugh

MB CHM L MID RCS (1852–1917)

Charles Featherstonhaugh came to Williamstown quite late in his career, at the age of 55. He initially came as a locum to Douglas Yuille when Yuille fell into poor health. Soon afterwards, in 1909, Yuille decided to move to Sydney and sold the practice to Featherstonhaugh.

Featherstonhaugh was a native of County Westmeath in Ireland. He studied medicine in Dublin, receiving his bachelor of medicine in 1875 and his bachelor of surgery and licentiate in midwifery in 1876.

Before coming to Victoria, he served in an ambulance unit in the Turko-Russian War in the 1880s. As a noncombatant on the Turkish side, he helped tend to the wounded at the Battle of Plevna with Dr Clive Ryan, a well known Melbourne doctor.

Featherstonhaugh was registered in Victoria on 5 August 1887, and initially practiced in Victoria Street, North Melbourne. Around 1896 he went to Daylesford, where he worked until 1901, before moving to a practice in Corryong, in north east Victoria, for 8 years.

In Williamstown, Featherstonhaugh served as an honorary medical officer at the hospital from the time of his arrival until his death in 1917. The honorary system of hospital care provided by doctors in Victorian hospitals until the 1970s is difficult to comprehend by today's standards. In the honorary system, appointed doctors provided medical care to outpatients at public hospitals without any remuneration. The service was intended for the ‘deserving poor'; those with the means to pay were expected to attend private hospitals or a doctor's consulting rooms.

At the 1914 annual general meeting of the Williamstown Hospital, Featherstonhaugh tendered his resignation, claiming that patients who were able to pay private fees were being treated at the Hospital. While he was eventually talked into withdrawing his resignation, the responsibilities of patients with means to pay their way remained an ongoing concern at the hospital.

Two of my patients have hazy childhood recollections of Featherstonhaugh. Miss Phyllis Hall, born in 1910, knows that he delivered her and can recall enjoying her visits to him. She says that he was known for his kindly manner with children. Thelma Davis, born in 1908, remembers visiting him when she was about 6 years old. He made a diagnosis of scarlet fever. It was only a mild form of the disease, though, and she skipped home happy in the knowledge that she would have to miss school. (One of her friends was not so lucky, however, and was diagnosed with a more severe form of the disease. Without the aid of antibiotics, she died a few days later.) Davis recalls that Featherstonhaugh was a small man with a thin moustache.

Toward the end of 1916, Featherstonhaugh began to suffer from heart trouble. The cause of his sudden death, however, was a pulmonary embolus on the evening of Tuesday 2 January 1917. He was 63 years of age.

Feathersonhaugh was buried in the Anglican section of the Williamstown cemetery. These days, his weathered headstone is barely legible. At the time of his death, Featherstonhaugh's only son was serving as a lieutenant in World War I. He was survived by his wife Ellen. She died in September 1925 at 67 years of age, and is buried with her husband in the Williamstown cemetery.

Dr Shuldham Henry Dunlop

MD et CHM LRCSI (1863–1923)

Another Irishman, Shuldham Henry Dunlop, took over the Ferguson Street practice after Featherstonhaugh's death.

Like Ellison and Featherstonhaugh before him, Dunlop was a graduate of the Royal University in Dublin , where he obtained a doctorate of medicine and a bachelor of surgery. He received his licentiate from the Irish Royal College of Surgeons in 1886.

Dunlop migrated to Australia in 1901 and was registered in Victoria on 4 October the same year. Before coming to Williamstown in 1917, he practiced in the country town of Charlton in north west Victoria for many years.

Dunlop's obituary writer in the Williamstown Advertiser describes him as a jovial man who made many friends in the district. He was appointed to an HMO position at the hospital in 1917, which he held until his death in 1923.

