X-Ray Pioneers

Federation University Historical Collection

The School of Mines Ballarat kept abreast of affairs worldwide. Frederick Martell and John Sutherland who pioneered x-rays in Ballarat were associated with the School of Mines Ballarat from 1873 to 1911.

In 1896 they became aware of the experiments carried out in Germany by physicist Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen involving electro-magnetic radiation and the Roentgen Tube. The experiments of Roentgen involved the impact of a stream of fast electrons on a target in the vacuum of a glass bulb and were the forerunner of today’s x-rays. The discovery was officially announced on 25 December 1895.

The staff members of the Ballarat School of Mines (SMB), were soon experimenting with the exciting new discovery. Frederick J. Martell, the Registrar of SMB arranged for the importation of tubes, while John M. Sutherland, an electrician, conducted most of the experiments. The first radiographs in Ballarat were taken at the School of Mines in July 1896 according to the SMB Annual Report.

Samuel Ernest Figgis, H. R. W. Murphy, D. McDougall, and Frederick J. Martell carried out experiments at the SMB on Saturday evening 18 July 1896, producing ‘perfect’ negatives of a hand and wrist. A Roentgen Tube and an induction coil giving a two inch spark, the coil being sparked by the SMB’s dynamo, were used to obtain these results. The Courier reported that ‘the exposure of five minutes was ample’ but concluded that ‘the length of the exposure will be shortened as experiments proceed.’

The Ballarat Courier reported on 20 July 1896 that: “Thanks to the energy of the staff of The School of Mines, Ballarat, and particularly to Messers F.J. Martell, an ardent amateur photographer, and D. McDougall, an experienced electrician, the assistance of Roentgen X-rays will soon be available, for the relief of suffering humanity, at this institution.”

On Wednesday evening 22 July 1896 a number of ladies and gentlemen witnessed a series of experiments with the Roentgen x rays, as applied to photography. The experiments were of a very practical character, and included several interesting cases of fractured bones, which had proved exceedingly difficult to treat. The School’s Director, Mr J. J. Martell was inundated with communications and requests from persons who wanted to have certain parts photographed in order to locate the exact nature of fractures of bones, etc. At the time it was thought ‘that before long the authorities at the School will be fully prepared to join their skill with that of the surgeon in the relief of suffering humanity’.

The following people were among those who witnessed the first X-ray experiments to be carried out in Ballarat. Mr Andrew Anderson, President of the School of Mines A large number of ladies and gentlemen The medical profession Dr Edward Champion (1867-1929) Dr Gerald Eugene Cussen (1888-1943) Dr William Edward Davies (1868-1928) Dr Charles William Henry Hardy (1861-1941) Dr Edward Kenneth Herring(1864-1922) Dr Joseph Lalor (1859-1907) Dr James Thomas Mitchell (1856-1945) Dr Edward Graham Ochiltree (1857-1896) Dr Robert Denham Pinnock (1849-1902) Dr Joseph Francis Usher (c1832-1909) Dr Grace Vale (nk-1933) The staff of SMB Professor A. Mica Smith Professor D. J. Dawbarn Mr. F. J. Martell.

SMB was not the only place in Ballarat experimenting with x-rays. Mr T. R. Treloar, a Ballarat chemist also installed equipment in March 1897 and undertook x-ray work for district doctors. X-rays have progressed greatly with the advent of computerized systems around the second millennium and have given so many processes and people untold help.

Photographs. Federation University Historical Collection

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