Dr Patricia Paddy Kirton – Born to Wealth and Privilege – Taking the Hard Way – Serving her Community

I grew up near Kirton Road Austinmer and the Kirton’s were widely known to be associated with the old Excelsior Mine that was across on the side of the railway line to Redman Avenue Thirroul, where I lived.


However I knew little of the Kirton’s in the later 20th Century decades and my interest was raised when Dr Joe Davis posted a photograph of the June 1940 wedding, of Dr Patricia Kirton to Donald Neil Rankin, to The Thirroul History in Photos Page, on Facebook. Although, I knew that there was a connection, by marriage, between my family and the Kirton’s. One of Mum’s Callcott aunts, Clarice Callcott, had married Victor Farraher, a son of Elizabeth Farraher (nee Kirton), the sister of J S Kirton – to further confuse things, both of J S Kirton’s wives were sisters of  my great uncle Victor’s father, Murty James Farraher.


Confusingly interconnected – but basically Victor Farraher, my great uncle by marriage, and Paddy Kirton’s father, Bernard Kirton, were first cousins. And  of course, Mum’s Farraher cousins were also second cousins of Paddy Kirton, and her sister Sheilah.


So even though we weren’t blood relations, Paddy Kirton and I were part of an extended Farraher – Cawley – Kirton – Callcott – Hicks – McKenzie family network. There weren’t too many girls from Thirroul who had become doctors by 1940 – I really wanted to know her story, and not just the stories of the men in her family.


As I read, I learned of how Mary Patricia Anne Kirton, known throughout her life as Paddy Kirton, had been born to privilege and wealth. After all she was the daughter of Thirroul’s Bernard Kirton, and wife, Mary Dolly Keelan, who had sailed from Greville St in County Mullingar, Ireland with her brother for the wedding. Bernard and Mary had married in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1914. Bernard was the son of Excelsior Mine Owner and Bulli Shire President, John Stephen Kirton and his first wife Bridget Farraher. Sadly Bernard’s first wife, Mary died in 1921, aged 35 years, after five years of lingering illness. She left the two young children, Patricia (Paddy) and Sheilah. In 1927, Bernard would re-marry, to Alicia Borthwick, at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. They lived in Ballinderry, Thirroul.


However the Farraher – Kirton family had known some tough and controversial times too. Paddy’s grandmother, Bridget was a daughter of Patrick Francis Farraher and wife Anne Cawley. Patrick was the eldest son of Murty Farraher, and wife Bridget O’Malley. The Farraher’s and Cawley’s are very old Irish Catholic families in the Illawarra. Paddy’s great great grandfather, Murty Farraher, was wrongfully convicted and transported for life from Ireland in 1822 – for swearing a false oath – but subsequently fully pardoned eventually in 1841. Murty’s wife Bridget had brought her four young sons to the other side of the world to be near to her husband in 1822. They initially settled in the southern Illawarra, but later the family moved to the northern suburbs of Wollongong. Ironically, Paddy’s father, Bernard Kirton, himself would be wrongfully named in relation to a murder in Surabaya in 1925, by the Dutch press – and successfully sue the Evening News for libel  later that year. And then there would be a messy 1927 court case over the Excelsior mine property.


Nevertheless, Paddy Kirton’s adolescent and young adult early years, in the pre-WWII era, seemed to have been very much that of a young, privileged socialite. But there was also something about her, that had the Australian Women’s Weekly acknowledging her achievements as a Doctor, by the time of her marriage in 1940, and hoping that she would continue to distinguish herself even after her marriage .. in 1940 … a very feminist hope ?


And so Paddy Kirton’s adolescent and young adult years  unfolded in the newspaper social pages …

