Stephen W. O’Flaherty was a worker in Scott’s sawmill at Derby, a small community in the north-east of Tasmania. In 1913 he suffered a significant injury when a lever at the mill rebounded and a lag slipped, breaking his arm in two places. It was said that he had been operated on repeatedly by several doctors, but that the bones had failed to knit. This was due to muscle intervening between the fractures. His arm remained completely useless.

In February 1926, O’Flaherty was taken to see Dr Victor Ratten, surgeon-superintendant at the Royal Hobart Hospital. Dr Ratten was famous for operating on cases considered hopeless by the rest of the medical profession.

The following is taken from Launceston Examiner, 30 April 1926;

Dr Ratten took him in hand, and took a piece of bone eight inches long off the shin bone of one of O’Flaherty’s legs and morticed it up with the broken bones, succeeding in uniting them, and with such success that the limb is now regenerated and in a normal state as is demonstrated by the X-rays and the fact that the man can move the limb and work his fingers freely. He was discharged as cured on Tuesday.

Dr V.R. Ratten, who did the bone graft, (centre) and colleagues outside the Hobart Hospital

All manner of remarkable operations by Dr Ratten were written up in the press. Perhaps the strangest was that in 1921 he had cured a woman’s insanity by transplanting a gland into her brain taken from a deceased person. Now the bone graft was not nearly so outlandish, but I would love to know whether the outcome for Mr O’Flaherty was as positive as reported.

Dr Ratten was a highly controversial figure. According to evidence gathered in 1919 he had purchased his medical diploma in Chicago in 1907 and was presumably self-taught. Nevertheless, he was something of a folk hero in Hobart and his association with the hospital continued until the 1950s.

Village of Derby, Tasmania by Peter Dixon. Stephen O'Flaherty, who had the bone graft lived here.

I am hoping a descendant of Stephen O’Flaherty might read this article and be able to help. A message can be left below.


  1. lol did he cure her insanity by killing her? i’d like to know how long that woman survived too!

    • Pauline

      The story of the insanity cure appeared in newspapers all over Australia. Amazingly, nobody challenged it!

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