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Leslie Cowlishaw (1877–1943): the “bibliophile from the bush”

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From Sydney to London via Gallipoli, and back: the productive career of a pioneer Australian medical historian

The birth of Leslie Cowlishaw on 4 January 1877 was a felicitous event for the history of medicine in Australia. Cowlishaw’s parents Mahlon Clark Cowlishaw and Jane (née Gratton) lived in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, where his father was a shipping merchant and honorary consul for the Netherlands. Leslie was the eldest of three children and attended Sydney Grammar School (1888–1896): he was an average student but highly regarded, and a noted cricketer, captaining the first XI to the 1895 premiership. His father’s work allowed the family to travel abroad, and Cowlishaw visited England as a child, and he also toured North America and Europe after finishing his secondary schooling.

Cowlishaw commenced his medical studies in 1898 at the University of Sydney, residing at St Paul’s College. His sporting and social interests may have distracted him from his studies somewhat, as he was required to sit several deferred examinations. He nevertheless became secretary of the Sydney University Medical Society (1904) and enlivened it with an annual dinner attended by graduate and undergraduate medical students.1 During his clinical years he studied from Osler’s Principles and Practice of Medicine, and he graduated with his MB ChM in 1906.