Plaque rededicated to medical pioneer

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Memories of Sir Louis Barnett, one of the leading pioneer figures in Australasian medicine, were recalled at a function in Hampden earlier this month.

Family members, the medical profession, local residents and pupils of Hampden School gathered for the unveiling of a rededicated NZ Historic Places Trust plaque outside Sir Louis’ former home on the corner of Ipswich and Appleby Sts in Hampden.

Grandson Richard Barnett said he was 17 when Sir Louis died in 1949 and he remembered him as a “wonderful person with a delightful disposition”.

“He was a wonderful gardener and when he gave me pocket money he’d say, ‘Take it to the shop and watch it go; take it to the bank and watch it grow.'”

Mr Barnett said his grandfather was of Jewish extraction and early press reports of his career have shown he was subjected to discrimination.

“But because of his lovely nature, he never worried about it.”

Mr Barnett unveiled the plaque with Professor Andre van Rij, head of the Department of Surgical Sciences at the Dunedin School of Medicine.

“I’ve got to hear of the family man,” Professor van Rij said. “He was also a very professional man.

“He (Sir Louis) was the first New Zealander to go to the UK at the end of the 19th century to study in Edinburgh and become a fellow of the English College of Surgeons.”

Sir Louis became New Zealand’s first Professor of Surgery and is known today as founder of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and a pioneer in the research of hydatids.

“He was very respected as a surgeon,” Professor van Rij said.

“He had a son, Ralph, who went to World War 1 and died at Gallipoli. When he retired in 1924, he put together some money to endow the professorship of surgery, so I am the Ralph Barnett Professor of Surgery”.

Sir Louis lived at his Hampden house in holidays, then in retirement from 1936 to 1946.

The plaque unveiled replaces one put up by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) in 1977 that has faded over the years.

“Thanks to work by the North Otago branch of the historic places trust, we’ve been able to have this new plaque produced by Procote Industries of Dunedin,” said Jonathan Howard, the trust’s acting area manager for Otago/Southland.

“It’s been made with baked enamel, so it will be a far more enduring memorial to his achievements.”

Also attending the ceremony was Roseann ‘Abby’ Robinson, a great-great-grand-daughter of Sir Louis. She is writing a book about him.

“The Barnetts are very clannish and like talking of the past,” she said.

“The thing I liked about Sir Louis was that although he faced discrimination, he was always congenial and kind to everyone.

“And he didn’t stick in the past even when his son died in the war. He was generous and positive.”

By CHRIS TOBIN