  • Educated in the Dominican College – a fancy Dress Party at Santa Sabina in 1930
  • Making her Debut in 1932 at David Jones – Dominican Ex Students Dance – attended by her step-mother, Mrs Kirton and Miss M Borthwick – and attending St John’s College Dance at Sydney University in 1932.
  • Sancta Sophia Dinner Dance in 1933
  • University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine results – Pass in 1934 and deferred results 1934 & attending Wesley College Ball in 1934 and a friend’s departure for overseas. Sancta Sophia annual dance in 1934, supporting her old college – at a Sherry Party with friends.
  • Part of the Sydney University Social Scene in 1935 
  • Still living at Sancta Sophia College in 1936 – her University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine Results 1936 – and a pre-wedding party for a friend at Sancta Sophia College
  • At the Polo in 1937. Dance Secretary for the Sancta Sophia Annual Students Dance in 1937 but still managing a Credit for her 1937 University results – including Psychiatry results in 1937. An interesting choice to practice in – certainly challenging – she was described as one of the youngest women medical graduates in the Australian Womens Weekly in July 1940.
  • 1938 – A Big Year 
    • Graduation and a Resident Medical Officer position at Lewisham Hospital in 1938 – part of the Lewisham Hospital’s Younger Set – fundraising for the hospital in 1938 – Golden Jubilee Appeal – Lewisham Hospital Ball in 1938. Celebrating a work colleague’s new baby daughter in 1938 – attending Sancta Sophia College annual dinner with old school friend Margaret Rankin in 1938
    • On an official table for a reception for Russian Principal Ballerina Tamara Grigorieva in 1938. Dinner parties and Dance at the Royal Sydney Golf Club in 1938 Final Race Week Finale.
    • Bridesmaid to Suzanne Rankin at her society wedding to Robert Duval of Edgecliff at St Mary’s Cathedral in 1938 – more detail on the wedding – another bridesmaid Morna Mackenzie was Private Secretary to Lady Wakehurst  
  • 1939 – Another Big Year
    • Bridesmaid to old school friend, Margaret Rankin in 1939 in Newcastle. At the ballet in 1939.
    •  Heading off overseas on a working holiday with her sister Sheilah, also a Sydney University Graduate. Patricia was to be the Ship’s Surgeon on a Cargo boatParrakoola – of course there were more farewell parties at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron and Hotel Australia. 
    • On her return in late 1939, described, with her sister Sheilah, as young women   who have held interesting jobs abroad arrived in Melbourne aboard an oversea liner last night.”  Paddy had done post graduate and medical  Locum Work in London, and in Eire Ireland, while her sister Sheilah did Post Graduate work in Massage at Mullingar County Hospital in Eire Ireland.
  • The 1940’s – Years of  Change
    • Still social – engaged to Donald Neil Rankin of Newcastle in early 1940, after her return from abroad in late 1939 – Don had been admitted as a Solicitor in 1939 and joined his father’s Newcastle law firm
    • Attending the Combined Dominicans Annual Ball in May 1940
    • Becoming a Senior Resident at Lewisham Hospital.
    • Subsequently marrying Don Rankin at St John’s College Sydney University in June 1940 – the Rankins staying at the Canberra Civic Hotel in July 1940, a sentimental wedding ring. She seemed to have lived in Newcastle with her husband Donald Neil Rankin only briefly around December 1940.  By 1942, husband Donald Neal Rankin would be called up by the RAAF, based at Point Cook, and Patricia would move to Melbourne to be closer to him, visiting him at Sale and staying at the Club Hotel. Flying Officer Don Rankin would be part of the attack on Frankfurt in December 1943.
    • Sister Sheilagh’s engagement to Robert Macintosh of Leura was also announced in July 1940 and wedding soon after – a lot of that happened as men headed off to the battlefields of WWII.

However unlike the society weddings of her school mates and her father, Patricia Paddy Kirton’s had been A Quiet Wedding” …. To Marry To-day.The marriage of Dr. Patricia Kirton,elder daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Kirton, of Ballinderry, Thirroul, to Mr.Donald Neil Rankin, younger son of Mr.and Mrs. A. A. Rankin, of Newcastle, will be celebrated quietly in the chapel of St.John’s College, Sydney University, this morning. Mr. Rankin, who is on the R.A.A.F. Reserve and expects to be called up within the next few weeks, is a graduate in law and a former resident of the college. Dr. Kirton, who graduated in medicine from Sydney University, will be attended by her sister, Miss Sheila Kirton. She will wear a simple frock of chalk-white silk, with a small hat of white heron’s feathers. Mr. Desmond Hollywood will be best man. Afterwards a small reception will be held in the new pent-house of Marton’s Hall Flats, Margaret Street, where Dr. Kirton is staying.”


Patricia’s  quiet wedding was nevertheless reported in the July 6 1940 Women’s Weekly (when it was a weekly) – A life’s work -VERSATILE, charming, youthful Mrs. Donald Rankin – until last week Dr.Paddy Kirton – has fitted into less than a quarter of a century more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. During student days at Sancta Sophia, always envy of contemporaries for well-groomed appearance, round of social doings, and success in examinations, yet managed to be one of youngest women graduates in medicine.After that sallied forth to see the world as ship’s surgeon in a cargo boat, did post-graduate work in England and Eire, and returned, unruffled as ever, to take post as senior resident at Lewisham Hospital. Since then has practised for a while. Now, quietly as possible, marries Don Rankin in chapel of St. John’s College, University, where Don studied Law during Paddy’s Med. student days. He’s to be called up for R.A.A.F. soon, so we’re waiting to see whether wife will set out to further distinguish herself in her profession.We hope so . . .


