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Trinca, John Alfred ('Alf' or 'AJT') (1884–1981)

by Ann Westmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

John Alfred (‘Alf’ or ‘AJT’) Trinca (1884-1981), pathologist and surgeon, was born on 26 April 1884 at Warragul, Victoria, second of four children of Italian-born John Andrew (christened Giovanni Andrea) Trinca, sawmill owner and later gentleman investor, and his Victorian-born wife Eliza Maria (‘Lalla’), née Moorman. Alfred decided to study medicine during his education at Hawthorn College and University High School, Melbourne. He graduated from the University of Melbourne (MB, 1907; BS, 1908; MD, 1910) with prizes in forensic medicine and in obstetrics and gynaecology, and undertook resident training at the Melbourne Hospital. In 1910 he held three honorary positions at the hospital, in anaesthesia, pathology (as Beaney scholar) and surgery.

Trinca began a long association with the Alfred Hospital in 1911, when he was appointed part-time clinical pathologist. This new role involved liaising with honorary medical staff. He also worked for several years from 1908 in general practice in Hawthorn. His research on the microscopic anatomy of tumours and other pathological tissues and his advocacy of diagnosis using frozen sections of tissue were well ahead of their time.

The outbreak of World War I presented Trinca with opportunities to practise surgery. From August 1914 he was a civilian surgeon in the hospital ship Grantala, which supported the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force at Rabaul, German New Guinea. He remained on board until March 1915, taking part in the ship’s search of sub-Antarctic waters for the missing Australian government vessel Endeavour. Responding to a request from the British War Office, he was appointed as a temporary lieutenant, Royal Army Medical Corps, on 14 April 1915. He sailed to Britain and served on the Western Front before relinquishing his commission in April 1918 as a temporary captain. His brother, Francis Louis, served in the Australian Army Medical Corps, receiving the Military Cross in 1918. During this time Trinca met his future wife, Adeline Margaret Collier, a teacher who was working with a Voluntary Aid Detachment. They married in her home town of Leicester on 30 November 1916 in the parish church of St Barnabas.

After the war Trinca studied at University College, University of London, and worked as surgical registar and senior demonstrator in anatomy at Middlesex Hospital. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1919. Returning to Melbourne in 1920, he resumed his role as clinical pathologist at the Alfred Hospital, also teaching pathology to University of Melbourne medical students attached to the Alfred. Edgar King lauded him as ‘a magnificent teacher’. Trinca considered King and Rupert Willis the most notable of his many protégés.

In 1921 Trinca was appointed to the Alfred’s surgical staff, later becoming an in-patient surgeon and developing a reputation for his dextrous and gentle approach. Appointed a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1926, he became curator of the Alfred’s Pathology Museum in 1927, and consulting pathologist at the Baker Medical Research Institute in 1930. Trinca caused controversy in 1933 when he challenged the routine management of acute peritonitis with peritoneal lavage and drainage tubes. By the time he retired from the Alfred in 1946 his approach of conserving the peritoneum had been vindicated. Thereafter he lectured dental students until 1963, and worked as a consultant surgical specialist to insurance and repatriation tribunals until 1979.

From his mother, Trinca was said to have inherited a fiery personality and short temper, along with a slight physique, dark brown eyes and a generous head of hair. Like his father he was reserved in family situations, but he could be outspoken with colleagues. When not fishing he spent his spare time writing, producing a novel, some poetry and anti-communist political commentary, and two witty books, Sickness Without Sorrow (1947) and Life With Laughter (1950), written under the pseudonym ‘G.P.’. Predeceased by his wife (d.1980) and survived by their three sons (all of whom followed him into medicine), he died on 5 August 1981 at Hampton, Melbourne, and was buried in Boroondara cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Trinca, Neither Hypocrite Nor Saint (1994)
  • MJA, vol 2, no 23, 1928, p 708, vol 1, no 3, 1982, p 142
  • The Melbourne School of Pathology (1962)
  • A6769, item TRINCA A J, MT1487/1, item TRINCA A J (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann Westmore, 'Trinca, John Alfred ('Alf' or 'AJT') (1884–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trinca-john-alfred-alf-or-ajt-15913/text27114, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 September 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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