Recognising a founder of physiotherapy education in Australia, Frederick Teepoo Hall

The following is an extract from a forthcoming publication by Professor Joan McMeeken AM on the history of Physiotherapy at The University of Melbourne

As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Physiotherapy at the University, Professor Joan McMeeken acknowledges the substantial role Frederick Teepoo Hall played in founding the Physiotherapy profession in Australia. He drove the establishment of the association and formal education by garnering collegial support and patronage of the most eminent members of the medical profession and influential members of society.

Teepoo Hall was born in Mysore, India in 1858 to an Indian mother and English father. He was educated at Bangalore College and in 1876 entered the Subordinate Medical Service. Initially, he was engaged in dispensing but then undertook further study in chemistry, pharmacology, surgical anatomy with dissection, physiology, and pathology. He arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1888 after service in the last Burmese War, which brought Burma under the rule of the British Raj as a province of India. He established a private practice in Melbourne and advertised as a masseur.

In this boom era of Marvellous Melbourne when the city and many of its inhabitants prospered, medical men asserted themselves through proclaiming their scientific status. Teepoo Hall arrived with recommendations from colleagues in India and, building his reputation as an effective practitioner, soon had an honorary appointment to the Austin Hospital. For early physiotherapists such positions at the charity hospitals provided access to honorary medical staff and potential private patients referred by them. He worked closely with the distinguished Melbourne surgeon Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.

By the mid 1890s Teepoo Hall flourished in Melbourne society. The ‘well-known masseur of Collins Street East’ held certificates of skill from 25 well-known metropolitan surgeons. He gained paid appointments to several friendly society lodges on a similar retainer basis to medical practitioners. Friendly societies were funded by members’ subscriptions and emerged in Melbourne in 1839 shaped by those in England. The money from the common fund supported members in meeting the costs of illness, unemployment, or funerals. In 1909 Victoria had 58 friendly societies comprising 1,500 lodge branches and, by 1913, more than 50% of working men belonged to a lodge branch. Medical practitioners appointed and paid by lodges treated members free of charge, and lodges established pharmacies to help members meet the cost of medicines.

Teepoo Hall teaching medical students

Teepoo Hall teaching medical students

Around this time, the massage component of physiotherapy was popular and recognised as an effective treatment. Advertising by medical and physiotherapy practitioners as well as the quacks was common practice. Teepoo Hall’s reputation as a practitioner and teacher encouraged charlatans to claim he taught them. He was prepared to engage prominent lawyers to pursue those who traded on his reputation.

From 1898 onwards Teepoo Hall emphasised that he only treated under medical referral. By 1898 his increasing practice required larger premises in Victoria Buildings, at the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets, and many testimonials attested to the high position he had attained as perhaps the leading and most respected masseur in Melbourne.

Teepoo Hall’s standing in society enabled him to represent immigrants in the community affected by the increasing moves to protect the white colonial race in Australia. As the country approached federation, parliamentarians proposed to restrict immigration by using English tests. He testified before the Select Committee of the Victorian Legislative Council and spoke with committee chair Sir Frederick Sargood about similar immigration legislation proposed in India. Teepoo Hall remained actively concerned about the implications of the White Australia Policy and his statements regarding the policy received wide publicity.

Teepoo Hall’s experience in public life combined with his connections through eminent patients and leading medical practitioners, doubtless contributed to his initiative to professionalise physiotherapy. In addition to teaching his own physiotherapy assistants, since 1900 he had been demonstrating to medical students, probably under the auspice of Dr John Springthorpe, whilst holding honorary positions at the Melbourne and Austin Hospitals.

The exposure of physiotherapy and Teepoo Hall in leading papers would benefit the new association he would soon drive. Springthorpe would be an important ally. He lectured to medical students in therapeutics, dietetics, and hygiene in the Medical Faculty at The University of Melbourne. He had also founded several other professional groups and was inaugural Dean of Dentistry. As President of the Victorian Trained Nurses Association, he relaunched the UNA nurses’ journal in 1903, soon to be the vital vehicle for publication of physiotherapy matters.

