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Nickson, Wilfred John (1860–1948)

Dr Wilfred Nickson was a pioneer in Newcastle's medical profession and played an outstanding role in the development of both the profession and the city. At his death in October 1948, the 84 year old was probably the oldest practising doctor in NSW. His Newcastle medical practice had extended 60 years and he had been a surgeon to Newcastle General Hospital for 58 years – 50 of which were in an honorary capacity. In tribute, the new £500,000 wing of the hospital, then under construction and completed in 1950, was named the Nickson Wing.

Wilfred Nickson was born in Ireland in 1863. A keen sportsman, he represented both Dublin University in cricket and football, and his country in rugby union. After graduating he toured Britain and Europe, meeting such luminaries as Disraeli and Pasteur. The decision to pursue a career in the Colonies brought Wilfred to Australia in 1886, and to Newcastle in April 1888.

Here Wilfred began practice with Dr J.L. Beeston, whose sister Ann he married in 1891. In the early days Dr Nickson attended his scattered district patients on horseback, progressing to horse and sulky as the roads improved. As a surgeon Dr Nickson later came to specialise in obstetrics and gynaecology. He and his skills were widely and highly esteemed by the medical profession.

Dr Nickson was very well-read and pursued a wide range of interests. For some 5 decades he held the rank of Surgeon Commander of the Royal Australian Navy, retiring only a few years before his death. The chairman of the Newcastle Hospital Board for 25 years, he was also a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons, and a member of the Newcastle School of Arts Committee (including being president between 1913-17 and 48 years as a trustee), the Newcastle Rifle Club and the Ambulance Division of the Newcastle Military Brigade. In addition Dr Nickson was a long-serving committeeman of the Newcastle Club, and a church warden and member of the Diocesan Board of Newcastle Cathedral. The Cathedral, where he worshipped twice each Sunday, remembers him with the Nickson Memorial Porch.

Wilfred Nickson was active in every movement which sought to advance the status of his adopted city. It was his life-long devotion to his work and patients that prompted Newcastle's Lord Mayor, Alderman Quinlan, to remember him as one of the city's most beloved men. The doctor's influence, he said, had been felt in almost every family in the district. "He was the true family doctor, a skilled surgeon and a healer of sick minds as well as ailing bodies. More beneficial than all the medicines he prescribed were the trust and confidence that his genial personality inspired. His worth was recognised by the medical fraternity as much as by the vast public with whom he came in contact during many years of service to the community."

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Citation details

'Nickson, Wilfred John (1860–1948)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/nickson-wilfred-john-19673/text30992, accessed 7 December 2019.

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