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Dr Mark Lidwill

Medical pioneer  (1878–1968)

About Dr Mark Lidwill

Dr Mark Cowley Lidwill was an Australian medical pioneer. He invented the world’s first cardiac pacemaker after discovering electricity could be used to set the pace of the human heart. The device was first used successfully in 1928 to resuscitate a newborn baby. Since then, this miracle of medical technology has saved innumerable lives. Dr Lidwill also invented a portable machine to induce anaesthesia, which became a widely accepted part of hospital practice. He started his career as a general practitioner at Cook House (then called ‘Lorne’), which is located in Beecroft in the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney.

Location

  • Street address:Arden Anglican School 63 Beecroft Road, Beecroft, 2119

Accessibility

  • Wheelchair accessible

Category

  • Health and medical
  • Technology

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Detailed information

A formal portrait of Dr Mark Cowley Lidwill in a dark suit and tie. Photo courtesy of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Photographer unknown.
Portrait of Dr Mark Lidwill. Image courtesy of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians

Mark Cowley Lidwill was born in Cheltenham in the United Kingdom, migrating with his family to Melbourne in 1894. He studied medicine at The University of Melbourne, graduating as a doctor, before moving to Sydney.

In 1908, Dr Lidwill built Lorne, a two-storey residence in Beecroft that also housed his general practice. After receiving an honorary degree from The University of Sydney, he became the Faculty of Medicine’s first lecturer in anaesthetics. He was also appointed an honorary assistant physician and the first tutor in anaesthetics at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

In 1913, Dr Lidwill invented a portable machine for anaesthesia, the Lidwill Inter-tracheal Anaesthetic Machine. Patented in 1921, the device was used in Australian hospitals for more than three decades.

Yet a further, even more significant invention was to come. Upon discovering that electricity could be used to stimulate the heart, Dr Lidwill and physicist Edgar H. Booth devised a portable apparatus that was able to ‘pace’ the heart rate at about 80 to 120 pulses per minute. Not knowing the level of voltage required, Lidwill enlisted the help of Dr Briggs, who was working at Crown Street Women’s Hospital, to conduct experiments.

The machine was first used the following year to resuscitate a newborn baby.

Dr Lidwill demonstrated a simplified version at the third Australasian Medical Congress in 1929. The Sydney Morning Herald reported:

"A remarkable electrical device to stimulate the action of the heart after a person has been dead, or supposed to be dead, for several minutes was one of the subjects of discussion ... The instrument was perfected by Dr Lidwill, the prominent Sydney heart specialist. By its aid a stillborn child was brought to life at a Sydney maternity hospital after stimulation by the machine for about 15 minutes."

Despite this success, Dr Lidwill did not proceed to further develop the technology due to the complexity of the machine.

Although the device was intended for resuscitation rather than long-term heart pacing, it was almost certainly the first pacemaker used successfully on a human patient.

Dr Lidwill was recognised with an Honorary Fellowship from the Faculty of Anaesthetists of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He retired in 1960.

In addition to his achievements in medical technology, Lidwill was also a famous angler. In 1913, he became the first person on record to catch a Black Marlin using a rod and reel. It weighed over 30 kilograms. The world-renowned skeleton of Lidwill’s Black Marlin is on permanent display at the Australian Museum.

Today, the Mark Cowley Lidwill Foundation supports scientific research and developments in cardiac electrophysiology, undertaken at the Mark Cowley Lidwill Laboratory. The facility is part of the world-leading Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Related information

An insufflation anesthesia machine. From the collection of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History. Photographer unknown.
Insufflation Anaesthesia Machine. Image courtesy of Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History, VGKM6583

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