As the Great War was concluding toward the end of 1918, Dunlop and other doctors around the world were forced to cope with the most virulent influenza epidemic ever recorded. The ‘Spanish flu' pandemic of 1918–19 was thought to have arrived in Australia with the returning troops. The pandemic proved just as prevalent in the United States and Asia as it did in Europe. In Australia , 12 000 people died as a result of the Spanish flu, including 7000 in Victoria . Ships in the ports of Sydney and Melbourne were held in quarantine, schools were closed and people wore gauze masks when out in public. In Williamstown, hotels were closed, trains were deserted and public entertainment cancelled. A school adjoining the Market Place Reserve on the corner of Hanmer and Cole streets was requisitioned to treat the local patients after the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, the Queen Victoria Hospital and the specially transformed Exhibition Building could not cope with the thousands of cases. The epidemic gradually petered out by the middle of 1919.

Dunlop died suddenly at 60 years of age on Thursday 13 December 1923. He had collapsed from a probable stroke the day before and remained unconscious all night. A private funeral was held the day after his death, and his remains were interred in the Williamstown cemetery. Today, his gravesite is no longer identifiable. He was survived by his wife Marion Christina.

Friendly societies and the medical profession in Victoria

Dunlop was a vocal opponent of the friendly societies' attempt to introduce medical institutes staffed by doctors outside the ambit of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association. (The Australian Medical Association was not formed until 1962).

Until the 1920s, friendly societies dominated the coordination of medical care in Victoria. The standard fee for a private consultation with a doctor remained remarkably constant at 10s 6d from 1870 until 1930. Prior to 1900, this fee represented about one-third of the working man's weekly wages, which meant private medical care was only within the reach of those with means. Although rising wages saw the price of a consultation fall, by 1920, to around 13 per cent of the average male worker's weekly wages, friendly societies, which were developed in the early 19th century, remained the means by which medical care was made accessible to poorer members of the community.

Lodge doctors were paid around 14s per member each year and were expected to provide consultations, surgery, anaesthetics and whatever else might be needed. Because membership of the societies was not means tested, the societies experienced spectacular growth. At their peak, around 1910, they had made deep inroads into doctors' private practices. In 1913, the BMA called for an income limit of 208 pounds on all lodge members. The friendly societies, however, worried about losing members, refused to introduce such a clause. A bitter and protracted dispute ensued which lasted until a Royal Commission in 1918 ruled in favour of the medical profession.

At the time of the dispute, medical institutes were being set up to counter the resignations of doctors from the friendly societies. The institutes differed from the societies in that doctors were employed on a fixed salary instead of a per capita fee. The Bendigo Medical Institute, for instance, paid two doctors to treat its 2560 members. This worked out to a per capita equivalent of 3s 9d – substantially less than the 14s offered by the societies. The institutes were cheaper to operate than the societies and required fewer doctors. Dunlop was an active opponent of these institutes and campaigned to prevent one from being established in Williamstown. In the end, the institutes eventually collapsed because of their inability to attract doctors. Joining an institute meant being blacklisted by the BMA, and few doctors were prepared to risk this. (In 1920, 80% of doctors were members of the BMA.)

In the wake of the dispute and the newly introduced 208 pound income limit, the friendly societies found it difficult to recover the community's support. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, society membership failed to keep pace with increases in the population. People were kept away by the rising price of membership, income restriction on entry into the societies and the declining price of private medical care relative to wages.

The origin of doctors in Victoria

The first five doctors to practice at Ferguson Street – Johnston, Ellison, Yuille, Featherstonhaugh and Dunlop – were British graduates, which is not surprising considering until 1911 there were more British trained doctors in Victoria than local graduates.

The medical faculty at the University of Melbourne was established in 1862 and required graduates to complete 5 years' training. Though one of the most extensive and thorough courses offered in the world, it suffered from a serious lack of clinical instruction. The course was not internationally recognized until 1900, when it was accepted into the Imperial Medical Register.

Medical faculties were established at Sydney University in 1883 and Adelaide University in 1885, however graduates from these universities have always represented only a small proportion of doctors practicing in Victoria .

Before the turn of the century, many Australians preferred to travel to the UK to obtain a medical degree, with Edinburgh University being the most popular choice.

