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Munro, Andrew Watson (1858–1944)

by T. Fitzsimons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Andrew Watson Munro (1858-1944), obstetrician, was born on 1 March 1858 at Tain, Ross-shire, Scotland, son of Hugh Munro, master plasterer, and his wife Barbara, née Watson. After studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh (M.B., C.M., 1883; M.D., 1892), he migrated to Sydney about 1884 and set up in practice in York Street. In 1888-91 he was honorary physician at Sydney Hospital. He visited Edinburgh in 1892, gained his doctorate and was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh.

Back in Sydney, with (Sir) James Graham, David Fell and Dr L. E. F. Neill, in 1893 Munro helped to found and to finance the Women's Hospital in Hay Street to train obstetric nurses. On 24 December 1894 at Woollahra he married Sophia Gunning, who had arrived from Ireland in 1888 and trained as a nurse at (Royal) Prince Alfred Hospital. She too became involved in the Women's Hospital, furnishing and decorating its first indoor department when it moved to Crown Street in 1897. In 1900 it became a teaching hospital of the University of Sydney. Munro was honorary obstetrician and gynaecologist from 1893 until 1909, when he became a consultant, and was a director until 1908 and in 1911-12. He also examined in materia medica and pharmacology at the university in 1894-1902.

In London, Munro was an honorary assistant bacteriologist at Guy's Hospital in 1915-17. On his return to Sydney, he worked throughout 1918-19 as a pathology demonstrator at the university. He maintained private consulting rooms until 1924, but became increasingly involved in public health causes. In the 1920s he wrote many letters to the Sydney Morning Herald urging the establishment of a chair of obstetrics at the university and deploring the lack of agitation on the issue by women's groups. His campaign succeeded in 1925 with the appointment of J. C. Windeyer as professor. Munro's letters were intensely rhetorical and often vitriolic: in 1925 he crossed swords with S. R. Innes-Noad over lower infant mortality rates in New Zealand. That year he was president of the State branch of the Health Association of Australasia.

In the late 1920s and 1930s Munro devoted his attention to reducing the maternal mortality rate and in 1935 sent a sketch of a department of maternity hygiene to W. M. Hughes, who as Commonwealth minister for health was launching the George V and Queen Mary Maternal and Infant Welfare Memorial Jubilee Fund. Like Hughes, Munro was obsessed with the idea that Australia must 'populate or perish'. His letters to the press increasingly dealt explicitly with population issues and the declining birth-rate, warning darkly of the dangers to Australia of contraception and abortion ('homicide, of course') and the perils of an empty continent so close to the teeming millions of Asia.

Dark-haired and clean-shaven, Munro had a profound knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, Burns and Carlyle. His wife died in 1929 and at Dulwich Hill on 27 May 1930 he married Helen Maria (d.1937), née Gibson, widow of Sir William McMillan. Watson Munro died childless at his Woollahra home on 7 September 1944 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. He left the residue of his estate, valued for probate at £30,838, to the University of Sydney for research into the causes of death and disease of women in pregnancy, parturition and the puerperium and of children in the first two years of life.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Hospital, Annual Report, 1888-91
  • Health Association of Australasia, Bulletin, 1925-26
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 28 Aug, 3, 9 Sept 1925, 6 Feb 1929, 2 Nov 1937, 9 Sept 1944
  • Health Society of New South Wales, and Public Health Association of Australasia, and Crown St Hospital, Annual Reports 1922 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Faculty of Medicine, and Senate, University of Sydney, minutes, and book of newsclippings relevant to University of Sydney (University of Sydney Archives)
  • William Morris Hughes papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

T. Fitzsimons, 'Munro, Andrew Watson (1858–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/munro-andrew-watson-7684/text13447, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 26 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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