Lidwill, Mark

Dr Mark Lidwill (1878-1968) commenced his medical practice in Beecroft in 1904. It would seem that he was the first medical practitioner to live and practise in the suburb.

Dr Lidwill was the only son of Robert Atkins Lidwill and Mary Jane Covan (nee Florence). Robert (1841-1909) and Mary Jane had married in Melbourne in 1866. She was the daughter of William Florance (1800-1867), a surgeon. Robert was a Captain in the 5th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusilliers who descended from Thomas Lidwill who in 1736 had married Jemima, an heiress daughter of Mark Cowley of Cormackston and Dromard Estates in County Tipperary, Ireland. In Melbourne, Robert became a trader importing goods from the family business (including a “Florance and Lidwill American Blight Exterminator” in 1859 [1]) and later (in 1868) was a solicitor. Their eldest child Matilda Florance Lidwill was born in Melbourne in 1873. Robert died at 18 Denbigh Road Armadale Melbourne Victoria on 5 January 1909. Matilda died unmarried in 1945 at St Hilliers, Jersey.

Dr Lidwill was born at 4 Lansdowne Terrace Cheltenham, England, on 7 April 1878. At his baptism his father gave his occupation as ‘Gentleman.’ In the 1891 English Census the family lived at 3 Stafford Terraces Kensington, London, England where they also had a live-in cook, domestic servant and a male indoor servant. Then in 1894 they travelled on the Ophir as a family to Melbourne. Lidwill attended the University of Melbourne where he obtained his MB Hons (1902) BCh (1903) and MD (1905) [2].

One story of his time at Melbourne University was still remembered some three decades later:

“A tall, dry as dust professor from an American college was being shown over the Medical School by a group of students. They found him pompous, formal, monosyllabic: he would not unbend. Then suddenly the astonished students saw him throw back his head and burst into crackling laughter. ‘That’s done the trick’ whispered the man next to him ‘Liddy’s just put across his story of the Absent –Minded Professor and the Flapper in the Mink Coat.” [3].

In 1904 Lidwill opened his medical practice in Beecroft, initially renting the Holcombe two storeyed house at 86 Beecroft Road – later to become Miss Long’s school. As a young single man he threw himself into the social life of the Village, playing the flute as part of the Beecroft Orchestra, patron of the Musical Society, playing billiards (all in the School of Arts) and helping establish the Beecroft golf club. He was also still playing golf in Strathfield and continued to play golf there after his marriage [4].


On 19 January 1906, Lidwill married at the Congregational Church Strathfield, Constance Emily Sydney Jones (1882-1956), the daughter of Sir Phillip Sydney Jones. Sir Philip was of the David Jones retail family but was also a consultant Physician at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Vice Chancellor of the University of Sydney [5]. Mark and Constance’s first daughter Sylvia Nora was born in Strathfield in 1907. Together Mark and Constance built one of the leading architectually designed homes in Beecroft, called Lorne [6]. They maintained a large establishment with four live-in servants [7]. He sold his horse in 1908 when he first purchased a motor car [8]. 

Lidwill pursued his medical interests while in Beecroft. In 1906 he gave a talk to the local Literary and Debating society called “War of Life” on microbes in the body [9]. From a clinical perspective, there are newspaper articles about local residents having operations at Dr Lidwill’s in Beecroft which was presumably at Lorne.

In 1909 and 1910 he reported on his clinical experiments while he was in Beecroft, that “adrenalin injected into the heart will occasionally cause it to beat again” [10]. In 1910, again while still in Beecroft, he started “a series of experiments … to make an efficient machine” for medical anaesthesia – an anaesthetic machine or ether vaporiser [11]. This machine was later manufactured by Eliot Bros and then in 1917 with H I Clements [12]. In the same year, 1910, he sold his medical practice in Beecroft to Dr Charles Rygate although he continued to see patients in Beecroft for at least another two years. It is unclear why he sold in Beecroft when he had only just built a new house and had a young family. His father had died in Melbourne in 1909. In 1911 the University of Sydney recognised his existing Doctorate of Medicine as a qualification from Sydney too. He did not however establish himself in Macquarie Street or at a hospital until 1913. The Australasian Medical Directory has his practice in Strathfield from 1911. The 1912 John Sands Directory lists him living at The Boulevarde, Strathfield.

