The curious case of Gympie's jumping doctor
IT WAS a harsh existence in the goldfields, and few exemplified the traits needed to survive more than Dr Theodore Edgar Dickson Byrne.
By all accounts a vain, self-aggrandising blowhard, Dr Byrne was an infuriating presence to be around.
Dublin-born and of Scottish heritage, he was an assistant surgeon in the Crimean War before becoming accredited as a doctor and arriving in Gympie in 1867.
It was in Brisbane he began his habit of writing to the papers to defend his "good name” whenever his professionalism or character was called into question.
Displaying "high-spirited behaviour”, he was a regular fixture at the local courthouse, often charged with assault.
His views, of which there were many, made him an immediately unpopular figure.
Not averse to making a profit during the heady early days of the Gympie gold rush, he would soon acquire the nickname The Jumping Doctor for his tendency to "jump” on abandoned clams.
Far from being offended by the name, Doctor Byrne fashioned himself a champion of the people, much to the chagrin of some hardy miners.
Vainglorious and greedy tendencies aside, there's also ample evidence of a strong dedication to his craft, even when he was accused of not spending enough time with patients.
Dr Byrne, amongst others, was an instrumental figure in the founding of the Nashville Miners Hospital, what later became the Gympie General Hospital.
It's also believed he provided many of his services free of charge to patients as well.
In all, he would spend six years in Gympie, broken by a two-year sojourn back to England before returning in 1874 to settle legal matters, debts and mining interests.
"Dr Byrne is not the man to tamely submit to injuries or brook insults when he can retaliate or repel them,” one gold miner wrote of him in 1867.
As difficult a man as he was, Doctor Byrne's contributions on the gold fields were paramount in establishing Gympie's medical establishment.
He would pass away in July 1882 at just 50 years-of-age, only eight years after leaving Gympie.