The John Oxley Library has received a fascinating and very comprehensive collection regarding the life and medical career of Dr Errol Solomon Meyers. The collection includes photographs, correspondence and publications by and about Dr Meyers, a talented and ground-breaking surgeon, a gifted educator, and a founder of the medical school at the University of Queensland.
Errol Solomon Meyers was born in 1890 in South Brisbane, the son of Ernest Ralph Meyers, a dentist, who migrated from Liverpool, England, and practiced for a time in Brisbane. His mother was Savine Lenneberg, whose father, a native of Prussia, ran the Shakespeare Hotel in George Street. Errol’s father left the family to live in Western Australia, leaving his wife to raise their two young sons. She became the manageress of the Grand Hotel and later the Pacific Hotel at Southport. Errol attended the Southport State School, and later the Brisbane Grammar School. As he wished to study medicine the family moved to Sydney, as at the time there was no medical school in Queensland. His mother ran a guesthouse and Errol trained at Sydney University, graduating in 1915. He worked as a house physician, resident pathologist and Resident radiographer at Sydney Hospital.
In 1915 Dr Meyers returned to Queensland, working as resident medical officer at the Brisbane General Hospital. In 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps, leaving Australia on the 10th May 1917 on board the HMAT Marathon. He served in France as regimental medical officer with the 41st Battalion, which later amalgamated with the 42nd Battalion. Later he was posted to the 11th Field Ambulance.
During the war he was twice gassed, with phosgene and then mustard gas. This had lasting repercussions on his health. After the war he undertook postgraduate training at the Seamen’s Hospital in Greenwich, England, returning to Brisbane in 1919 where he married and entered private practice. In 1921 he was employed as a visiting surgeon on the staff of the Brisbane General Hospital and took rooms in Ballow Chambers on Wickham Terrace. Dr Meyers specialised in the treatment of patients with cancers of the head and neck, pioneering ground-breaking surgical procedures and saving many patients who otherwise would have died.
Dr Meyers was also a leader in medical and dental education in Queensland and became the first licensed teacher of anatomy in the state. He established the first Anatomy School in Queensland which was situated in William Street, Brisbane, in a former bedding factory.
A teacher of singular ability and a gifted surgeon, Dr Meyers, fought long and hard for the establishment of a School of Medicine in Queensland, a triumph finally achieved on the 13th March 1936 when the Faculty of Medicine was inaugurated at the University of Queensland. E.S. Meyers was appointed lecturer in anatomy and was also tutor in surgery at the Brisbane General Hospital. In 1941 he was elected Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, a position which he held for the next twelve years. In 1946 he also assumed the duties of honorary professor of Social and Tropical Medicine.
In 1946 he suffered a serious heart attack and his health, already weakened by his war service, began to deteriorate. Despite this he carried on with the support of his family, resigning from his university appointments in 1955. Errol Solomon Meyers died on the 11th February 1956. The collection includes obituaries, tributes and condolence letters which were saved by the family at this time. One letter is from a former patient and reveals the true character of the man and the essence of his purpose in life:
“I remember many years ago, after he had successfully treated me for a disorder of the kidneys and bladder that a woman called at our home accompanied by her small daughter who was suffering from a similar disorder and she enquired from me about my Dr. and asked what his fees were. I told her what I had paid your father which was far from being even a fair reward for his efforts and attention. She explained her financial position and said it would be impossible for her to think of taking her child to him as she did not have such money. I promised her that I would speak to Dr. and learn if there was any way he could meet her financial standing. I never was so rightly and justly told off in my life as I was by your father. He said ‘You wouldn’t tell her to bring that poor suffering child to me because you in your heart think that money means more to me than serving humanity that I took my oath to do. Did I ever ask you if you had money to pay me? Remember that everyone is a human being’. He saw that child in Ballow House, had her admitted to the General Hospital and he attended her in an honary capacity and she like myself through his skill was relieved of suffering. Your father operated on me in August 1944 in the Lister Hospital, Matron being in charge of the place. She told me that she had never witnessed such an operation as she had never seen such care taken of a body. I had not had one tiny pain from the effects of the operation and as she explained I was so gently handled and cared for that I was saved suffering. Your father told me I was the perfect patient — no, he was the perfect surgeon. I trust that you boys will follow in his footsteps– that is what he would want.”
E.S. Meyers’ three sons all became doctors and in 2000 his son, Derek Meyers, published a tribute to his father, Errol Solomon Meyers 1890-1956: a biographical sketch. This is held in our collection.
In July 1957, a year after his death, the University of Queensland Medical School established the E.S. Meyers Memorial Lecture to honour his contribution to medicine and his role as one of the most significant founders of the Medical School. The lecture still takes place to this day. In so many ways the life of Dr Meyers has had a profound and lasting impact on the medical life of the state. A University of Queensland obituary sums up his life:
“His work was direct, practical, yet never losing the long view. the ideal. He might have been more famous, and certainly have been more wealthy, if he had lived more selfishly. He chose to devote himself to a cause, and found his reward in seeing it prosper.”
The Errol Solomon Meyers Collection, Accession No. 29670, is available at the John Oxley Library.
Lynn Meyers – Original Materials Librarian, State Library of Queensland