British courses were usually only 3 or 4 years long and varied in quality. The profession in Britain was overcrowded, and the majority of British trained practitioners came to Victoria in the hope of deriving greater financial rewards than were on offer in the UK . Many doctors had come to Victoria as ship doctors on assisted immigrant ships.

This high inflow of UK doctors into Victoria ended in 1911 when the National Insurance Act in England substantially raised the incomes of most British doctors.

British immigrant doctors established the medical profession in Victoria , creating its medical associations, hospitals, friendly societies and determining the price and style of medical services. The dominance of British practitioners until 1911 meant that Melbourne medical practices were very similar to those in large British cities.

The medical register of Victoria 1871–1933 states that of the doctors practising in Victoria in 1871, five were Australians and 403 were British; in 1891, it was 147 to 589; in 1911, 609 to 624; and in 1933, 1185 to 262.

John Henry Semple

MB et CHB (1879–1934)

The first Victorian graduate to live and work at 107 Ferguson Street was John Ernest Henry Semple. Semple, who graduated from Melbourne in 1906, took over the practice in 1924 following Dunlop's death.

Semple was a native of Kilmore, and practised there for many years with his father William for many years before coming to Williamstown.

In Williamstown, the kindly, likeable Semple was a popular character. He and his wife made many friends in the town and became known for their work with the poor and various social and charitable movements. In 1934, Mrs Semple received a lot of praise for her work as secretary of the organising committee of the 1934 hospital ball. Since the hospital's foundation in 1894, the annual ball had been one of the highlights of the Williamstown social calendar. (After each ball, the Williamstown Advertiser even published lists quaintly describing the dresses worn by the ladies.)

A few of my present day patients can recall seeing Semple as children. Two things about him left their mark on their young minds: he drove a very impressive looking car, they said, and was fond of a drink. Apparently the doctor was a regular patron of the Prince Albert Hotel in Douglas Parade. One old chap remembers Semple coming to his house and removing a cyst from above his brother's eye. The lad's mother congratulated Semple on his excellent surgical skills, to which the doctor responded, “Well, I had planned to become an eye surgeon, until the whiskey got the better of me!”

Like his predecessors at the practice, Semple was an honorary physician at the Williamstown Hospital from 1924 until ill health forced his resignation in September 1934. After selling the practice to Dr Roy Krantz, Semple moved to South Yarra. Sadly, his health declined rapidly soon after. He died in an East Malvern private hospital on October 26 1934. He was 55 years of age.

Alexander Hamilton Dobbin

LRCP LRFPS DPH (1911–1997)

One of the most colourful and best remembered doctors to ever practise in Williamstown was Alexander Hamilton Dobbin. Dobbin practiced at 107 Ferguson Street for 25 years.

Like the founder of the practice, John Johnston, Dobbin was a Scot, and completed his basic training and obtained his licentiates in his home country. After graduating, he worked as a resident medical officer at the Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow.

Dobbin and his wife Sheila arrived in Australia in November 1937; less than a month later, Dobbin was registered to practise. In February 1938, after spending brief periods working in Deniliquin, Casterton and Quambatook, Dobbin took up practice in Werribee. It was while driving to Werribee each day that he first came to notice Williamstown and its doctor's residence on Ferguson Street.

Dobbin took over the Ferguson Street practice from Roy Krantz on 1 August 1 1940 and bought the premises a year later. When Dobbin took over as owner, the building was in a sad state of repair. The first priority was to underpin the east wall and repair cracking. Then there was waiting room. Added in the 1930s, the waiting room opened directly on to the street. In cold weather, derelict old men sometimes took advantage of the ready access to radiator warmth in the room, and often went unnoticed by reception. Alterations blocked off this access, and the doctor's family and patients reverted to using the original front door.

On 27 June 1941 the Dobbins' third child, Malcolm, was delivered at home after an outbreak of golden staph at the Williamstown Hospital . During the war years, further alterations were made to the house. In 1947, during a railway strike, 15 strikers were employed to renovate the kitchen. An enclosed living area was created, which became the core of the house.

