Sir William Colin MacKenzie (1877-1938)

Sir William Colin MacKenzie ~ 1877-1938: the surgeon, anatomist, philanthropist, orthopaedist

    From the Australian National Museum display: ” Colin MacKenzie was a Melbourne surgeon who studied marsupial anatomy in order to understand human anatomy. Like many other scientists, he believed Australian animals would soon become extinct. MacKenzie wanted to start a native animal sanctuary in Canberra to help with his research. It never happened, but he later founded the Healesville Sanctuary …”

“Colin Mackenzie” or “Bricky” was nicknamed as such for his red hair was a man of great repute in Australia especially as a benefactor, museum administrator, anatomist, and director. He was born on March 9, 1877 in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia. He was the youngest of six as son to his Scottish parents John MacKenzie a draper, and his wife Anne nee McKay. He educated at Kilmore State School and on to Scotch College in Melbourne where he graduated with honors in Greek on December 1893. He graduated from Medical school from the University of Melbourne in 1898. He was first-class honors in surgery, women’s diseases, and obstetrics. He studied in Europe in 1903. In 1908 he tackled the extensive epidemic in Australia of people suffering in need of orthopaedic skills. During World War I he spent three years in England at the Royal College of Surgeons assisting Sir Arthur Keith in cataloging specimens of war wounds for the army and helped bring out the new edition of Treve’s Surgical Applied Anatomy. At the same time he continued his studies of comparative anatomy of Australian fauna. MacKenzie dissected dozens of Australian animals to help him understand human anatomy. For example, he thought dissecting and examining the shoulders of a Koala might help him improve techniques for human shoulders in surgery. He became council member of the Anatomical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. By 1918, he returned to Australia and converted his house at 612 St. Kilda Road into a laboratory and museum which he called the Australian Institute of Anatomical Research devoted most of his time researching Australian animals from 1919 until his death in 1938. By 1920 He had 80 acres of bushland at Badger Creek as a field station for his research. The facility was fenced, had a 6-roomed house for a curator, a cottage for visiting scientists, workshops, animal pens, and a staff of assistants. This eventually became the Sir Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary in 1934. His collection of specimens became world famous, and was gifted to the Australian goverment in 1924. He married his assistant Winifred Iris Evelyn in 1928. He was knighted in 1929 and spent a good portion of the remainder of his life in Canberra. There he served as a member of the Medical Board and by 1933 became the second president of the Canberra-based Royal Society of Australia. His health began to decay and he retired in 1937 upon returning to Melbourne with his wife. He died on June 29, 1938 of a cerebral hemorrage at his home in Kew and was cremated.

  • A. Pratt. 1937: “The Call of the Koala”.
  • Australian Dictionary of Biography: “Sir William Colin MacKenzie”. Website referenced March 2012.
  • Australian National Museum. Displays and exhibits. Visited April 2011.
  • Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. “Sir William Colin MacKenzie”. Website referenced March 2012.

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