Mervyn Archdall was born in Balmain, NSW, in 1884, the son of an Irish father and a German mother. His father, the Reverend (later Canon) Mervyn Archdall, who came from the south of Ireland, was a Cambridge graduate and a Hebrew, Greek and Latin scholar. His mother, to whom he always referred as `my little mother', was the daughter of Pastor William Adolphe Karow, who served at a little place called Teschendorf in Pomerania. This rich and unusual parental heritage produced a distinctive and in many ways distinguished son.
After education at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney, he graduated in medicine in 1908. He became a resident medical officer at Sydney Hospital, for which he retained a lasting affection - partly, no doubt, because there he met head nurse Mary Elizabeth Thompson, who became his wife and a quiet unassuming strength in the background of his lively career.
On leaving the Hospital, he spent a month as a locum tenens, in order, as he said, to buy an engagement ring. Then followed a trip as ship's surgeon to Japan and experience in both country and suburban general practice with a growing interest in surgery. This stood him in good stead when in 1917 he joined the AIF and went to France. There he worked under notable surgeons at the 2 Australian General Hospital and had charge of a surgical team in the field. Almost incongruously in that context, he sang the tenor part in Mendelssohn's 'Lobgesang' with the musical society at the French town of Wimereux. He loved music, whether as performer or listener. Not surprisingly he enjoyed being in army concert parties and taught some of his unit to sing part songs.
After the war a return to general practice in suburb and in country brought him little joy. So in 1922 he successfully applied for the position of assistant editor of the Medical Journal of Australia. He worked under the guidance of Henry William Armit for eight years and in 1930 succeeded him as editor. This was to be his life's work. In it he achieved a measure of true greatness.
Mervyn entered enthusiastically into all aspects of what he saw as the Journal's wide role: to publish sound original papers, to keep the profession informed on current progress in medicine, to encourage research, to comment on happenings and trends in Australian medical life and in the community, and, not least, to record the activities of the British Medical Association in Australia (as it then was). On all these matters, but especially on the role of the BMA, with its ethical, social and medico-political implications, he tended to hold strongly and highly motivated views. He never hesitated to express them in the editorial columns. At the same time he enjoyed writing essays on all manner of general topics (`Tears', `Francois Rabelais', `Escapology', and so on) for publication as leading articles. They were later collected into two volumes, titled In Pursuit and In Pursuit:II.
Various of the specialist medical colleges and societies also claimed his interest. He attended their meetings and edited some of their journals. He played an active part in the beginnings of the Australasian Annals of Medicine (the predecessor of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Medicine) and was its editor for many years. Fellowships of the Royal Australasian Colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons, as well as honorary memberships of the Australian Orthopaedic Association and the Ophthalmological Society of Australia, were bestowed on him as honours.
A side of Mervyn Archdall that not everyone knew was his love of parties and simple fun, and his dislike of anything insincere or sanctimonious. At the same time he had a strong social conscience and a concern for the needs of his fellow men. And he was a man of deep but unostentatious Christian faith. His influence for good was probably far wider than he ever knew or could have known. On his retirement from the editorial chair, which sadly was near to his death, the Federal Council of the British Medical Association in Australia honoured him with its rarely awarded Gold Medal. This was a signal recognition of his outstanding service to medicine and the medical profession. By inevitable extension it recognised his contribution to the best interests of the whole Australian community.
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