The five members of the Dobbin family lived in the house until Dr Keith Harrison bought into the practice in 1952, at which time they moved to Victoria Street .

Alex Dobbin is well remembered by many present day residents of Williamstown for his political views. As a member of the Australian Labor Party, he successfully stood for the Williamstown Council a year after arriving in the town. He was elected to council on 30 August 1941 with a record majority of 637 votes. A hard worker, he campaigned hard on matters of health, housing and war time safety for local residents. After becoming disillusioned with the ALP, Dobbin resigned from Council in June 1945 to recontest as a communist, but was overwhelming defeated in the council elections later that year.

For several years, he continued to stand unsuccessfully for municipal and state office. He was often seen espousing his philosophies at political meetings and rallies. Wearing a velvet maroon coat and with the aid of a loudspeaker, he would spruik to people shopping on the corner of Electra and Ferguson streets. Many of his ideas were reasonable and stemmed from a profound social conscience – his policies included improving roads, providing free immunization, building a school on the rifle range, instituting electoral reforms and connecting Williamstown to Melbourne by a tunnel under the Yarra – but in the era of Menzies and McCarthyism, and with the Cold War at its height, Dobbin's belief in communism was not well received. Some people referring mockingly to Dobbin's house as ‘The Kremlin'.

In 1955, Dobbin and his wife travelled to China , where they were impressed by what the communist government was doing with social reforms and child care. Five years later, he tried to return to China, but by then the Cultural Revolution was in full swing and foreigners were forbidden from entering – a development that bitterly disappointed him. Instead of the China trip they had planned, he and his wife left for England in October 1960, returning in July 1961. While in London , Dobbin obtained a Diploma In Public Health.

Shortly after moving to Williamston, in 1940, Dobbin became an honorary medical officer at the hospital. In 1941, the Williamstown Hospital and the Council began talking about starting a mass radiological survey program to detect tuberculosis. The prime movers of this scheme were Dobbin, his fellow councillor Dr Jeffrey Long, and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Donald Coutts. Council financed the scheme while the hospital, assisted by the Red Cross, conducted the examinations. Thus Williamstown became one of the first places in the world to introduce a mass X-ray program. A report of its success was sent to the world headquarters of the Red Cross in Geneva . Between 1943–1956, 122 active cases of TB were detected. The service was eventually superseded by a state sponsored compulsory mobile chest X-ray service.

In 1965, Dobbin moved to Collins Street to concentrate on his medical interests of weight reduction and ‘biostem' therapy, a technique of using placental tissue extracts to treat asthma, arthritis and other conditions. Dobbin had been in partnership with Keith Harrison since 1952 and with Robert Weate since 1957. He eventually sold his share of the partnership to Robert Leicester. He died in 1997.

Keith Ewan Harrison

MB BS (1917–2008)

Keith Harrison, only the second Victorian graduate to live and work at 107 Ferguson Street , practiced in the building between 1952 and 1975.

Growing up in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Kew, Harrison attended Scotch College in Hawthorn and graduated in medicine from the University of Melbourne in 1941. He worked for a year as a junior resident at Prince Henry's Hospital, before enlisting in the AIF, spending 4.5 years serving in New Guinea and Bougainville with the 15 th Field Ambulance unit.

After the war, Harrison worked for 2 years at the Wangaratta Base Hospital and for a year at the Royal Women's Hospital in Carlton . He also did some general practice work in Oakleigh.

On the Australia Day long weekend in January 1952, Keith Harrison came to Williamstown to do a 2 week locum for Alex Dobbin. His only previous visit to Williamstown had been as a member of the Melbourne University Rifle Club to the old rifle range in Kororoit Creek Road .

A number of things about Williamstown appealed to Harrison . He liked the style of general practice in Williamstown, and was looking for an opportunity to do both procedural work and treat his own patients in the local hospital. The lifestyle in the seaside suburb also attracted him.

When Harrison arrived, Dobbin's practice was a very busy one, so much so that for some years he had to employ assistants to help run it. When Dobbin offered Harrison a permanent position and eventually a partnership, Harrison accepted both readily.