Paddy Kirton had married into a distinguished family in the Newcastle area. Her father in law, Mr Archibald Aloysius Rankin, born in Tumut in 1872, married Vera Simpson in 1910. AA Rankin was President of the St Ignatius Riverview Old Boy‘s Union, the son of a Station Manager and grandson of a farmer at Tumut. Archibald became a Solicitor of Rankin & Griffiths Solicitors Newcastle (having served as an articled clerk in Tumut, applied to NSW Supreme Court to be admitted as solicitor in 1897), a legal representative to BHP, having been associated with the Newcastle hospital since 1912, with Newcastle Municipal Council in 1913, appointed President of the Newcastle Hospital Board since 1916.


And A A Rankin was being censured by the Newcastle Trades Hall Council in 1926, appointed to NSW Hospitals Commission Board in 1929, awarded a CBE in 1938. In 1940 he was still President of the Newcastle Hospital Board, still a Member of the NSW Hospitals Commission and President of Newcastle Aero Club – but he seems to have retired from the Health scene sometime during the WWII years. He passed away in 1951 – probate notice.


Married into a family such as A A Rankins, with a husband as a solicitor, it would have been easy for Paddy Kirton to have stepped back to a more stereotypical female role of the 1930’s and 1940’s. And it seems that as WWII wound on, Paddy, after after having her early life constantly mentioned in the social pages, had then ducked below the radar. Only surfacing in 1954, when giving expert testimony in a murder trial in Newcastle, described as Dr Mary Patricia Ann Kirton, Superintendent of Newcastle Mental Hospital. It was clear that she had decided to follow her own path. Meanwhile her husband who had been good at sport in his university days, was shining in the NSW Amateur Golf Championships in 1954.


Dr Kirton was elected to the University of Newcastle Council in 1971 and served on the Board of Trustees of the University’s Edward Hall Residential College – her brief CV in 1972  read :

“Dr. Kirton was Acting Superintendent of the Mental Hospital, Newcastle, from 1954 to 1959 and Specialist Psychiatrist in Charge of the Child Guidance Clinic, Newcastle, from 1960 to 1969. She is Vice-President of Hunter Regional Branch of the National Trust and on Newcastle Advisory Board of the Family Life Movement of Australia.”


Paddy Rankin would also be a significant donor to the University of Newcastle. And at the University of Newcastle’s Graduation Ceremony in 1991, Mary Patricia Anne Rankin was presented with an Honorary Doctor of the University Degree – a high accolade indeed, and it was presented by Justice Elizabeth Evatt as well.


I had served on the Council of the University of Wollongong from 1996-2007 and I knew that such Honorary degrees are not lightly awarded.


From the University of Newcastle Bulletin of May 20, 1991 : 

“Honorary Degree to Outstanding Citizen

The Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University was conferred on Mrs Paddy Rankin, who has played a key role in University affairs, in particular to the establishment of the Faculty of Medicine. 

Mrs Rankin, was well known in Newcastle as Dr Kirton, the Director of the Child Guidance Clinic until her retirement in 1969, having previously been the Superintendent of Stockton and Watt Street Hospitals for a period of five years. 

Mrs Rankin’s aspirations for the establishment of a Medical School in Newcastle were translated into reality, when, in 1971, she was appointed a member of the Council of the University. 

At her first meeting, the Council appointed Mrs Rankin, still as Dr Kirton, as one of the four members charged with preparation of a submission to the Australian Universities Commission for the establishment of a Medical School at Newcastle. Mrs Rankin also played a key role in the extensive and detailed work of the Selection Committees leading to the appointment of the first academic staff of the Faculty. 

One of the chief characteristics of the Faculty of Medicine since its first intake of students in 1978 has been its concern to develop and implement effective processes for student selection. Mrs Rankin became a foundation member of the Faculty of Medicine Admissions Committee and continued to serve as a member until 1984. The creation of this thorough and extensive selection process, which enables criteria more sensitive to personal attributes and attainments to be added to examination statistics, owes much to the input and sustained contributions of Mrs Rankin and continues to the present day. 

She was also active in the establishment of the first residential college on campus, Edwards Hall. As well, she served as the Council’s nominee to the Board of Trustees of the Community Child Care Centre, Kintaiba, in its formative years. 

Mrs Rankin continues to be interested in and active in the University life. She continues to work towards the establishment of a religious centre on the campus and is currently undertaking academic study in History. 

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Keith Morgan, said it was fitting for the University to recognise the achievements of such an outstanding citizen of Newcastle and valued supporter of the University,and it gave him great pleasure to present Mrs Rankin for admission to the Honorary Degree.”

The hopes expressed by the Australian Womens Weekly in July 1940 that Paddy Kirton (a former Thirroul girl) would continue to distinguish herself were certainly realised.



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