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Story: Martin, Arthur Anderson

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Martin, Arthur Anderson



This biography, written by Brian Mather, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

Arthur Anderson Martin was born in Milton, Otago, New Zealand, on 26 March 1876, the son of Thomas Martin, a labourer, and his wife, Jessie Anderson. Educated at Lumsden School and Lawrence District High School, in 1893 he was highly placed in civil service examinations. In 1894 he began a medical degree at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He was described by his contemporaries as brilliant, and supported himself largely on scholarships and prizes. Graduating MB, ChB in 1900, he left for South Africa as a civil surgeon in the South African Field Force. His surgical cases from field hospitals in Transvaal and Natal were presented in British Medical Journal articles and in his successful MD thesis of 1903. He gained his FRCSE the same year.

In 1903 he returned to New Zealand and began general practice in Palmerston North, being appointed surgeon at the hospital in 1904. On 8 December 1906 in Sydney, Australia, he married English-born Constance Margaret Harley. There were no children of the marriage. During the next eight years he was based in Palmerston North, but his wide medical interests and surgical dexterity won him a reputation usually only accorded to specialists in large city hospitals. Locally, he did much to foster scientific interest, with lectures, writing, and the development of an astronomical observatory. He was active in the Anglican church, Masonic lodges, and many musical, athletic and sporting clubs. Among his special medical interests were the treatment and surgery of cancer. By 1911 he had gained considerable financial support for his scheme for the development in Palmerston North of the only radium institute in the North Island, despite fears among his colleagues of the dangers of radium in eye surgery and other delicate operations. In 1914 he visited major clinics in the United States and Britain, seeking clinical information and financial support, and was New Zealand delegate to the annual general meeting of the British Medical Association in Aberdeen.

When war broke out that year he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving in France and Belgium. His advocacy and practice of immediate specialist surgery – even under fire – for wounds to abdomen, chest, and upper femur, won acclaim in the British Medical Journal. He frequently placed himself at risk while tending the injured and was mentioned in dispatches by General John French in 1915 and General Douglas Haig in 1916. His book, A surgeon in khaki, was considered by critics to be a well-judged account of front-line medical conditions.

After eight months' duty in the field he returned to New Zealand for rehabilitative rest. However, he was immediately appointed to a commission investigating accommodation and hospitalisation at Trentham camp after severe outbreaks of measles, pneumonia and cerebrospinal meningitis. It was thought by leading politicians that his reputation would give medical weight to the findings of the commission. Even during his brief return to civilian practice in Palmerston North he was active in training the Rifle Brigade Field Ambulance at Awapuni. He returned with them to France, and was soon back in front-line service on the Somme.

He was wounded at Flers on 17 September 1916, and died in Amiens base hospital the same night. The loss of two of New Zealand's most promising surgeons, Gilbert Bogle and Martin, on the same day led to the issue of orders for much more caution by doctors under fire than Martin had advocated. The death of a gifted surgeon was mourned in newspapers throughout New Zealand. On 1 January he was posthumously appointed a DSO. In July 1920, at Palmerston North Public Hospital, a memorial wing to Martin was opened with facilities for X-ray and bacteriological research. Much of the finance came from subscriptions from the people of New Zealand. There is a memorial tablet from the Palmerston North division of the British Medical Association in the hospital and tablets and a flag to the memory of Martin in All Saints' Church, Palmerston North.

How to cite this page:

Brian Mather. 'Martin, Arthur Anderson', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3m45/martin-arthur-anderson (accessed 18 June 2024)