Wednesday, September 28, 2016

World War Wednesdays: Professional Physician, Personal Pain

     This week's post was inspired by a tiny little reference in an article I read for my African History course about the historical significance of diaries. It does relate to the First World War, but also has quite a fascinating twist that I hope will be something new and interesting!

     Our story begins when John William Springthorpe was born on 29 August, 1855 at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. As an infant, he and his family moved to Australia, where he went to school in Sydney and Melbourne before attending the University of Melbourne. A brilliant student who won several exhibitions during his studies, he graduated as a doctor of medicine in 1884. He worked as a medical officer at Beechworth Asylum before moving back to England, where he became the first Australian graduate admitted to the Royal College of Physicians. In late 1883, he moved back to Melbourne, where he continued an extremely successful medical career, became a university lecturer, and published a two-volume textbook. Dr. Springthorpe's energies flowed into many different areas, including setting up a training and registration in dentistry, helping found the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses Association, ambulance work, and child welfare. He also held such positions as president of the Victorian branch of the British Medical association and the Melbourne Medical Association.

     When the First World War broke out, he quickly enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1914 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and became senior physician to No. 2 Australian General Hospital. He returned to Melbourne in 1916 but was posted again to France and then to England, where he worked with soldiers suffering from nerve disorders. After finally returning home in 1919 with what he considered little recognition of his war service, he found that his university and hospital appointments had lapsed. Forced back to his previous post as a visitor to metropolitan asylums, he recommenced private practice and worked for the infant welfare movement.

No. 2 Australian General Hospital, Mena House, Egypt. The first batch of wounded Australian soldiers from Gallipoli, May 1915. John Springthorpe is standing at centre (a woman wearing a large hat is at his left). Irene Victoria Read pictorial material and relics, 1839–1951, State Library of New South Wales, PXD1143 R1117

Doctors Colonel Springthorpe (right) with Sir Stanley Seymour Argyle (left) c.1914–18. Australian War Memorial, AWM PS1087
     Short, dynamic, lively in mind and action and an amusing companion in terms of his personal qualities, Dr. Springthorpe was appropriately known as "Springy". He was deeply interested in paintings and sculpture, and enjoyed amateur cycling. In addition to his personal and professional activities, he recorded his deeper thoughts in notebooks beginning in 1883 and continuing throughout his life with periodic interruptions.

     On January 26 (Australia Day) 1887, at the age of thirty-one, he married twenty-year-old heiress Annie Constance Marie Inglis and they moved into the fashionable, doctors' end of Melbourne. Ten years later, she died while giving birth to their fourth child. Consumed with grief, Dr. Springthorpe sent the children to stay with relatives and poured his sorrow into his diaries. He transformed their house into a shrine for Annie, covering the walls with photographs and paintings to commemorate their married life and leaving everything exactly how it had been the day she died- including the bloodstain from where she had hemorrhaged.
Annie on her wedding day
     In the days following Annie's death, Dr. Springthorpe turned to Melbourne's artistic circle and commissioned the sculptor the design for what he described as "a piece of sculpture, all in white marble, a sarcophagus, richly traced, with certain inscriptions on the sides; on the top, a sculpted figure, as much like Annie as she lay in the drawing room as possible."In  April 1899, he was shown the site for the proposed memorial, which would also serve as a memorial, at Boroondara Cemetery in Melbourne. Of course, since she had already been buried, completing the project meant that Annie had to be exhumed and re-interred. Dr. Springthorpe reassured himself: "It is necessary, otherwise it would not be done, but it can be carried out without any jarring of feeling." He decided to include the children in the ceremony, in order to provide another link "in the chain of memory and affection."

     On July 19, 1899, he made up bouquets for the children to place on the coffin in the open vault while he read a service. Over the next eighteen months, the building of the memorial continued, and on October 2, 1899 he received photographs of the sculpture for her grave: "On a fitting sarcophagus, regal in design, lies the recumbent figure of my Love, with lillies on the breast, at her feet Human grief bends low, with tear dried eye, and over Her head, a glorious Angel, sent by Divine Love- the Love that never dies."

     After nearly ten years, the memorial was finally complete, and Dr. Springthorpe formally unveiled it on February 2, 1901. He was utterly satisfied with the end result: "It is simply perfect in Conception, execution, Holiness- all that I could ask or think... I am entranced by the whole."Over the years required to build the tomb, he had worked through the more intense parts of his grief, and was able to move from intensely private mourning to a public ceremonial commemoration.

The very top reads "Love Evermore"

The roof is made of red glass that bathes the marble in a rosy glow.
     The tomb was originally surrounded by gardens and two additional sculptures, but they did not survive and the gardens were subsumed into the rest of the cemetery when, after Dr. Springthorpe's death, it was found that the transactions for the land were incomplete.The whole memorial is heavily laden with symbolic references, including quotations and adaptations from the Bible, Greek classics, Walt Whitman, Wordsworth, Dante, Browning, Riley, and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Annie is not actually ever named on the memorial, but it is dedicated:
My own true love
Pattern daughter perfect mother and ideal wife
Born on the 26th day of January 1867
Married on the 26th day of January 1887
Buried on the 26th day of January 1897

     The entire project cost a massive amount, although it is uncertain what the final cost amounted to. Estimates range from what in today's currency would be around $700,000 and $1.3 million. The memorial remains to this day as a physical link to Dr. Springthorpe's grief, and a tomb "for all true lovers to the end of Time."

     On March 15 1916, Dr. Springthorpe married Daisie Evelyn Johnstone, a nurse and the daughter of his housekeeper. He died on April 22 1933, and was survived by three of the four children from his first marriage. His youngest son, Guy, became a well-known Melbourne psychiatrist. 

     Wasn't that a rollercoaster? I thought this is an incredibly unique and fascinating story and just couldn't wait until Halloween or Valentine's Day to post it (I'm having a hard time deciding which would be more appropriate)! I'm especially interested in how Dr. Springthorpe was a highly esteemed physician and had practiced in asylums and treated soldiers with nerve disorders, and yet still descended into such a deep grief. I think it sends a powerful message that struggles with mental health are not limited to a person's professional background, and that they very much were a part of life in the past as much as today. I hope that the way I structured this post with its parallel time frames was not too confusing, but I thought it was important to first highlight Dr. Springthorpe's career and war service before moving into his personal life.
     I'm hoping this won't be the first foray into Australian history, and am always looking for interesting war stories (and otherwise) related to a wider range of people and places. Information included in this post comes from "Magnificent Obsession" by Pat Jalland, the Australian War Memorial Guide to the Papers of Dr John William Springthorpe, "Love and Death: The Springthorpe Memorial at Boroondara (Kew) Cemetery, and the John William Springthorpe biography in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
     Thanks for reading, 
Delany (@DLeitchHistory on Twitter)

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