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Hobbs, William (1822–1890)

by Owen Powell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

William Hobbs (1822-1890), medical practitioner, was born in London, son of James Hobbs and his wife Anne, née Phillips. He was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in London on 15 May 1843. Accompanied by his aged mother, he arrived at Moreton Bay on 1 May 1849 as surgeon of the Chaseley, the second of John Dunmore Lang's migrant ships. After a brief period at Drayton on the Darling Downs, he commenced practice in Brisbane in September. Apart from a few months in 1850 when he relieved as resident surgeon of the Brisbane Hospital on the death of David Ballow, he remained in private practice in Brisbane throughout his professional life. At various times he held appointments on the honorary staffs of the Brisbane Hospital, the Lying-in Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children. He was for many years medical officer to the immigration depot and the gaol. He was health officer for Brisbane in 1854-88 and a member of the Medical Board of Queensland in 1860-88. Professionally he was well regarded and is credited with having administered in 1854 the first chloroform anaesthetic in Brisbane.

Hobbs had many nonprofessional interests and appears to have been active in various local cultural organizations and in the Aborigines' Friends Society. He was prominent in local agitation against Earl Grey's proposed resumption of transportation in the 1850s. Like some other colonial medicos he had an inquiring mind and an interest in experiment. He became a protagonist of the medicinal use of dugong oil, a form of therapy for which he coined the name 'Elaiopathy'; samples of his oil were sent to the Paris Exhibition in 1855 but he failed in an attempt to produce and market it commercially. At his property at Humpybong (Redcliffe) he discovered a spring with alleged anti-anaemic virtues. He grew cotton and is said to have sent samples to the editor of the Economist but again lost money through backing the Cabulture Cotton Co.

In 1861 Hobbs was nominated to the Legislative Council and, in fact if not in name, as minister without portfolio and leader of the government in that chamber was appointed to the Executive Council. Early in 1862 he resigned from the executive but remained a member of the Legislative Council until October 1880. Politically his most fertile period was in the early years; he played a major part in the passage of the Contagious Diseases Prevention Act, 1868, and the first Health Act, 1872. Apart from the medical area, he was especially active in questions of land tenure. He was a member of the Immigration Board, the Board of Education and the Central Board of Health. His later years were clouded by the findings of the 1876 royal commission on lunatic asylums which reported evidence of neglect in the reception house at Petrie Terrace where he was visiting surgeon. This led to an acrimonious debate in the House with his fellow member, Dr Kevin O'Doherty.

In 1853 Hobbs married Anna Louisa, sister of (Sir) Edmund Barton. Aged 67 he died on 8 December 1890 at Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. Of their eight children, two sons predeceased him in accidents. The home which was built for him by Andrew Petrie in 1853 became the temporary residence of Governor Sir George Bowen and still stands as the deanery of St John's Cathedral.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1863 (2nd S), 485, 1864, 1107, 1311, 1875, 2, 1316, 1877, 1, 1109, 1885, 1, 91
  • Government Gazette (Queensland), 25 Feb 1860, 13 Oct 1862
  • F. McCallum, ‘Physician and Health Officer, a Brisbane Pioneer’, Health, 5 (1927)
  • C. G. Austin, ‘Newstead House and Capt. Wickham, R.N.’, Journal (Historical Society of Queensland), vol 3, no 6, Dec 1947, pp 459-64
  • family information.

Citation details

Owen Powell, 'Hobbs, William (1822–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hobbs-william-3773/text5957, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

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