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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Corkill, Arthur Basil (1898–1958)

by R. R. Andrew

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

Arthur Basil Corkill (1898-1958), medical researcher, was born on 28 October 1898 in North Melbourne, son of Isaac Corkill, a native-born clerk, and his wife Louisa Marie, née Donnecker, from New Zealand. Basil was educated at Melbourne High School and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1922).

Appointed a resident medical officer at the Alfred Hospital, Corkill showed sufficient promise to be seconded to work with Professor Maclean at St Thomas's Hospital, London; his expenses were underwritten by Dr J. F. Mackeddie, a powerful member of the Alfred board who was pressing for the establishment of a department of biochemistry. Returning to Australia in 1924, Corkill became the hospital's first biochemist. Insulin (discovered in 1922) and carbohydrate metabolism was his principal area of research. As the first physician in charge of the Alfred's diabetic clinic, with Ewen Downie he adopted an enlightened policy of patient-public education, using clearly written brochures which were widely distributed.

In 1926 the hospital's biochemistry department was absorbed into the new Baker Medical Research Institute. At the Cairns Memorial Church, East Melbourne, on 9 April 1927 Corkill married Mona Ross Scott with Presbyterian forms. Two years later he was given leave to work on adrenalin and insulin with (Sir) Henry Dale at the National Institute for Medical Research, Hampstead, London. He had a further year with Dale, supported by a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship (1931-32).

In 1935 Corkill was appointed acting-director of the Baker Institute when Dr W. J. Penfold was incapacitated by illness; on Penfold's retirement in 1938, he succeeded him as director. During World War II obligations to the Department of Defence and to the chemical warfare section of the Department of Munitions preoccupied him and robbed him of the chance to develop his research. In 1948 he helped and encouraged Joseph Bornstein when he began his career at the institute. Although Corkill's work was never properly recognized, he was awarded a D.Sc. (1935) by the University of Melbourne and was a foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

With the postwar enlargement of the Baker Institute, both in funding and staff, Corkill established close collaboration with the Alfred Hospital's departments of biochemistry and pathology, and also with the honorary staff. Balcombe Quick wrote of 'his essentially kindly nature' which was manifest in the way he assisted younger colleagues. A man of very considerable scientific capacity, Corkill undertook research which laid a foundation for advances by others, but circumstance prevented him from fulfilling his promise.

Illness had slowed him down. Golf and fishing no longer were possible, and the toll of liver disease, which was to prove fatal, led to his resignation from the directorship in 1949. Corkill had a quiet retirement at his Kilsyth home. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died there of chronic hepatitis on 30 October 1958 and was cremated with Anglican rites. In the next two decades the Baker Institute developed into a leading Australian biomedical research centre, with many distinguished researchers who had first trained under Corkill.

Select Bibliography

  • T. E. Lowe, The Thomas Baker, Alice Baker and Eleanor Shaw Medical Research Institute (Melb, 1974)
  • A. M. Mitchell, The Hospital South of the Yarra (Melb, 1977)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-1975 (Syd, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 11 Oct 1958
  • private information.

Citation details

R. R. Andrew, 'Corkill, Arthur Basil (1898–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 August 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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