Today we are going to talk about the wonderfully named Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan who was born on Killeen Station in Victoria on the 20th September 1853. He studied at the University of Melbourne and then completed his study at the University of Edinburgh (Australian medical degrees were not wholly awarded in Australia until well into the 20th century - in fact up until very recently, most Australian doctors would complete at least some of their training in the United Kingdom). He then undertook further postgraduate training as a surgeon in Italy and Austria.
Sir Ryan at the time of his enlistment (public domain image sourced from the Australian War Memorial Collection)
Seeking adventure - Dr. Ryan saw an advertisement for surgeons for the Turkish army. He took up a post as an army surgeon - serving from 1876 in the last stages of the Turkish -Serbian war and then from 1877-1878 in the Russian-Turkish campaign during which he became a Russian prisoner of war. For his efforts he recieved several Turkish service medals. He also suffered a significant bout of typhus - one which killed many soldiers and 22 out of 36 surgeons working at his hospital. During this outbreak of disease the bodies of the dead had to be left for the dogs to devour as the ground was to hard to dig graves.
In 1878 he returned to Melbourne to set up a private practice. He took an honourary appointment to the Royal Melbourne Hospital as a surgeon and in 1883 also became a medical officer at the children's hospital.
He was noted - disparingly by some - to have a somewhat perfunctory surgical technique. He was certainly a very fast surgeon with skills honed in field hospitals where rapid, mass amputations were the order of the day and finesse, perhaps was not. He also apparently once offered to treat a strangulated hernia with a pocket knife and a piece of string, not the done thing in the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Nonetheless, Ryan was a good enough surgeon that his practice thrived, even being the surgeon who in 1880 treated one Ned Kelly after the siege at Glenrowan. Ned Kelly he reportedly compared quite unfavourably to the stoic Turkish soldier. In 1904 he became honorary physician to the governer general. He also continued a relationship with Turkey - serving as their consul to Victoria.
However this must have proved somewhat awkward when in 1914 Australia found itself at war with, amongst other combatants, Turkey.
Ryan was appointed assistant director of medical services to the 1st Division, Australian Imperial Force and was soon sailing for Egypt. He was present at the landing at Gallipoli in 1915 and served there until he contracted enteric fever and was evacuated to Egypt and then England. He then served out the remainder of the war as the consulting surgeon to the medical headquarters staff. In 1917 he was appointed as the honorary surgeon general of the Australian Military Forces. He returned to Australia in 1919 and was placed on the retirement list at the rank of major general.
Ryan sits outside a dugout on the Gallipoli pennisula c1915 (public domain image sourced from the Australian War Memorial Collection)
He died at the age of 73 while at sea returning from a trip to Europe. He was survived by two children, Rupert Sumner Ryan who served in the House of Representatives in the 1940s and Ethel Marian Sumner Ryan who married Lord Casey - Governer General of Australia in the 1960s.
Ryan had two passions outside of medicine - one for ornithology - patients in his private rooms on Collin's street were reportedly faced with rows of stuffed birds which one imagines were quite the sight, and photography. He took his camera with him to Gallipoli and his unique view, and empathy for both sides of the conflict allowed him to take some profoundly intriguing images such as the ones below.
Soldier in a trench at Lone Pine (public domain image sourced from the Australian War Memorial Collection)
24/5/1915 - 9 hour armistace to recover dead bodies (public domain image sourced from the Australian War Memorial Collection)
The Australian War Memorial is currently touring with an exhibit of Ryan's work. This author is attending - and if you are able I encourage you to do so to.