In February 1905, Teepoo Hall arranged a meeting with two other prominent physiotherapists, Alfred Peters and Heinrich Best, to consider forming a physiotherapy association. In June that year a similar association was formed in Sydney. By December, Teepoo Hall had garnered significant Australia-wide support and convened a special meeting to form a national association. He prevailed on Springthorpe to preside at the meeting. It was decided at this meeting that the Australasian Massage Association (AMA), now the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA), would be formed to recognise the profession throughout the Commonwealth. A provisional committee was appointed to frame a constitution, with Dr Springthorpe as chairman, Heinrich Best as treasurer, and Teepoo Hall as secretary. By March 1906 the groups in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide had formally agreed to amalgamate.

Frontispiece of the Rules of the Australasian Massage Association

Frontispiece of the Rules of the Australasian Massage Association

In the same month, Teepoo Hall organised the first of a series of monthly continuing education lectures in Melbourne. Dr Hugh Murray spoke on X-rays, describing their discovery, the physics of production, and their capacity to visualise aspects of the body. He used lanternslides to demonstrate the foetus, fractures, dislocations, and many other abnormalities.

In April 1906, with the strong support of the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Harry Brookes Allen, Professor Richard Berry in Anatomy, and Professor William Osborne in Physiology, the first formal education programme began in conjunction with The University of Melbourne and an upgrading course for current practitioners commenced. The University of Sydney and Adelaide followed with education programmes in 1907 and 1908.

Teepoo Hall, as the first honorary secretary of the Association, left a legacy of comprehensive minutes of the early meetings and correspondence with The University of Melbourne. In 1906, recognising his considerable work on their behalf, his colleagues around Australia proposed a testimonial. The new Association presented Teepoo Hall with a gold watch and a silver coffee service for his wife on 14 September, 1906.

At the Annual General Meeting of the Australasian Massage Association in Sydney on 25 April, 1907, the Association reported 302 members. The Association recognised Teepoo Hall for initiating the meeting with state delegates, promoting an Australian association and ensuring Australia’s education was more comprehensive than any in the world. Founded in the biomedical sciences of anatomy and physiology, it included Swedish remedial exercises, massage, and electrotherapy.

Teepoo Hall achieved his aims to raise the status and standard of physiotherapists. Colin Mackenzie confirmed this perception when he returned from Europe. When asked by Teepoo Hall to compare massage practice with that in Australia, Mackenzie’s view was that ‘the world has little to teach us ... the course … will compare with anything in Europe’.

At the beginning of 1908 Teepoo Hall resigned after seven years at the Melbourne Hospital. Perhaps he was already ill; nevertheless, as a member of the Victorian delegation, he attended the 1908 Annual General Meeting in Adelaide. He enjoyed the reception at the University, visits to the Children's Hospital, and the hospitality of Professor and Mrs. Stirling on the drag picnic to Mount Lofty. A photograph of conference delegates marked the occasion.

Teepoo Hall front row seated right

Teepoo Hall front row seated right

By September, Teepoo Hall had been ‘overtaken by a very serious illness’ and his friends organised a theatrical performance for his benefit. Many well-known artists planned to appear. His Excellency the lieutenant Governor of Victoria Sir John Madden, Sir Thomas Bent, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and other prominent citizens granted their patronage. Fortunately, Teepoo Hall was reportedly in better health and his beneficiary matinee was a success.

Springthorpe, in his presidential address at the Victorian Annual General Meeting early in 1909, regretted Teepoo Hall’s ongoing indisposition. He said: ‘The Association owes more to Mr Hall than to any other man in Australia.’ Teepoo Hall’s death was announced on 14 May, 1909 and his funeral cortege proceeded to Boroondara Cemetery from his residence at 79 Alexandra Parade, North Fitzroy. The Association recorded an obituary for Teepoo Hall:

'Who, amidst great difficulty, and against considerable opposition, took the preliminary steps which led to the inception of the AMA [Australasian Massage Association]. He was federal and state secretary and worked indefatigably on behalf of the association. … Commencing with Sir Thomas Fitzgerald he had a large and fashionable clientele, by 1901 appointed as masseur to His Excellency the Earl of Hopeton, late Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia.'

'The honour of originating this association should always be with Mr Teepoo Hall. He worked and slaved here to carry it into effect.'

The vision, dedication, and achievements of Teepoo Hall, who was integral to the founding of Physiotherapy at The University of Melbourne 25 years ago, should be remembered by us and all others who have benefitted from his work.