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Wood, Sir Ian Jeffreys (1903–1986)

by Alan Gregory

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

Sir Ian Jeffreys Wood (1903-1986), physician and medical scientist, was born on 5 February 1903 in East Melbourne, only child of Arthur Jeffreys Wood, medical practitioner, and his wife Blanche Isla, née Outhwaite. Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Ian studied medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1927; MD, 1930), taught by (Sir) Alan Newton, (Sir) Sidney Sewell, Leslie and (Sir) Victor Hurley, and Henry Hume Turnbull. He gained university Blues for cricket and hockey. A resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital from 1927, he was appointed to the (Royal) Children’s Hospital in 1929. In 1932 he travelled to England, and while there worked in London as a house physician at the Hospital for Sick Children at Great Ormond Street, and at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. He became a member of the Royal College of Physicians, London, in 1932 (fellow 1944).

Returning to Australia in 1934, Wood married Edith Mary Cooke on 23 October 1935 at Scots Church, Melbourne. He became an out-patient physician at the Children’s Hospital in 1936, and later at the RMH. After establishing a private practice in Collins Street, he was appointed a research fellow at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. He pioneered blood transfusions in Australia, as well as intravenous infusions of glucose and saline solution. Working with the Australian Red Cross Society he introduced the concept of a ‘blood bank’, and advocated that these be set up in each capital city. He also initiated the blood typing of recruits to the Australian Imperial Force. In 1938 he became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

Having joined the Australian Army Medical Corps, Citizen Military Forces, in 1929, Wood was appointed as a major, AIF, on 13 October 1939. In April 1940 he arrived in the Middle East where he had responsibility for the AIF’s blood storage and transfusion arrangements. During the 6th Division’s campaign in Cryrenaica, Libya (January-March 1941), he was attached to its field ambulances and placed in charge of transfusion and resuscitation. Between August and October he commanded the medical division of the 2/4th Australian General Hospital at Tobruk. He was promoted to temporary (later substantive) lieutenant colonel in September and was appointed MBE (1942) for his work in North Africa and the Middle East. Back in Australia from March 1942, he headed the medical division of the 2/2nd AGH in North Queensland before occupying the same post at the 115th Military Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne. In January 1945 he was promoted to temporary colonel and given command of the 2/7th AGH at Lae, New Guinea. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers as an honorary colonel on 21 September in Melbourne.

Wood resumed private practice and became assistant director of WEHI under (Sir) Frank Macfarlane Burnet. As a clinical physician he was unique in stressing the need for team management of a patient, involving social workers, biochemists and physiotherapists as well as doctors and nurses. In 1946 he became foundation head of the clinical research unit of the WEHI and RMH. Rod Andrew described him as a ‘prime mover in [the Australian] biomedical revolution’ that began in World War II. Wood held several illustrious appointments, including as a Carnegie travelling fellow (1946), Litchfield lecturer at the University of Oxford (1951), and presenter of the (Sir George) Syme memorial lecture in 1971 and the Sir Richard Stawell Oration in 1975. Among his many honours were the (Sir) Neil Hamilton Fairley medal (1974), the distinguished service medal of the Gastroenterological Society of Australia (1983), and an honorary fellowship of the Royal Society of Medicine (1984). Wood was knighted in 1976. Having retired from his joint posts in 1963, he continued in private practice, consulting and research for the next fifteen years. He published an autobiography, Discovery and Healing in Peace and War, in 1984.

Wood’s work with resuscitation and blood transfusions was significant, and Andrew considered his introduction of the blood bank at the WEHI to be one of his greatest achievements. His clinical and research work in gastroenterology was also important, especially his invention of the gastric biopsy tube. A member of the Macfarlane Burnet, Frank Fenner and Gus Nossal team on immunology, he was also associated with Fairley’s ground-breaking research on malaria, involved in the early use of penicillin, a pioneer of research on alcohol problems in Australia and a great encourager of Ian Mackay in developing the concept of autoimmune disease. He published seventy medical and research articles.

Handsome, Wood was 6 ft 1 in. (185 cm) tall with blond hair that began to grey early, blue eyes and a commanding presence. He was universally polite, always interested in what others had to say and renowned for being meticulously punctual. Known colloquially as ‘Uncle Ian’, he was regarded as an excellent mentor; he combined a major clinical role (teaching many students) with pragmatic research at the highest level. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, Sir Ian died on 1 September 1986 at Richmond and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2, 1976-1990 (1994)
  • A. Gregory, The Ever Open Door (1998)
  • B883, item VX242 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Wood papers (Royal Melbourne Hospital Archives and University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Alan Gregory, 'Wood, Sir Ian Jeffreys (1903–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wood-sir-ian-jeffreys-15627/text26827, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 July 2019.

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

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