This lecture, sponsored by his friends following his death, is designed to perpetuate the memory of Major-General Rupert Major Downes CMG VD KGStJ MS FRACS, Director-General of Medical Services (1934-1941), Inspector-General of Medical Services (1941-1942), Director of Medical Services - 2nd Australian Army (1942-1945; killed on active service) and a foundation Fellow of this College.

Rupert Downes

He was born in 1885, the son of Major-General Major Francis Downes CMG, Commandant of Military Forces in the Colony of Victoria. At an early age he showed an interest in soldiering and while still a boy became a trumpeter in the Victorian Volunteer Artillery. He was educated at Haileybury College and the University of Melbourne, graduating MB ChB in 1907. He gained his MS in 1911, receiving his degree on the same day as (Sir) Alan Newton, who had been a year or so behind him at Haileybury. His friendship with Newton was lifelong, and they worked together on many matters, especially during the World War II.

Immediately after graduation, Downes was commissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps. On the outbreak of World War I he volunteered in the first Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and saw action at Gallipoli and in Palestine, where, as commander of the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, he took part in the victorious march to Damascus. He attained the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and was appointed CMG.

After the war he was appointed an honorary paediatric surgeon to the (Royal) Children's Hospital in Melbourne. He served for many years on the Victorian Branch Council of the BMA and was elected its President in 1935. He was Honorary Surgeon to the Governor-General (Lord Stonehaven) from 1927 to 1931. One of his greatest preoccupations during the interwar period, when defence expenditure was at an all-time low, was the maintenance of medical preparedness for war. He engaged his officers in army medical organisation and administration, in issues of equipment and supply, technical advances and field exercises.

His many other professional interests included physiotherapy training, first aid and the civil ambulance service. He lectured in medical ethics and demonstrated in anatomy at the University of Melbourne.

Major-General Downes was killed when his aircraft crashed on 5 March 1945. He was buried in Cairns Cemetery.


  • The sum of £640 shall be invested by the Council of the College and shall form the endowment for a triennial lecture to be entitled The Rupert Downes Memorial Lecture.
  • Any sum, after payment of expenses, not so applied, shall be added to the capital and form part thereof.
  • The lecturer shall be appointed every third year.
  • The Council shall determine the place and time of the triennial lecture, which shall be open to all members of the medical profession, and such other guests as the Council may invite.
  • The subject of the lecture shall be related to some aspect or aspects of military surgery, medical equipment (military and civil), the surgery of children, neurosurgery, general surgery, medical ethics or medical history; these being subjects in which Major-General Downes was particularly interested.
  • The award shall take the form of a bronze medal.

Rupert Downes Memorial Lecturers

2021 - Mr Andrew Connolly - Striving for excellence- Enhancing recovery in the Great War 
2017 - Professor Michael Besser - The anatomical enlightenment

2014 - Air Vice Marshall Associate Professor Hugh Bartholomeusz - Tissue reconstruction in war and peace
2011 - Professor John Pearn - Pro patria et spe gentis
2008 - Professor Arthur KC Li - Ethics and standards
2005 - Robert Pearce - Trust me, Claudius
2002 - Colonel D. Beard - The Music of Warfare
2000 - A.Wyn Beasley - Of Scurvy and Shipwreck - The Dutch Discovery of Australasia
1998 - D. Trunkey - I am Giddy, Expectation Whirls me Round
1996 - Professor Averil Mansfield - Arterio-venous Malformations and their Treatment
1994 - General Sir Phillip Bennett - Medical Aspects of Australia's Defence
1990 - Patricia K. Donahoe - The Development of Tumour Inhibitors
1988 - B.A. Smithurst - Distinguished Australian Military Surgeons
1983 - G.B. Ong - The Trifacetted Nature of Surgery in Hong Kong
1980 - D.G. Hamilton - One Hundred Years of Paediatric Surgery in Sydney
1978 - C.M. Gurner - Military Medical Preparedness
1976 - P.P. Rickham - Nephroblastoma - A New Look at an Old Problem
1972 - H.E. Beardmore - Paediatric Surgery - Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
1970 - J.H. Louw - The Scientific Method in Surgery
1965 - D. Waterson - Oesophageal Replacement in Paediatric Surgery
1961 - Sir Albert Coates - The Doctor in the Services
1957 - F.K. Norris - Be Strong and of Good Courage
1954 - A.S. Walker - The Following Wind of History
1950 - S.R. Burston - Some Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare