Father of veterinary medicine in Australia

Dr. William Tyson Kendall founded institutions, promoted veterinary medicine
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A 29-year-old veterinarian emigrated from England to Australia in 1880, and he helped found the Australasian Veterinary Medical Association that year, according to Australian Veterinary History Record archives.

Dr. William Tyson Kendall
This painting of Dr. William Tyson Kendall hangs in the dean's office at the Werribee campus of the University of Melbourne Faculty of Veterinary Science.

He became a co-editor of the Australasian Veterinary Journal in 1882; published the book "Diseases of Australian Horses" in 1884; drafted the act that, when passed in 1887, granted legal recognition to the profession in Victoria; and opened the country's first veterinary college to students in 1888. In 1891, he was elected as an honorary associate of London's Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Dr. William Tyson Kendall, 1851-1936, is considered to be the father of the veterinary profession in Australia, University of Melbourne information states. Yet because of his efforts to eliminate tuberculosis in cattle, his life's work may have had a more important impact on public health than on animal care, according to Dr. Ivan W. Caple, professor emeritus of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the university.

When Dr. Kendall arrived in Melbourne, cattle slaughtered for human consumption were frequently infected with the organisms that cause bovine tuberculosis and were the cause of infection in humans. Young children with tuberculosis-affected hips and spines filled many of the surgical beds at Melbourne's children's hospital, Dr. Caple said.

The November 2004 edition of the Australian Veterinary History Record indicates Dr. Kendall had estimated about 25 percent of slaughtered cattle were affected by tuberculosis, and no inspection services were keeping diseased meat or dairy products from markets. He lobbied the government to create a royal commission on tuberculosis because of the number of infected cattle slaughtered at city abattoirs and the related risk to human health, Dr. Caple said. Dr. Kendall saw the close alignment between veterinary and human medicine. 

Establishing himself and the profession

Yet many animal owners didn't initially see the value of paying for medical care for their animals, as shown by Dr. Kendall's practice of buying horses to treat and sell, Dr. Caple said. 

"The strategy Dr. Kendall used to overcome the ignorance of owners was to purchase sick and lame horses, bring them back to health and fitness with medical and surgical care, then sell them at a profit," Dr. Caple said. The horses were often sold back to their original owners.

While Dr. Kendall gained a reputation for performing high-quality work, "He was despised by some of the other veterinarians in Melbourne who clearly did not have his knowledge and skills," Dr. Caple said. Despite that animosity, Dr. Kendall worked to increase standards within the profession and separate qualified veterinarians from laymen who had been practicing animal care.

Using the 1881 British Veterinary Surgeons Act as a model, Dr. Kendall also lobbied for legal recognition of the veterinary profession through the Veterinary Surgeons Act of Victoria, which was passed in 1887.

The legislation required four years of education for veterinarians, and it would make Australia's first veterinary school the first in an English-speaking country to provide four years of instruction for veterinarians, according to an article from the December 1992 edition of the Australian Veterinary Journal. It allowed registration of unqualified people who had worked as veterinary surgeons for at least five years before the legislation went into effect in January 1888.

Increasing the profession's population

Prior to the passage of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, leaders in the veterinary profession had lobbied governmental officials to provide resources for a veterinary school. However, a grant for one site was canceled following objections from nearby residents, and a favorably received petition to build at another site was shot down because the site was allocated for market purposes, according to the 2004 history record article.

Following those attempts, Dr. Kendall bought a site for a privately run veterinary college and modified the property to provide college and hospital facilities by mid-1886. He received the property's full title by May 1888, the 1992 article states.

His institution, the Melbourne Veterinary College, was supposed to show the usefulness of such a college and prompt a governmental takeover of the facility, the article states. Instead it produced 61 graduates from 1891-1909, after which 22 students from the college transferred to the newly established veterinary school at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Caple said, citing a 1912 report to the university. Dr. Kendall's privately run college operated at a loss for each of the 20 years between its founding and the formation of Australia's first university-based veterinary school.

"I had to stand all the expenses and take the full responsibility without any monetary or other help, except that my staff accepted moderate salaries," Dr. Kendall wrote, according to an article in the December 1987 edition of the Australian Veterinary Journal.

Following the closure of his college, Dr. Kendall taught at the University of Melbourne until 1918.

Dr. Caple said that Dr. Kendall "must have been a very single-minded person, willing to forgo personal comforts and fortune, to achieve his goals for his students and the profession."

"The level of recognition of a country's veterinary profession can probably be assessed by the improvements in health and welfare of the animals in the country made over time," Dr. Caple said. "Dr. Kendall was the pioneer, and—through his clinical work, teaching, research and writing, and communication skills to assist the development of a professional association—he provided broad shoulders for others to stand on."

Dr. Kendall had five sons and a daughter, and four of his sons became veterinarians. His portrait hangs in the dean's office at the Werribee campus of the University of Melbourne's veterinary school.

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