Arthur Wynyard Beasley CNZM OBE FRCS(Ed) FRACS
Orthopaedic Surgeon
25 January 1926 - 23 July 2019

Wyn Beasley, with incredible power of observation and memory, and placing great value on intellectual curiosity, acquired an encyclopaedic knowledge of a broad range of subjects. Traversing both arts and sciences he could readily be described as a polymath. Even though he was a very capable musician and artist, he chose to follow a career in orthopaedic surgery, committing strongly to College activities resulting in his election to Vice-President and the Court of Honour. Once he retired from surgery, he devoted the remainder of his life to researching, describing and writing widely acclaimed articles and a series of scholarly historical books.

Arthur Wynyard Beasley (known as Wyn throughout his life) was born in Auckland, the only child of Arthur Beasley, a school headmaster, and Gladys Hannken. Arthur was a calm, kind, patient and generous man while Gladys, of Teutonic descent, was strict and protective to the extent young Wyn had to come home from school for lunch with her each day, rather than play with his friends. Wyn was brought up in a family with a strong musical background. He attended Mt Albert secondary school, where despite taking Greek and Latin among his subjects, he gained the second highest mark in the national University Scholarship examinations.

In following a career in medicine, Wyn was clearly influenced by his cousin, Donald Beasley, 6 years his senior, who had followed that path. Completing his intermediate year at Auckland University Wyn entered Otago Medical School in 1945. Residing at Knox College and enjoying new-found freedom and novel experiences, Wyn’s medical education was compromised to such an extent he nearly failed to complete his medical degree. At one point, he won a music scholarship, but senior medical school staff warned him that if he accepted it, he would no longer be able to continue in medicine. Not having played sport previously, he overcame this disadvantage by taking up long distance walking and gained a University Blue. Whilst on the train heading northwards to represent Otago University at an Easter Tournament he met Alice Clarke, a Phys Ed student and netball representative. A friendship quickly blossomed and Alice helped Wyn refocus on his priorities, at least to the point where he finished his degree, following which they married.

At the end of 5th year Wyn found himself working in the Dunedin Orthopaedic Department as acting house surgeon with Walden Fitzgerald. This proved a life-shaping experience and in 1951, after spending his 6th year in Auckland, Wyn began work as a house surgeon on the Allan (Sandy) MacDonald and Selwyn Morris orthopaedic run at Middlemore Hospital. Sandy, having a medico-legal interest, emphasised the importance of simple language and clear communication at all times. Writing should be simple and accurate, with the careful selection of words to convey the correct meaning and the avoidance of jargon. Profoundly influenced by this working environment Wyn requested an extra three months on the run, so at the end of his house surgeon year, with three months in A & E, he had spent most of his time doing orthopaedics and trauma. Although he enjoyed the next year as an assistant in general practice, it confirmed for him “that orthopaedic surgery was of greater interest”.

With a Medical Bursary to honour, Wyn elected to spend the next year as a medical officer in the Army. As well as furthering an existing interest in the Army, being based at Linton Military Camp provided an opportunity to attend medical staff meetings at Palmerston North Hospital. It was there he met Dick Dawson, an outstanding personality and an innovative thinker, who was the sole orthopaedic surgeon at Palmerston North. Expressing the need for a registrar to meet the demands of a heavy workload he arranged for Wyn to commence his first surgical registrar position the following year.

In 1955, in common with most aspiring colonial surgeons at that time, Wyn and Alice with their first child, Spencer, travelled to England so Wyn could further his surgical training. Spending the first three months at the Royal College of Surgeons taking a full-time preparatory course, Wyn successfully completed the primary examination. He then obtained a position at Heatherwood Hospital with Roy Maudsley. This was followed by a position at St Margaret’s Hospital, Epping, where he worked with Geoffrey Fisk, a pioneer in hand surgery. Wyn was awarded his FRCS(Ed) during 1956.

Towards the end of 1956, with money running short, Wyn accepted a position as senior registrar in Wellington Hospital and the family of five, following the birth of John in 1955 and Richard in 1956, returned to New Zealand. The family was completed with the birth of Graeme in 1964. Within a short time of his return Wyn had completed his FRACS examination and was soon after offered a consultant post. Although working as a general orthopaedic consultant to Wellington Hospital, Wyn’s practice had a paediatric bent and included private practice. In addition, Kennedy Elliott, who was on the staff in Wellington at that time, encouraged him to take an interest in artificial limbs. Wyn was Chairman of the Division of Surgery 1978-82 and head of the Wellington orthopaedic service 1980-89, retiring from clinical practice at the comparatively early age of 63 years.

