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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Collins, Sir Archibald John (1890–1955)

by G. L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Sir Archibald John Collins (1890-1955), consultant physician, was born on 19 June 1890 at Lismore, New South Wales, fourth child of James Patrick Collins, a schoolteacher from Ireland, and his native-born wife Annie Maria, née Long. Educated at Manly Public and Fort Street Model schools, he graduated with first-class honours from the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1913). Although he was awarded a Walter and Eliza Hall travelling scholarship, he did not take it up, becoming instead a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Appointed captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 18 November 1915, Collins served in Egypt and on the Western Front. While with the 12th Field Ambulance in 1918, he was awarded the Military Cross for attending wounded at the front line and the Distinguished Service Order for evacuating casualties under fire. Promoted major and mentioned in dispatches, he returned to Australia where his appointment terminated on 27 October 1919. At St Francis's Catholic Church, Melbourne, on 31 July 1920 he married a nurse Clotilde Donnelly.

That year Collins returned to R.P.A.H. as medical superintendent. On being appointed honorary assistant physician in 1923, he began private practice as a consultant in Macquarie Street. He subsequently obtained appointments at several other hospitals, but R.P.A.H. remained his main base as a physician and teacher. There he became honorary physician (1934-50), honorary consulting physician (1950-55) and a member (1935-55) of the board of directors. As a physician he was sound, conservative and thorough. His teaching was orthodox, clear and practical.

At the University of Sydney, Collins was lecturer in therapeutics (1935-50) and in clinical medicine (1940-50), as well as a fellow (1939-54) of the senate. He had been elected a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938. A consulting physician (from 1941) to the Royal Australian Navy, in 1947 he received the rank of honorary surgeon captain.

Collins was a leading figure in the British Medical Association in Australia, and a councillor (1930-55) and president (1934) of the State branch. As a member (1945-55; president 1951-55) of the federal council, he was involved in the long-running battle between the B.M.A. (representing an unusually united medical profession) and the Chifley government over Labor's attempts to nationalize health services. When Sir Earle Page, minister for health in the Menzies government, established his National Health Service in 1953, Collins was appointed to chair two of its influential advisory committees. He was knighted in 1955.

Tall and straight, Collins appeared dignified and imposing, but his ready smile and habit of blinking made him approachable. He was respected and well liked, and affectionately known as Archie. In public life he was determined; in private he was relaxed and sociable. He enjoyed playing bridge with friends and was intensely proud of his family. Sir Archibald died of acute myocardial infarction on 24 June 1955 at his Killara home and was cremated with Presbyterian forms; his wife and two sons survived him. A portrait by his colleague Grant Lindeman is held by Collins's family.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1939-1975 (Syd, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Aug 1955, pp 38, 266, 432
  • University of Sydney, Gazette, Nov 1955
  • Collins file (Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives, Sydney).

Citation details

G. L. McDonald, 'Collins, Sir Archibald John (1890–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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