Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner, 1861-1947 : his contribution to medicine in Queensland

Thearle, M. John (Michael John) (1988). Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner, 1861-1947 : his contribution to medicine in Queensland Other, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland.

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Author Thearle, M. John (Michael John)
Thesis Title Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner, 1861-1947 : his contribution to medicine in Queensland
School, Centre or Institute School of Medicine
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1988
Thesis type Other
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Total pages 402
Language eng
Subjects 210304 Biography
210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
730204 Child health
Formatted abstract
Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner (1861-1947), known as "Gentle Annie", exerted considerable influence on medical science and on the practice of medicine in Queensland, particularly in child health, and may be regarded as a significant figure in the wider medical context of Australia and the world. The impact of his work on the community in Queensland is still evident.


The aim of this thesis is to evaluate Turner's contributions as an innovator and instigator in medical science and the practice of medicine in Queensland from 1889 until his retirement in 1937. It concentrates on his efforts in solving existing as well as new medical problems, and his participation in public health matters, preventive medicine, particularly in relation to infant and maternal welfare, and medical professionalism. Turner's intellectual and practical ability as a medical practitioner and his unflagging determination in confronting authority in the medical, hospital and government spheres are investigated. In so doing, the thesis attempts to present a more comprehensive record of an important part of medical history in Queensland. Traditionally, medical history tends to emphasize the contributions of individuals who have initiated great change or transmitted the results of change. In this context Turner has earned a place in Queensland's medical history.

This study starts with an appraisal of health problems, especially in children, from the time of the first European settlement in Queensland in 1824, and the development of the Hospital for Sick Children in Brisbane prior to Turner's arrival in 1889. His family and educational background and medical training are assessed to gain an insight into his idealism, his scientific methods and his ways of approaching medical issues and diseases in the community as they emerged.

The main subjects of his concern have been dealt with in chronological order from a study of the clinical and scientific papers he wrote, medical meetings he attended, hospital reports and records, government reports, newspaper articles and archival records. These have been appraised in the light of developments in Queensland, Australia and elsewhere. Turner's work at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane, in bacteriology, especially in diphtheria, plague and tuberculosis, the environmental problems of hookworm and lead poisoning, and his role in infant and maternal welfare have been discussed in detail. His participation in medical societies, medico-political issues, public health problems, other clinical and scientific matters, and medical education shows the wide range of his interests. Aspects of his personality have also been discussed in this section because of their overlapping association. Lists of his published works are given in Appendices A, B and C.

Although some oral history has been gathered, the study has been limited to a certain extent by the paucity of Turner's personal papers, memorabilia and family information as there are no close relatives extant. This has meant that a study of his role in private practice has not been possible. A chapter has been included regarding his significant contribution to entomology in Australia as research in this area illustrates his interest in the wider community and reveals aspects of his character which were not evident in the study of his medical career. Except where relevant, no attempt has been made to assess the important developments in sanitation and socio-economic conditions which occurred during Turner's lifetime. The place in history of other medical practitioners of the period has only been touched on in reference to their interaction with Turner.


Having assessed Turner's medical and scientific career, it is concluded that he contributed significantly to the health of the community and to the medical profession in Queensland, and also to medical knowledge in Australia and elsewhere. These contributions were evident in his administrative and clinical work at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane; his work as a microbiologist; his recognition of the hazards of lead poisoning, hookworm disease and other childhood complaints; in his public health campaigns against diseases such as tuberculosis and plague and mosquito-borne disease; in the area of preventive medicine with his work in infant and maternal welfare. His important contribution to medical professionalism was recognised by his colleagues during his life with the honours bestowed upon him by his election to executive positions in their societies. His contribution to entomology has been left for others to assess. This study has also given some insight into the practice of medicine in Queensland during Turner's lifetime.

Turner's influence is still evident in the success of a well planned maternal and infant welfare service which now covers the whole of the State, in continued surveillance against lead poisoning, hookworm disease and tuberculosis. Today the community of Queensland remembers him by the use of his name for a Maternal and Child Welfare Home and for a variety of facilities for children. His profession in Queensland honours him in the form of an annual oration which is sponsored by the Queensland Paediatric Society, The Turner-Gibson Oration.
Keyword Turner, Alfred Jefferis, 1861-1947
Children -- Diseases -- Treatment -- Queensland -- History
Children -- Health and hygiene -- Queensland -- History
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Document type: Thesis
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Created: Mon, 16 Nov 2009, 11:41:42 EST by Lachlan Kuhn on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service