In 1913 he was appointed as the first lecturer in anaesthetics at the University of Sydney and the first Tutor in anaesthetics at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He was appointed as the inaugural Director of Anaesthetics at the Hospital in 1930 and held this position until retiring in 1933 at the age of 60. He established himself as a Macquarie Street specialist in 1913 and continued this practice for a number of years after retiring from his other roles and also served in various capacities during World War 2 [13].

His interest in sport was not neglected as, in 1913, he was the first person in the world to capture a Black Marlin with rod and reel. It weighed 32 Kg. He caught if off Port Stephens and its skeleton was donated to the Australian Museum in College Street Sydney where it continues on display [14].

Also in 1913 he established rooms in Macquarie Street Sydney and purchased (and imported) an electrocardiograph. While such a machine was described as early as 1887, the first learned article was not published until 1912 [15].

From 1887 Professor John McWilliam, Regius Professor at the University of Aberdeen had established that electric shocks induced ventricular fibrillation but there is no evidence that this work was followed up clinically [16]. In 1926 at Crown Street Women’s Hospital Dr Briggs carried out early experiments designed by Lidwill on a primitive pacemaking device that used electric shocks to induce ventricular fibrillation primarily in stillborn babies. Lidwill later recalled:

“I designed some time ago a machine by means of which direct stimulation to the heart’s muscle may be applied. It was unknown, at first, what voltage was required. Dr Briggs who was at the Crown Street Women’s Hospital, carried out experiments for me in stillborn infants. Voltage was used from 1.5 up to 120 and it was found that somewhere about 16 volts was the pressure required. The method was tried in two or three cases and was completely successful in the case of a stillborn infant, when everything else had been done to revive the child, artificial respiration, injections of pituitrin and adrenalin injected into the heart itself. After this had failed, the needle machine was plunged into the auricle and various voltages were tried with no result. The needle was then plunged into the ventricle, and the heart responded to each impulse. At the end of ten minutes the current was stopped and it was found that the heart would beat of its own accord. The child recovered completely and is now living and quite healthy” [17].

Like Professor McWilliam before him, this work was designed to resuscitate the heart rather than to keep it working thereafter.

With the University of Sydney physicist Major Edgar H Booth MC (1893-1963) [18], he then developed a machine whereby instead of adrenalin an artificial impulse was supplied. This was the world’s first cardiac pacemaker. He described the machine as:

“requires only to be plugged into a lighting point and its use does not require much intelligence. One pole is applied to a pad on the skin, say on the left arm, and is saturated with a strong salt solution. The other pole which consists of a needle insulated at its point, is plunged into the ventricle and the machine is started. It may be necessary to alter the polarity of the poles and there is a switch for doing this. When the current is applied to the apparently dead body, the whole thorax and arm contract.” [19]

Despite the machine not requiring “much intelligence,” when Dr Briggs left the Women’s Hospital the work was no longer carried on “as the machine was so complicated that it was very difficult to understand” [20].

The person who is sometimes internationally accredited for inventing the artificial cardiac pacemaker, Dr Albert Hyman, referenced the earlier work of Lidwill (mistakenly calling him Gould) in his own 1932 article [21]. Dr Hyman had patented a machine of his own design in 1930 but his work again, seems to have not led to change in clinical practice. A change in clinical practice does not seem to have happened until the 1950s with the separate work of Paul Zoll and C Walton Lillehen  [22].

Lidwill’s successor at the University described him as having “an air of jollity and friendliness which radiated from his portly person topped by a shiny pate and a childlike smiling countenance which endeared him to patients and students alike” [23]. The description of his physical features is unlike what he was like when he was the sportsman and musician of Beecroft but his personality had clearly not changed since his arrival in 1904.

Following his retirement his two daughters, each of whom had been born and grown up in Beecroft, were married.

Sylvia Nora (1907-1977) married David Surrey Littlemore in 1935 but they subsequently divorced and he remarried in 1942 Agnes Mould Curry. David and Agnes Littlemore (with their three boys) coincidentally lived from the late 1940s into the early 1960s at 5 Kirkham Street Beecroft. David Littlemore was a renowned architect. In the 1977 Electoral Roll, Sylvia Littlemore was living at Avenue Road Mosman [24].

Kathleen Constance Matilda (1909-1977) was married to Geoffrey Walker Powell in 1938 and they worked a number of country stations. One of their sons was a lawyer called Mark Lidwill Powell [25].

Lidwill was a founding Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938 and was awarded an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons Faculty of Anaesthetics in 1954. He was known “when off duty is a lively wit and one of the city’s celebrated raconteurs …raconteur-ism is a lifelong hobby with the doctor” [26].

