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Clubbe, Sir Charles Percy Barlee (1854–1932)

by Lorimer Dods

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Sir Charles Percy Barlee Clubbe (1854-1932), surgeon, was born on 2 February 1854 in the vicarage at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire, England, son of Rev. Charles Wishaw Clubbe and his wife Emily, née Barlee; he was a nephew of Sir Frederick Barlee. Charles spent a happy childhood in the small village of Hughenden and there occasionally met Disraeli, who was a friend of his father.

Educated at Uppingham School and later at St Bartholomew's Hospital, Clubbe was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, in 1876 and as a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1877. He was appointed as a house surgeon to the Kidderminster hospital, and in 1879 served as a civil surgeon with the Army Medical Department of Natal during the Zulu War. Next year he was appointed chief resident medical officer to the (Royal) Manchester Children's Hospital, where his lifelong interest in paediatrics had its beginnings.

On 12 April 1882 at Kidbrooke, Kent, Clubbe was married by his father to Ethel Marion Jeffreys Harrison (d.1900). That year, because of a 'chest complaint' he decided to migrate to Australia. Arriving in Sydney in 1883 he quickly established a general practice at Randwick. Within a year he was appointed honorary surgeon to the Hospital for Sick Children, Glebe Point (later the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children), and five years later he became an honorary assistant surgeon to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, then was honorary consulting surgeon to both hospitals until 1932. (Sir) Robert Wade later maintained that Clubbe 'was adored by his house surgeons for his lovable, equable nature, his prompt attendance at hospital in times of emergency … it was, he thought, the duty of the honorary surgeon to teach his house surgeon, and in this he was unique in his day'.

By 1900 Clubbe had moved his practice to Macquarie Street; his surgical skill was widely recognized by his colleagues who became increasingly aware of his mastery over various problems of infancy and childhood. His world-famous textbook The Diagnosis & Treatment of Intussusception was first published in 1907 (2nd edition, 1921): it emphasized the great importance of early diagnosis of intussusception (telescoping of the bowel) and a dramatic fall in the death rate from this condition was achieved in the Sydney region. His papers in the Australasian Medical Gazette in 1889-91 on the surgical treatment of club-feet and of bow-legs marked the beginnings of the development of orthopaedic surgery in Australia. He also contributed much to the treatment of infants and children suffering from diphtheria—he established the diphtheria department at Glebe, he performed urgent tracheotomies as early as 1888, and he demonstrated the recoveries which followed the use of the first supplies of diphtheria antitoxin to reach Australia.

Clubbe served his profession tirelessly. He was president of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association in 1897-98 and lectured in clinical surgery at the University of Sydney in 1895-1907. He presided over the board of management of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in 1904-32 and oversaw its dramatic growth from a small, converted school building at Glebe Point to a modern teaching hospital with 350 beds. Clubbe also served on the Medical Board of New South Wales in 1915-16, as consulting surgeon to the Coast Hospital and Sanitorium (later the Prince Henry Hospital), the Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind, and the Greycliffe (Lady Edeline) Hospital for Babies, and was president of the New South Wales Bush Nursing Association, the District Nursing Association and the Infantile Paralysis Committee of New South Wales. As chairman of the Baby Clinics, Pre-maternity and Home Nursing Board in 1914, then as president of the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, he was a major pioneer of baby health centres and the first Tresillian mothercraft homes.

In 1907 Clubbe visited the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, United States of America, and in 1924 was elected an honorary fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was appointed K.B.E. in 1927 and next year became a foundation fellow of the College of Surgeons of Australasia (later Royal Australasian College of Surgeons). He was a member of both the Australian and Union clubs, Sydney. Kindly, equable, and with an engaging smile that 'inspired confidence', he was tall and erect.

Clubbe died of coronary vascular disease at his Rose Bay home on 20 November 1932 and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by a son and two daughters of his first marriage, and by his second wife Gertrude Florence, née Edwards, whom he had married in Melbourne on 5 April 1902, and by their son and daughter. His eldest daughter Phyllis played hockey for New South Wales and was a founder with Winifred West of Frensham school at Mittagong. Clubbe's estate was valued for probate at £33,145. His portrait by John Longstaff is held by the Royal Alexandra Hospital.

Select Bibliography

  • D. G. Hamilton, Hand in Hand (Syd, 1979)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 14 Jan 1933, 4 Aug 1945
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Nov 1932
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorimer Dods, 'Clubbe, Sir Charles Percy Barlee (1854–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/clubbe-sir-charles-percy-barlee-5687/text9611, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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