Wyn’s career was also influenced by Sir Alexander Gillies, who had a longstanding commitment to the Red Cross and the Crippled Children’s Society. In 1967 Wyn was encouraged to travel to Western Samoa to “assess cripples – i.e. those on crutches or walking funny”. While many of these people had disabilities reflecting Yaws and selective palsy at the site of intramuscular injection, there was also polio, neglected club foot and cerebral palsy. During 1968-69 Wyn made return visits as a member of surgical teams. In the 1970s, as Chair of the New Zealand Red Cross Society, he travelled to Ethiopia and Viet Nam to visit relief teams.

From an early stage, Wyn took an active interest in the activities of the RACS. He became Secretary to the New Zealand Committee in 1966 and an elected member in 1972, serving as Deputy Chair in 1975. He was a member of the Court of Examiners 1972-82 and was elected to Council in 1975 serving until 1986 including a term as Vice President 1983-85. In recognition of his significant contributions to the College, Wyn was made a member of the Court of Honour in 1986. He took an active role within the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association serving on the Executive and Manpower Committee and as the NZOA Nominee to the NZ Artificial Limb Board for thirty years.

Wyn had leadership roles in the Wellington Division of the New Zealand Medical Association and the International Society for prosthetics and Orthotics and was President of the Traffic Accident Research Foundation and Council. Perhaps less well-known, but unsurprising given Wyn’s focus on knowledge, was his very significant contribution to secondary school education in Wellington serving on the Wellington College Board of Governors 1981-89 and the Wellington Secondary Schools Council 1986-89, He served ten years as a board member of the Everton Hall Trust Board 1974-84 – developing and administering a Presbyterian-Methodist hall of residence for Victoria University.

Wyn had a long commitment to the NZ military service beginning with his appointment as Regimental Medical Officer to 1Bn The Auckland Regiment [CRO] in 1951 when a house surgeon. This was further stimulated during his year as a medical officer at Linton Camp in 1953. Reflecting his training during the relatively short period following the second world war, Wyn retained strong links with the military after his return to New Zealand, rising to the rank Colonel and was awarded the OBE in 1971 for his contributions. Wyn finally retired from the military in 1990 having served as Colonel Commandant of the Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps for the four preceding years.

On ceasing clinical practice Wyn turned increasingly to his love of language, historical research and writing. During the next three decades he became widely recognised for his scholarly lectures and publications. He wrote and published 13 books and contributed to numerous others. As a long-time member of the Wellington Club and its President for three years he wrote The Club on The Terrace: The Wellington Club 1841-1996 (1996) and its more recent history in Great Advantages: the continuing story of the Club on The Terrace (2017). His commitment to the College was reflected in his writing Portraits at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (1993) and The Mantle of Surgery: the first 75 years of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. (2002). Three other widely acclaimed publications concerned the lives of historically important people - Fellowship of Three: the lives and association of John Hunter, James Cook & Joseph Banks (1993), Churchill: the supreme survivor. A medical history of Sir Winston Churchill (2013), and Zeal & Honour: The life and times of Bernard Freyberg (2015). His final book, on the contribution made by Cook’s surgeons, is awaiting publication. With a great grasp of language and an ability to speak clearly and simply, Wyn was frequently invited to provide named lectures which included the Hamilton Russell Memorial Lecture (twice), the Herbert Moran Memorial Lecture (twice), the Sir Edward [Weary] Dunlop Memorial Lecture, and the RCSEng Hunterian Lecture. His artistic flair and knowledge of heraldry has been permanently captured in his design of the RACS flag.

Unsurprisingly, reflecting a life committed to service in multiple fields of endeavour, Wyn has been the recipient of numerous honours. These have included the OBE(Mil) 1971, ED 1974, FACS 1979, FRCEng 2001, CNZM 2005 and membership of the RACS Court of Honour.

Wyn’s life reflected a strong moral compass and altruistic instincts founded upon his Christian faith. He was astute, articulate, witty and well informed and had an extraordinary ability to see connections and associations that eluded most. Wyn had a gifted way with words, and mastery of both spoken and written English. He had a presence about him and was disciplined and controlled, considering his thoughts carefully in developing an opinion. He was a generous and charming host, and highly respected by his friends for his wisdom and grace. Everything he took on he did well, usually to perfection.

Wyn was a caring and kind husband, a wonderful and loving father, and a great man, friend to so many. He is greatly missed by Alice, his children -Spencer, John (deceased), Richard and Graeme, and by 14 grand-children and seven great grand-children.

Wyn Beasley was someone who made the most of his life and left the world a better place for it.


This obituary was prepared with the assistance of Spencer Beasley FRACS and other members of the Beasley family.