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Turner, Alfred Jefferis (1861–1947)

by M. John Thearle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Alfred Jefferis Turner (1861-1947), paediatrician and entomologist, was born on 3 October 1861 in Canton, China, eldest of six children of Frederick Storrs Turner, missionary, and his wife Sophia Mary, née Harmer. Educated in England at Amersham Hall and the City of London School, in 1878 he began medical studies at University College, London, graduating with first-class honours (M.B., M.R.C.S., 1884; M.D., 1886).

He arrived in Australia in 1888. Next year Turner became first resident surgeon at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane, and continued as its honorary visiting physician after he entered private practice in 1893. He qualified for the Cambridge Diploma in Public Health in 1901 and from 1904 was visiting medical officer to the Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Diseases.

Despite his natural reserve, Turner was active in the Medical Society of Queensland and in 1904 was president of its successor, the State branch of the British Medical Association. His clinical research and influence helped to reduce the number of children's deaths in Queensland: he introduced the diphtheria anti-toxin (1895) and, with J. L. Gibson, diagnosed hookworm-induced anaemia (1892) and lead poisoning (1897). Moreover, he advocated breast-feeding of infants, health education for expectant and nursing mothers, and the establishment of antenatal clinics. He played a pivotal role in combating the bubonic plague epidemic of 1900 and in making the notification of tuberculosis compulsory in 1904. Following his participation in the campaign for the Infant Life Protection Act (1905), Turner established the first infant welfare clinic in Queensland in 1909. Two years later he took a leading place in pressing for the repeal of the 1868 Act for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases which he thought discriminated against women.

Considering himself obliged to assist the war effort, Turner went to England in 1916 and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps. He returned to Brisbane after the Armistice and became director of the Central Tuberculosis Clinic in 1927 and first (part-time) director of infant welfare from 1926 until he retired from clinical practice in 1937. Under his directorship the service expanded from 14 to 104 infant welfare clinics, while infant mortality in Queensland dropped from 50.7 to 35.6 per thousand births registered, the second lowest rate of all the Australian States.

In his spare time Turner was a keen amateur entomologist who specialized in Lepidoptera and named 450 new genera and four new families. President of the Entomological Society of Queensland (1930) and a member of other learned societies, he bequeathed his collection of over 50,000 moths to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Canberra. He published 240 articles in entomological and medical journals.

Because of his mild manner and love of children, Turner acquired the sobriquet 'Gentle Annie'. An obituarist noted his effacing qualities, his 'slight, almost translucent figure, quiet, small voice', and inability to sound his Rs; yet, through the quaintness, he showed a subtle humour and 'some unusual quality of strength'. Turner died in Brisbane without issue on 29 December 1947 and was cremated. He was survived by his wife, Hilda Constance, née Roehricht, whom he had married on 2 February 1898 in St Nicholas's Anglican Church, Sandgate, Brisbane.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology, 1775-1930 (Syd, 1932)
  • M. J. Thearle, ‘Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner — a Man Before his Time’, in H. Attwood and R. W. Home (eds), Patients, Practitioners, Techniques (Melb, 1985)
  • R. Patrick, A History of Health and Medicine in Queensland, 1824-1960 (Brisb, 1987)
  • Annual Report of the Acting Director of Infant Welfare to 30 June 1938, Parliamentary Papers (Queensland), 1938, 2, p 105
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 17 Apr 1948, p 517
  • Royal Society of Queensland, Proceedings, 60 (1949), p 69, and for Turner's publications
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 30 Dec 1927
  • M. J. Thearle, Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner, 1861-1947. His Contribution to Medicine in Queensland (M.D. thesis, University of Queensland, 1988).

Citation details

M. John Thearle, 'Turner, Alfred Jefferis (1861–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/turner-alfred-jefferis-8883/text15601, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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