LINDSAY, Dr Robert Charles William Alexander

1843 - 1915

Lindsay Dr Robert Charles William Alexander - Creswick Historical SocietyRobert Lindsay was the youngest of five sons of Alexander and Jane Lindsay (nee Little).  The prosperous Lindsay family, originated in Ayrshire, Scotland but relocated to County Tyrone, Ireland in the 17th century, where they established a successful business as linen merchants and small manufacturers and set up their family seat, Lisnacrieve, in Fintona, Londonderry.

Born in 1843, Robert studied first at Queen’s University, Belfast and Dublin University, but completed his medical studies and received his Doctorate at the University of Glasgow.  He emigrated to Australia, sailing on 7th March, 1864 as medical officer aboard the Red Rose, reaching Melbourne on June 16, 1864.  He came to Creswick as Medical Officer for the Manchester Unity Oddfellows and set up his practice, in late1864, firstly in a small five-roomed cottage in Albert Street and then in a small shingled house on the corner of Raglan and Cambridge Streets.

Dr Lindsay must have found Creswick an interesting location, even though not as pretty as it is today.  The quality of early housing was fairly basic, some dwellings were mere huts, and there were still some miners living in tents, an illness-inducing situation in any Creswick winter.  The landscape was deforested and muddy, and the roads were unsealed tracks.

As subsequently described by his son Lionel, he was “short, with a stocky build and dark bushy whiskers, a great talker with a roguish wit and a man who should have been born with a comfortable private income, who accepted life as it came and felt the small worries of the day had no meaning for him”.

His practice prospered and his willingness to travel to outlying areas was appreciated by the townsfolk.  Accidents at the various shafts and mines were common and the delivering of babies a constant task. Robert was made an Honorary Medical Officer at the Creswick Hospital where, according to the Creswick Advertiser of 6-2-95, he revived a deceased patient by following a medical journal’s instructions to “swing her” thus returning blood to her brain.  He also became the Public Health Officer for the Borough of Creswick, was made Medical Officer for the Fire Brigade in May 1873, and was the Examiner for the St John’s Ambulance Association in 1886. 

As Public Health Officer Dr Lindsay was well aware of the dangers of diseases emanating from stagnant water and worked hard to have this hazard removed.  To paraphrase his report to the Borough “…we have been singularly free of water-borne contagious diseases which I believe is due to Creswick’s porosity of soil, good drainage, spaciousness of streets and inexhaustible and healthy water supply.”

On 18th May, 1869 Robert married Jane Elizabeth Williams, a daughter of the Reverend Thomas Williams, a Wesleyan Missionary recently returned from the Fiji Islands.  The happy couple spent the early years of their marriage in the dwelling at the corner of Raglan and Cambridge Streets, but eventually built a larger, sixteen-room home on the corner of Cambridge and Victoria Streets, Creswick.  This house, called Lisnacrieve after his Irish home, was continuously occupied by members of the family until the late1960s.

The Lindsay’s had ten children; Percival, Robert, Lionel, Mary, Norman, Pearl, Ruby, Reginald, Daryl and Jane (Isobel), in that order.  Five of the children, Percy, Lionel, Norman, Ruby and Daryl, went on to become leaders in the Australian artistic community, becoming noted artists, novelists and administrators. Some were educated in Creswick at the Creswick Grammar School and used their talent to attain some of the highest artistic ranks in Australia; a tribute to the quality of that institution’s educators.  The careers achieved by some of the children were astonishing.

Their first son, Percy became an illustrator for various major magazines and newspapers in Melbourne, but returned to Creswick and switched to painting, with many of his works in the Creswick Museum and over twenty in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery collection.

Lionel started as an illustrator as well, before travelling to Spain to paint. Returning to Australia, he created many well-known pictures and became an expert, self-taught, etcher and engraver.  He later became a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was knighted for his services to Australian Art in 1941.

A third son, Norman, began like his brothers, with illustrations for Melbourne magazines and papers and throughout his career was a cartoonist and illustrator with The Bulletin.  He also painted in water colours and oils, wrote several novels based on his early life in Creswick, his experiences as an artist, and children’s books, notably The Magic Pudding.

Reg was also an artist.  He enlisted in the army and was stationed on the Western Front where he was killed in action.

Robert’s daughter Ruby was another talented Lindsay; an excellent illustrator and painter, who moved to London with her husband Will Dyson before the First World War. She established herself as a talented artist in Britain, but tragically died in 1919 during the Spanish Flu epidemic.

Daryl Lindsay was also an artist (after several years as a jackaroo and manager of rural properties) and went on to become the Director of the National Gallery of Victoria.  He opened the Creswick Museum in 1970 and several of his works are on display in that worthy institution.  His wife, Joan was the author of Picnic at Hanging Rock.  Daryl was knighted for his services to art in 1956.

The family had an unconventional, even bohemian reputation in Creswick but the Doctor and Jane Lindsay were respected members of the community, who raised their children as well educated, valuable members of Society.  Dr Robert was a Freemason of long standing and was the Master of the Havilah Lodge in 1890 and 1893

Doctor Lindsay, the mainstay and breadwinner of the family, was a skilled practitioner and was noted for the sensitive treatment of patients who came under his care. He could be seen at all hours travelling to attend patients in his buggy, sometimes accompanied by one of his children (to look after the horse while he was busy).

The mining industry in and around Creswick was a major contributor to his medical work, being a constant source of injuries due to mishaps and accidents. He was actively involved in one of the most infamous events of the time in Creswick – The New Australasian Mine disaster of 1882, in which twenty-seven miners were trapped underground when the mine was flooded.  Dr Lindsay was one of the first on the scene to offer his services and risked his own life going down into the mine with the rescuers.  To no avail; twenty-two of the miners perished in the waters and the five that were saved were damaged for the rest of their lives.

Dr Lindsay also attended accidents and took part in rescues at the Madam Berry Mine, the Ristori Mine at Allandale, the Cosmopolitan Mine, the Midas consoles/ Dowling Forest mine where a man had his foot torn off, and many others within the district. Mines were very dangerous workplaces.

He had a number of diversions in which he took pleasure.  He loved horses and often rode or drove in local races, some said riotously.  He loved a wager, on horses or the stock market, and at one time was Chairman of the Nelson Company – a mining venture which proved unprofitable to all concerned.  He also was known to disappear for a time (his sons reported he would sign on as a ship’s doctor and sail off), only to return to Creswick and carry on as usual. He was known to enjoy a drink, and was a great raconteur when relaxing after work.

His was a life lived to the full, in the duty of care to his widespread patients and in the nurturing of his family.  In 1997 the Victorian Government opened a community health facility in Hill Street, Creswick, The Lindsay Support Centre, named in his honour.

Robert Lindsay passed away at his home in Creswick in September, 1915 aged 72.  He had recently returned, gravely ill, from a trip to New South Wales.  His death was greatly lamented by his family and many in Creswick and throughout the district who had benefitted from his kindness and medical skill.  His wife Jane died in 1932 and both are buried in Creswick cemetery.

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