Harrison had always intended to become a surgeon. As was the custom in those days, he had planned to travel to England after graduating and to study for a Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, but his war service prevented him from doing so. Doctors serving in the army during World War II had been promised postgraduate training as part of their repatriation, but to Harrison 's great disappointment, this did not eventuate. Nevertheless, under the private tutelage of the well known Melbourne surgeon Graeme Grove, Harrison developed some excellent surgical skills. At a time when GPs were expected to have more procedural skills than they do today, Harrison enjoyed doing the appendicectomies, gall bladder removals and Caesarean sections his position required of him.

Initially, Harrison had some difficulty getting a formal appointment at the Williamstown Hospital, with all six honorary positions being taken at the time by well established GPs. Eventually, in 1956, after much urging from Dobbin, Harrison and others, the board relented and created four assistant HMO positions, to which Harrison was soon appointed. Two years later, he was promoted to one of the 6 HMO positions, which he retained until his retirement in 1983. (In 1973, the honorary medical service that dated back to the beginning of the state's hospital system was phased out, and the paid visiting medical officer service now in operation was introduced into Victorian hospitals.)

Shortly after Harrison joined the practice, the Dobbin family moved from Ferguson Street to Victoria Street to live. The Harrison family moved into Ferguson Street for 4 years, before moving to Hannan Street . The Harrisons were the last medical family to live in the Ferguson Street building. (Since the late 1950s, various tenants, usually acting as housekeepers, have lived there.)

Harrison 's more conservative background and inclinations sometimes conflicted with Dobbin's socialist views. At one stage, irritated by Dobbin placing magazines with titles such as ‘USSR Rebuilds' and ‘New China' in the waiting room, Harrison hung a large framed portrait of the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II on the wall opposite the waiting room door. From this position, Dobbin could not avoid seeing Her Majesty every time he called a patient from the waiting room.

Nevertheless, the partnership between Harrison and Dobbin endured, lasting from 1952 until Dobbin gave up general practice in 1965. In 1957, Bob Weate became a partner; he was part of the practice until 1966, when he left and was replaced by Arthur Franks. Robert Leicester joined Harrison and Weate in 1965 and worked with them until Russell Soppitt bought Lester's share of the partnership in 1969. Russell Soppitt left to commence a specialist obstetric and gynaecology practice in 1973. By this time, the professional relationship between Harrison and Franks had deteriorated, and their partnership was not in a healthy state. They agreed to dissolve the partnership and to continue as two separate practices within the one building. The resulting arrangement created a tense working environment for both the doctors and their staff, and was doomed to fail. In the end, it lasted less than two years. In February 1975, Keith Harrison was offered the use of new professional rooms behind Ritchie's Pharmacy on the corner of Ferguson and Electra streets, which he accepted.

Harrison ran his new practice with the assistance of doctors who had been among the first interns at The Williamstown Hospital: Mary Burbridge, Manu Gilani and Geoff Farrow.

Harrison died, aged 90 years of age, on 1 June 2008.

Arthur Franks

MA, MBBS, D Obst RCOG (1935- )

The longest serving doctor at The Clinic, Williamstown is Arthur Franks who has been practicing there since 1967.

Arthur grew up in rural Victoria and was educated at Assumption College, Kilmore and the University of Melbourne. He graduated in medicine in 1962.

He did two years residency at The Goulburn Valley Hospital, Shepparton, a year as an anaesthetic registrar at the Royal Children's Hospital and two years as a registrar at St Vincent 's Hospital before coming to Williamstown.

Franks had considered becoming a specialist anaesthetist but in Williamstown he found he could combine that interest with general practice. For nearly 40 years, he held dual appointments as an anesthetist and as a GP Visiting Medical Officer at The Williamstown Hospital.

