Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gibson, John Lockhart (1860–1944)

by Ronald Wood

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

John Lockhart Gibson (1860-1944), ophthalmologist, was born on 17 July 1860 at Ipswich, Queensland, eldest son of James Gibson, bank manager, and his wife Annie Bush, née Blair. Bessie Gibson was his sister. He was educated at Ipswich Grammar School and the University of Edinburgh (M.B., 1881; M.D., 1885) where he won first-class honours and a gold medal; he later studied in Vienna, Berlin and London. Rejecting an academic career in Britain, in 1886 he commenced general practice in Brisbane, then a small city without a medical school or university. The new Hospital for Sick Children appointed him its first visiting physician later in that year, and in 1895 its ophthalmologist. After an illness Gibson's practice was restricted to diseases of the eye and ear, nose and throat, and two years later to ophthalmology. He was president of the Queensland Medical Society in 1892, of the British Medical Association (Queensland Branch) in 1908 and was on the association's federal committee. He was also active in the medical congresses at this time.

At the 3rd Intercolonial Medical Congress in Sydney in 1892, of which he was vice-president, Gibson and Jefferis Turner pointed out that anemia in children could be caused by hookworm. It was not until the Rockefeller Foundation's hookworm survey 1917-19, and the Australian Hookworm Campaign 1919-23 revealed the magnitude of the problem in tropical and sub-tropical areas that eradication began. At the 1892 congress, Gibson, Turner and others also reported ten cases of lead-poisoning in Brisbane children. Overseas, this ailment affected adults; in Queensland, children. The source of the poison was unknown until, in 1904, Gibson had the powdered paint from his own house analysed and lead carbonate was found. The paint on wooden Queensland houses dried and powdered in the hot sun. Most of the affected children were nail-biters or thumb-suckers who carried it on sweaty hands to the mouth. Gibson led the campaign to have lead paint replaced in the vulnerable parts of buildings; this was legally required by the Health Act of 1922.

Gibson joined the Australian Imperial Force on 1 May 1915. As a major that year he was in charge of the ophthalmic department of the 3rd Australian General Hospital on Lemnos. It was well equipped with instruments obtained from London and paid for with £200 sent to him by the Australian Red Cross Society, Queensland Division. Because of its efficiency, his unit had all eye casualties from Gallipoli directed to it. When his appointment terminated in August 1916, he served on a district medical committee on exemption from military service. Gibson was a fellow of the College of Surgeons of Australasia in 1927 and president of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia in 1940-44. A strong supporter of the Presbyterian Church and the Brisbane Grammar School, he was a senator of the University of Queensland in 1920-35. For his sympathetic interest in returned servicemen, the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia conferred life membership on him.

Gibson's home life was happy. He had a good share of Scottish stories which he loved. His was a familiar figure in Brisbane, short, with a brisk walk, helmet and little crooked cane. He was dogged in pursuit of scientific truth and painstaking in his medical work. His stubborn, uphill fight against lead paint showed the born fighter. Described as 'a man of strong and emphatic opinions, he acquired enough enemies to make life interesting, but he also made deep and lasting friendships'.

Gibson died in Brisbane on 30 September 1944 and was cremated. His wife Mary Florence, née Burkitt, whom he had married in Brisbane on 3 March 1887, and their three children inherited his estate valued for probate at £15,576. In 1960 the Jefferis Turner-Lockhart Gibson memorial oration was instituted by the Australian Paediatric Association (Queensland) in recognition of their achievement.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • Guy's Hospital (London), Reports, 70 (Jan 1922), p 63
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2 (1944), p 649, 1 (1961), p 841.

Citation details

Ronald Wood, 'Gibson, John Lockhart (1860–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gibson-john-lockhart-6308/text10879, published in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 31 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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