23rd October 2021

Colonial Medical Officers

National Library of Australia. William Balmain, one of the First Fleet surgeons.

On the First Fleet were five Royal Marine medical officers, who wore the dark blue tunic of the Royal Marine Officers. From the New South Wales Corps arrival on the Second Fleet until 1870, the medical officers would wear the various uniforms (undress, full dress, and mess dress) of the British Regiments to which they were attached. For descriptions  and images of these, please refer to the very informative website,  http://australianmilitarymedicalcollective.weebly.com/

Medical Officers attached to military hospitals wore gilt buttons inscribed with ‘Hospital Staff’ in a garter or circle  mounted upon an eight pointed star and surmounted by a crown. Senior NCOs wore brass buttons inscribed ‘Hospital Staff’. Other ranks wore general service buttons. Army Medical Staff wore similar buttons, instead inscribed with ‘Medical Staff’. From 1830-37  the flat gilt buttons bore the William IV cypher, as for the coatee below.

Port Macquarie Museum. Coatee of Dr Thompson of the British Army’s Medical Department c.1830.

The two piece button below dates from during Victoria’s reign, and so bears her VR cypher.

This version was in use from 1855-1898. However, the backmark, Hobson & Sons Lexington St. London W. , dates from 1887.


Colonial Medical Corps

From the earliest volunteer defence corps, medical personnel were included in their ranks. After 1870 the colonies became responsible for their own defence forces. The experience of the Australian contingent to the Soudan during 1885, which included an Ambulance Corps,  prompted the establishment of similar corps around Australia in the following years. During 1885 in the colony of NSW an Ambulance Corps was formed, followed in 1888 by a voluntary medical corps. The first Permanent Medical Corps was established in that colony in 1891 consisting of doctors N.C.O.s, orderlies, bearers, dispensers and staff such as cooks and drivers.  New South Wales had the only such Permanent Medical Corps pre-federation.

State Library SA image #PRG 712/21. Brigade Surgeon William Talbot c.1890.

The Sydney Mail and NSW Advertiser, 7th March 1895 page 495. Parade of the Medical Staff Corps at Kensington.

The Arena (Melbourne), 27th October 1900 page 1. The Victorian Militia Ambulance Crops.

In 1902 the colonial medical units were amalgamated into Australian Army Medical Corps, which had its first deployment to the 2nd Boer War. The Royal prefix was granted in 1948.

Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 27th May 1903 page 3.

Note that the colour patches on the collars ( known as gorgets) were chocolate with a red line down the middle. Pre-federation, black detailing (facings, lace, feathers, etc.) signified medical officers.

State Library SA #B 38306. Australian Army Medical Corps members, c.1909.





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