Despite not having a specialist qualification, Franks often worked full-time as an anaesthetist. In that capacity, he has won the admiration and respect of surgeons and other theatre staff for his quiet, conscientious approach to his work and his reliability. In the days when midwifery and acute surgery were performed at the Hospital, he provided a 24 hour a day service. It was not unusual to see him up in the middle of the night giving an anaesthetic for an urgent Caesarian section, an acute abdomen, a post operative haemorrhage or any other emergency operation. Bec au se of his obliging nature and bec au se he lived close to the hospital he received far more of these after hours calls than any other anaesthetist.

As well as his anaesthetic work, he was on call one day a week and one weekend in six to accept and manage medical admissions at the local hospital until his retirement from the hospital in February 2007.

From 1980 until the establishment of the Western Health Care Network in1995, Arthur Franks served on the Board of Management of The Williamstown Hospital. He was President of the Board from 1988 until 1991.

Despite his heavy professional work-load, Franks found time to study part-time. He obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree and followed this with a Master of Arts from Deakin University in 1997. He traveled to England to research his M.A. thesis which was entitled: A Survey of Nineteenth and Early twentieth Century British Millionaires and the Influence of this Wealth on their Descendants .

Franks other varied extra-curricular interests include farming, fine dining, wine growing, race horse ownership and going to the races. For a couple of years in the 1970's he was the club doctor for the North Melbourne Football Club. He is still a partner at The Clinic, Williamstown in Ferguson Street where he continues to work part-time as a general practitioner.

Dr Murray Verso


Dr Murray Verso has been a partner at the Williamstown clinic since 1977. In addition to his duties at the clinic, Verso was a visiting medical officer to the Williamstown Hospital from 1978 until the position was phased out in 2007, and an area coordinator of the RACGP Family Medicine Program from 1981–1988. For the last 15 years, Verso has been a medical officer of health for the Hobson's Bay City Council; before that, he held the same position for the City of Williamstown for 7 years.

Verso has been extensively involved with the Rotary Club of Williamstown, twice serving as president of the club; in 1989, he was a Paul Harris Fellow. He also worked for many years with Trinity Grammar School , serving as president of the school council from 1995–2004.

The end of Verso's tenure at the hospital speaks of the problems facing the long standing relationship between general practitioners and hospitals.

When Verso was appointed to the hospital in 1978, there were 18 visiting medical officers; when the GP appointments, including his own, were terminated by the Western Health Network in 2007, there were only four GPs on the staff. During his tenure, Verso enjoyed excellent working relationships at the hospital with the physicians, surgeons, specialists, nursing staff and other GPs. He was heavily involved with training and education: from 1980–2002, he organized a weekly education program for doctors and nurses which featured a range of experts; the clinic also accepted and trained junior medical officers for 3 month terms on rotation from the hospital from 1980–1989. Verso was chairman of the hospital's visiting medical staff group from 1989–1992.

Until 1997, when the new Western Health Network took over management of the Hospital and placed all medical staff on contracts, the GPs at the hospital worked under a fee for service arrangement. In the final 10 years at the hospital, Verso witnessed, with much sadness, the decline in the ‘cradle to grave' care provided to the community by the hospital, as its services were withdrawn one by one. In the end, the GP's only role was in caring for mostly bed ridden elderly patients.

After 30 years of service at the hospital – which involved being on call every Friday night, visiting the hospital 6 days a week, serving on numerous hospital committees, lobbying politicians and the local newspapers for better services, assisting with fund raising and, most importantly, caring for his general practice patients in hospital when required – Verso's departure, along with that of his GP colleagues, was a bitter pill to swallow. The situation was made worse by having to negotiate a termination package with the Network which did not include previously agreed entitlements. Sadly, there was no acknowledgement from the Network of the GPs' services: no farewell function, no farewell gift, not even a letter of thanks.

The clinic's principal doctors

John Johnston


John Ellinson


John Johnston


Douglas Yuille


Charles Featherstonhaugh


Shuldham Dunlop


John Semple


Roy Krantz


Alexander Dobbin


Keith Harrison


Roy Weate


Robert Leicester


Arthur Franks


Russell Soppitt


Murray Verso


F.M.P. Trainees


Irene Szymanski


Karin Halla


Rick Woods


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