The 100th birthday of Douglas Blood, first Dean of the Melbourne Veterinary School

Friday 24 April 2020 marks 100 years since the birth of Professor Douglas Charles Blood (1920–2013), the founding Dean of the Melbourne Veterinary School on its re-establishment in 1962.

A passionate educator and lifelong learner, he served as Dean from 1962–68 and as Professor until his retirement in 1985.

Professor Blood was recruited to re-establish the Melbourne Veterinary School. The initial recruitment of staff, the first intakes of students and the construction of the School's campus and hospital in Werribee, and preclinical building in Parkville, were completed under his leadership.

The DC Blood Prize, which supports conference travel for high achieving graduate research candidates in the Melbourne Veterinary School and the DC Blood Oration are named in his honour.

Following his passing in 2013, Professor Ken Hinchcliff, who was Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences until 2015, wrote:

Establishing a School of Veterinary Science at the University of Melbourne in the 1960s was an enormous task, not only professionally, but also personally, having to relocate such a long way with a young family. He developed a vision while managing upwards university administration, fundraising, establishing rapport with key stakeholders, keeping a budget under control and developing a curriculum. And he did it all while recruiting staff, planning buildings, working with architects, and knowing that he was setting the course of the veterinary school for decades. There must have been very many sleepless nights and worrying times. One can only stand in awe of his effort.

Biography: Professor Douglas Blood

Douglas Charles Blood was the founding Dean of the modern veterinary school at the University of Melbourne and a world leader of large animal practice, especially in the fields of preventive medicine and dairy herd health.

He had a lifelong devotion to learning and frequently acknowledged how scholarships had allowed him to advance in life. In his day-to-day teaching, Professor Blood encouraged student participation and he facilitated the attendance at conferences of many post-graduate students.

Born in 1920 in England, Professor Blood, with his family, migrated to Australia in 1927. After schooling in Richmond, New South Wales, and at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, he gained scholarship entry to the Veterinary School at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1942. Then followed nearly two years in the Australian Army as a “Nackeroo” — part of the North Australia Observer Unit — moving horses through remote territory and, later, inspecting abattoirs while studying tick control and communicable diseases.

At the war’s end, Professor Blood joined the staff at the University of Sydney as a lecturer in large animal medicine. Noting that the teaching of veterinary medicine at the time was based mainly on the personal experiences of lecturers, Professor Blood composed lectures (and wrote a thousand pages of lecture notes) based on the scientific methods he and his classmates had learned from lecturer Herbert Parry.

Most veterinary services to the dairy industry at the time were provided by government veterinarians. Conscious of his limited experience, Professor Blood visited New Zealand to gain practical clinical experience and also spent eighteen months at Cornell University in New York where he learned how to run an effective ambulatory veterinary clinic serving dairy farmers.

Professor Douglas Blood
Professor Douglas Blood in his signature bow tie.

He returned to the University of Sydney for six years, but seeking change, he became Professor of Large Animal Medicine at the (now) University of Guelph for five years. He lectured and ran an ambulatory teaching clinic. While in Guelph he wrote, with Jim Henderson, his text on livestock diseases, Veterinary Medicine. Based on his thousand pages of lecture notes, diseases and their explanations were presented in logical scientific sequence with comprehensive referencing. The headings of aetiology, epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical findings, clinical pathology, necropsy findings, treatment and control helped veterinary students learn a new way to think about diseases.

In Professor Blood's lifetime, Veterinary Medicine ran through ten editions, several co-authors (initially Otto Radostits and Clive Gay) and many translations.

At the University of Melbourne

In 1962, appointed to re-establish the veterinary school at the University of Melbourne, Professor Blood was the driving force behind the initial curriculum, new buildings at Parkville and Werribee, selection of the first staff and students and the establishment of the teaching hospital and an ambulatory teaching clinic.

The first undergraduates entered the new course in March 1963, only seven months after his arrival in Australia. After six years as Dean, Professor Blood stepped down in favour of his long-time colleague Ken Jubb but remained as a professor until retirement in 1985. A gentleman of great intellect, compassion and goodwill, a mentor to many and an inspiration to his family and to his students worldwide, he touched many lives.

He was a keen participant in practical teaching, regularly attending ward rounds for both large and small animals and supporting the 5.00pm pathology sessions where clinical diagnoses were tested against necropsy findings and where clinicians and pathologists debated.

Realising that changing economic considerations limited the use of medical methodology in treating livestock diseases, he introduced the teaching of epidemiology and established herd health programs. When the urban spread of Melbourne reached Werribee, Professor Blood, in collaboration with Jakob Malmo, established the Rural Veterinary Unit at Maffra as an alternative for the practical teaching of dairy cattle medicine.

Outside academia

Professor Blood was an innovator in the politics and regulation of the veterinary profession. He was a founding fellow of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists, a body that enables veterinarians to gain post-graduate qualifications. He was the chief examiner for the first ten years.

An elected member of the Veterinary Board of Victoria from 1963–1990, Professor Blood initiated cooperation between all Australian states and territorial boards, leading to the annual conference of board chairpersons. The initiative expanded from a forum for harmonising standards set by the boards to include oversight of the Veterinary Schools Accreditation Committee.

He served as a president of the Victorian Division of the Australian Veterinary Association and as president and fellow of the Australian Association of Cattle Veterinarians. He chaired the 1983 World Veterinary Congress in Perth.

As well as Veterinary Medicine, Professor Blood co-authored texts on herd health, veterinary law and ethics and a veterinary dictionary (with Virginia Studdert). In collaboration with colleagues, he also devised computer programs for diagnosis of diseases in cattle and in dogs and for the identification of poisonous plants.

In these three last projects Professor Blood recognised the potential for using computers to facilitate disease diagnosis. He embraced new technology, as shown into his later years with his use of voice recognition software, allowing him to continue writing and emailing despite advancing macular degeneration, and digital photography.

In recognition of his contribution to veterinary science, Professor Blood received several awards and honorary degrees.

In 1981 he became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and an Honorary Associate of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. He received the Schofield Medal from the University of Guelph in 1981, an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan in 1981, the Gilruth Prize from the Australian Veterinary Association in 1983, an honorary DVSc from the University of Melbourne in 1985 and an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guelph in 1987.

Professor Blood was a devoted family man; he and wife Marian raised five daughters. For decades their home in Werribee hosted visitors to the veterinary school and family gatherings for staff. He had a great sense of fun and is remembered for his signature bow tie, an essential accessory for the vet who could not afford to have his tie dangle in his bovine post-mortem.

Professor Blood had an abiding interest in the wider world and, as a lifelong scholar determined to put order into the natural world, Professor Blood spent his private life following many and varied passions. He excelled at home improvements, photography, vegetable gardening, growing fuchsias, geraniums and orchids, cooking, and bread- and beer-making. He conscientiously exercised, learning to swim at 65, jogging each day for many years, and walking his dogs.

After the death of Marian, his companion of fifty-five years, Professor Blood devoted increasing time to bird photography. Despite his failing eyesight he continued to avidly pursue this hobby, photographing and cataloguing birds until the day he died.

Professor Blood spent many mornings on the windswept roads of the Western Treatment Plant at Werribee, scanning its waters, photographing its birds, and talking about the sightings for the day over coffee with birding pals. He spent his evenings sorting and printing photos taken during the day. His days were full with his secret for a happy life: a never-ending project.

Banner image: The veterinary preclinical building in Parkville, constructed under Professor Blood's leadership and occupied by the Melbourne Veterinary School from October 1964.