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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ambrose, Theodore (1880–1947)

by Prue Joske

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Theodore Ambrose (1880-1947), medical practitioner, was born on 9 August 1880 at Mitcham, South Australia, youngest of five children of William Ambrose, schoolmaster, who died two years later, and his wife Helen Harvey, née Finlayson, who died in 1891. He was then reared by his Scots grandparents, whose son John Harvey Finlayson was editor of the South Australian Register.

Ambrose, an Anglican, was educated at Way College and began his medical education in Adelaide, moving to Sydney where he graduated M.B., Ch.M. in 1902. His sister Ethel graduated in medicine from Adelaide in the same year. She became the first woman resident medical officer at Perth Public Hospital and was later a medical missionary. Ambrose held appointments at Sydney Hospital as junior resident medical officer, resident pathologist and bacteriologist (1903) and senior resident, registrar and assistant superintendent. In 1904 he married Clara Beatrice Young, a nurse born at Canberra. The next year he followed his sister to Western Australia and entered general practice at Mount Magnet. He moved to Perth in 1906 and remained in general practice at Subiaco for nine years, holding honorary positions as visiting medical officer for the Home of Peace for Incurable Cases and the Hospital for Infectious Diseases at Subiaco from 1908. He was appointed to the honorary medical staff at Perth Public Hospital as assistant physician, then physician. Appointed assistant surgeon in 1915, he devoted himself thenceforth to specialist surgery and moved to St George's Terrace. He was senior outdoor surgeon to the hospital in 1917, and later senior consultant. He held similar appointments at the Children's Hospital from 1912. As senior consultant to both major hospitals Ambrose was Perth's leading surgeon for many years, successfully introducing new techniques, particularly in abdominal surgery and radical mastectomy. His operating skill was enhanced by ambidexterity and by extreme deafness which helped his concentration in the theatre but prevented him addressing meetings. Instead he contributed to Australian medical journals.

Ambrose was a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and regularly attended Australasian Medical Congresses until the mid-1930s. He was an enthusiastic member of the Western Australian Turf Club and its honorary surgeon. He owned many racehorses and in 1922 won the West Australian Derby.

Ambrose moved to Mount Lawley in 1937 and suffered a coronary occlusion the next year. In 1940 when he ceased practice the board of the Children's Hospital appointed him honorary consultant for life. Despite ill health Ambrose, as captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve, sailed that year as ship's surgeon in a convoy carrying explosives to England. He then worked for the Eastern Extension Cable Co. on Fanning Island in mid-Pacific for two years; his wife refused to be evacuated and worked as a teacher and nurse. Ambrose returned to general practice in Western Australia at Brookton, Cue, Meekatharra and Norseman. He became ill at Norseman following a fall and was flown to Perth, where he died three days later on 8 October 1947 of arteriosclerosis and renal failure. He was buried at Karrakatta cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £2428. One of four daughters and one of three sons graduated in medicine.

Select Bibliography

  • L. (Mrs W. H.) Hinton (ed), Ethel Ambrose (Lond, 1937?)
  • J. H. Stubbe, Medical Background (Perth, 1969)
  • Australasian Medical Congress, Transactions, 1905, 1920, 1927, 1929, 1934
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 17 Jan 1948
  • West Australian, 9 Oct 1947
  • Children's Hospital, Minute-book, 1935-46, and annual report, 1948 (Princess Margaret Hospital, Perth)
  • private information.

Citation details

Prue Joske, 'Ambrose, Theodore (1880–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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