His wife Constance died in 1956 and he died on 26 April 1968. The Mark Cowley Lidwill Foundation was subsequently established by his family as part of the Victor Chang Institute at St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales. It continues research into cardiac electrophysiology.

[1]      The Argus, 16 November 1859 p. 7.

[2]      Medical Directory of Australasia, 1911 p116.

[3]      Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1936 p.8.

[4]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 2 July 1904, 1 and 14 April 1906, 10 November 1906, 23 February 1907, 16 November 1907, 31 October 1908. See elsewhere on this web site for articles on Miss Long’s School and Golf.

[5]      J Garrett “Jones, Sir Philip Sydney (1836-1918),” Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1972) Vol. 4 p. 490.

[6]      For more information on Lorne see the separate article on this web site under Houses and Lorne, Beecroft Road.

[7]      for example see: Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1908 p12, 26 November 1909 p.12.

[8]      Daily Telegraph, 14 September 1908 p.3.

[9]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 12 May 1906 p. 10.

[10]    M C Lidwill “Cardiac Disease in relation to Anesthesia” Anesthesia and Analgesia (1930) Vol. 9 p. 149

[11]    the machine was for insufflational endotracheal and endopharyngeal ether anaesthesia – an apparatus used in Sydney hospitals for the next here decades. C Ball “The Lidwill Machine” (1990) Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Vol 18 p.4 and JA Young, AJSefton & N Webb (eds) Centenary Book of the University of Sydney, Faculty of Medicine (Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1984) p. 417 each states (without citation) that the machine was first invented in 1913. Wikipedia and the Mark Cowley Foundation website both (again without citation) say that it was invented in 1910. The quote is from M C Lidwill “Some modern methods of general anaesthesia” (1921) Medical Journal of Australia, 11 June, 1921 p. 482 at 483.

[12]    R Holland “Clements, Hubert Ingham (1886-1969)” Australian Dictionary of Biography Supplement 1580-1980 (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2005) p.69.

[13]    Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1936 p.8; C Ball “The Lidwill Machine” (1990) Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Vol 18 p.4.

[14]    Lidwill gave a lecture on big game fishing in 1913, see The Sun, 18 May 1913 p. 16. For his world record see L Mellor “Mark Cowley Lidwill” (accessed 21 September 2021)

[15]    A D Waller “A demonstration on man of electromotive charges accompanying the heart’s beat” (1887) Journal of Physiology Vol 8 p.229; W Einthoven “The different forms of the human electrocardiogram and their signification” (1912) The Lancet pp 853-861. 

[16]    CM Ball & PJ Featherstone “The early history of cardiac pacing” (2019) Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Vol 47(4) pp 320-321.

[17]    M C Lidwill “Cardiac disease and anaesthesia” (1929) Medical Journal of Australia Vol 2 pp 574-575; M C Lidwill “Cardiac Disease in relation to Anesthesia” Anesthesia and Analgesia (1930) Vol. 9 pp145-150.

[18]    B Mitchell “Edgar Harold Booth (1893-1963)” Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1993) Vol 13 pp 218-219. A suggestion about why Lidwill used a physicist in the development of this machine might be answered by the fact that Booth had wide ranging interests including developing other machines, for example one to measure the crimp, elongation, elasticity and tensile strength of woollen fibres: Armidale Express, 6 July 1945 p.8.

[19]    M C Lidwill “Cardiac Disease in relation to Anesthesia” Anesthesia and Analgesia (1930) Vol. 9 p. 150.

[20]    M C Lidwill “Cardiac Disease in relation to Anesthesia” Anesthesia and Analgesia (1930) Vol. 9 p.149.

[21]    A S Hyman “Resuscitation of the stopped heart by intracardial therapy. II Experimental use of an artificial pacemaker,” Archives of Internal Medicine (1932) Vol. 50 p 283.

[22]    CM Ball & PJ Featherstone “The early history of cardiac pacing” (2019) Anaesthesia & Intensive Care Vol 47(4) pp 320-321.

[23]    quoted in L Mellor “Lidwill, Mark C” (2008) Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney and L Mellor “Mark Cowley Lidwill” (accessed 21 September 2021)

[24]    Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 19 June 1907, p.2; Sydney Morning Herald, 28 September 1935 and 16 September 1989.

[25]    Sydney Morning Herald, 9 February 1938, 3 March 1941 p 4, 1 June 1940 p8; Government Gazette 14 August 1964 No 96 p 2561, 6 March 1981 No. 38 p. 1503.

[26]    Daily Telegraph, 6 April 1936 p. 8.