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Hamilton, John Bruce (1901–1968)

by Jennifer Bond and Jean Panton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Bruce Hamilton (1901-1968), ophthalmologist, was born on 2 April 1901 in Hobart, son of Clyde Hamilton, merchant, and his wife, Beatrice Lilian, née Paxton. John Hamilton was his grandfather. Bruce was educated at Leslie House School, Hobart, and the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1924). He then went to England where he gained diplomas of ophthalmic medicine and surgery (R.C.P.& S., 1928) and ophthalmology (Oxford, 1929). On his return, he set up practice in Hobart. From 1930 he was, at different periods, honorary or consulting ophthalmic surgeon to the Royal Hobart Hospital, the Queen Alexandra Hospital for Women, and the Royal Tasmanian Society for the Blind and Deaf (later the Tasmanian Institute for the Blind, Deaf and Dumb).

In 1935 Hamilton and Dr W. D. Counsell investigated the prevalence and causes of blindness in Tasmania. After examining 170 cases, they delivered a paper on hereditary eye disease and proposals for alleviating blindness to the National Health and Medical Research Council's meeting in Hobart in 1937, at which Hamilton also recommended that doctors and the public should be educated in genetics and eugenics. Their research was awarded the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital's Gifford Edmunds prize. Hamilton's A Guide to Ophthalmic Operations (London, 1940) was de rigueur for surgeons for many years. Characteristically, he paid tribute in the preface to the tutelage of 'George', who had charge of surgical instruments at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, where Hamilton had been a house surgeon.

Having served in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve from 1935, Hamilton was appointed major in the Australian Imperial Force on 4 January 1941. That year he went to the Middle East as ophthalmic surgeon with the 2nd/7th Australian General Hospital. His eye surgery was 'renowned throughout the Army'. Returning to Australia in 1943, he was attached to headquarters, Tasmania Force, before his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 1 November. On 21 April that year at St John's Presbyterian Church, Hobart, he had married Dora Jessie Grant.

Finding that his clinical observations concurred with those of the Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren, Hamilton re-issued, with his own foreword and appendix, a paper published by Sjögren in 1933. Entitled A New Conception of Kerato-Conjunctivitis Sicca (Sydney, 1943), it proved helpful to rheumatologists and immunologists. Hamilton's study of the eye condition of family members used one hundred and eleven pedigrees and earned him an M.D. from the University of Sydney in 1948. Published under the title, The Significance of Heredity in Ophthalmology—a Tasmanian Survey (Melbourne, 1951), it attracted the attention of scientists investigating gene location.

Hamilton was a fellow (1931) and State chairman of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, a member and president (1948) of the Tasmanian branch of the British Medical Association and a member of the Australian Medical Association. In addition, he was a life member of the Ophthalmological Society of the United Kingdom and president of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia. He was an active Anglican, a member of the Liberal Party and president (1948-49) of the Hobart Legacy Club. His enthusiasm for history led him to establish the Bligh Museum of Pacific Exploration at Adventure Bay.

Tall and well dressed, with 'a very real belief in himself and his abilities', Hamilton was a perfectionist for whom no detail was too small to consider, or—as his colleagues and staff often found—to complain about. However arrogant or curmudgeonly his peers might find him, he was usually generous and encouraging to his patients. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of hypertensive heart disease on 11 April 1968 at Sandy Bay and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Elias, The Well-Being and Education of Visually Impaired Children in Tasmania (np, 1978)
  • T. Bowden, The Way My Father Tells It (Syd, 1989)
  • Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists, Tasmanian Branch, Papers on the Life and Work of Dr J. Bruce Hamilton (Hob, 1990) and for Hamilton's publications
  • E. J. Smith, Time is the Builder (Hob, 1991)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 20 July 1968
  • Saturday Evening Mercury, 13 Apr 1968
  • Mercury (Hobart), 2 July 1968.

Citation details

Jennifer Bond and Jean Panton, 'Hamilton, John Bruce (1901–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hamilton-john-bruce-10403/text18435, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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