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Murphy, Sir Alexander Paterson (1892–1976)

by G. R. C. McLeod

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Sir Alexander Paterson Murphy (1892-1976), physician and cardiologist, was born on 25 October 1892 at Teneriffe, Brisbane, only child of George Sylvester Murphy, a London-born accountant, and his Queensland-born wife Jessie Watson, née Raff. Alex attended Bowen House Preparatory and Brisbane Grammar schools, and was a champion rifle-shooter and long-distance runner. He entered St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1916; M.D., 1947), and spent a year as a junior resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

On 1 March 1917 Murphy was appointed captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force. One year later he joined the 1st Field Ambulance on the Western Front. From 23 to 26 August 1918, while attached to the 12th Battalion at Péronne, France, he operated under fire, treating wounded Australian and enemy soldiers; although he was hit in the face by shell fragments, he remained at his post for a further twenty-four hours and was awarded the Military Cross. When his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Sydney on 19 June 1919, he resumed his residency at R.P.A.H.

Returning to Brisbane, Murphy began general practice in 1920 and became a visiting physician at Brisbane General Hospital. On 8 October 1921 at St Luke's Anglican Church, Toowoomba, he married Esmé Park Hobson; their only son, one of four children, suffered from Down's syndrome and died at the age of 21. In 1928 Murphy set up as a specialist physician at Ballow Chambers, Wickham Terrace, where he continued to have rooms until his death. At Brisbane General Hospital he was appointed a senior visiting physician in 1938 and cardiologist in 1953.

As a lieutenant colonel in the A.A.M.C. Reserve, Murphy worked as a consultant physician at the 112th Military Hospital, Greenslopes, during World War II. After lecturing (from 1937) in the University of Queensland's medical school, he was foundation professor of medicine in 1946-50. In 1954 he was knighted. He was visiting consultant in cardiology and medicine at the South Brisbane (Princess Alexandra) Hospital from 1957, and continued to teach until he retired from his hospital appointments in 1962.

A foundation member (1938) and president (1952-54) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Murphy was also president (1933) of the Queensland branch of the British Medical Association and vice-president (1969) of the Australian Medical Association (Queensland branch). The Royal College of Physicians, London, elected him a fellow in 1954, as did the A.M.A. in 1964; the University of Tasmania awarded him an honorary D.Sc. (1958) and the University of Queensland conferred on him an honorary M.D. (1967). He served on the Commonwealth government's Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and was patron (1967-76) of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine.

Murphy delivered the presidential address at the seventh session of the Australasian Medical Congress in 1950 and the Bancroft oration in 1954. A director of several companies, including the Brisbane Gas Co. Ltd (1942-71), he belonged to the Queensland, United Service (Brisbane), Union (Sydney) and Royal Queensland Golf clubs. Sir Alexander died on 1 October 1976 at his Hamilton home and was cremated; his wife and three daughters survived him. As a clinician, he was superb; as a teacher, he had a dry and sometimes acerbic wit, and examined his students firmly and fairly.

Select Bibliography

  • Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London (Lond, 1984)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-1990 (Syd, 1994)
  • private information.

Citation details

G. R. C. McLeod, 'Murphy, Sir Alexander Paterson (1892–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murphy-sir-alexander-paterson-11202/text19969, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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