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John Bostock (1892–1987)

by Tom O'Brien

This article was published:

John Bostock (1892-1987), psychiatrist, was born on 20 January 1892 at Glasgow, Scotland, son of Ralph Harry Frank Bostock, medical student, and his wife Helene Josephine, née Lambert. Growing up `in a happy family with hard working parents’ in Yorkshire, England, where his father was in general practice, John attended Scarborough College, and was to identify himself always as a Yorkshireman. He studied medicine at the London Hospital Teaching College, University of London (MB, BS, 1914). On 6 August 1914 he was appointed temporary surgeon, Royal Navy; he served at Gallipoli and in the Mediterranean and Atlantic before being demobilised in 1919. Back in London, he trained for a postgraduate diploma in psychological medicine awarded (1920) by the Medico-Psychological Association. On 17 January that year he married in Romania Anne Marie Stefenescu, whom he had met while on active service. They were to have two daughters and a son before being divorced.

Migrating to Australia in 1922, Bostock took up a post in Perth at the Hospital for the Insane, Claremont. Next year he moved to Sydney, and enjoyed a stimulating working environment at Callan Park Mental Hospital before becoming superintendent at Newcastle Mental Hospital in 1926. He wrote sixteen papers describing and classifying the physical and psychiatric illnesses of patients whom he treated in 1922-27. From 1927 he lived in Brisbane, working in private practice until 1953 as a specialist in nervous and mental disorders. He held honorary appointments at Brisbane and Mater Misericordiae Public hospitals, and with the War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunal. He and Dr L. J. Jarvis Nye put both their personal assets and their professional reputations `on the line’ to found (1930) the Brisbane Clinic, Wickham Terrace, a co-operative practice of specialists. In 1935 he was a member of the royal commission whose report damned Sister Elizabeth Kenny’s treatment of infantile paralysis. He voiced conservative social and political views about race and Australia’s `national decline’, and with Nye published Whither Away? (1934) and The Way Out (1939).

In 1940 Bostock was appointed research professor of medical psychology at the University of Queensland. He established a child guidance clinic at the Hospital for Sick Children, Brisbane. In World War II he wrote leaflets for the Australian Army Education Service. He enjoyed lecturing and developed an innovative method of teaching psychology to medical students, using comics and cartoons to illustrate common psychological mechanisms. His major research interests were the history of Australian psychiatry—he wrote The Dawn of Australian Psychiatry (1951)—and the emotional and psychological needs and disorders of children. Enuresis (bedwetting) was a particular concern. Publishing widely, he collaborated with the kindergarten director Edna Hill in The Pre-school Child and Society (1946) and Personality Deviations Occurring in Children of Pre-school Age (1949). He gave many public lectures, talks and broadcasts on mental hygiene, alcoholism, child care and education, and published pamphlets giving advice on healthy living.

Bostock was a founding fellow in 1938 of the Royal Australian College of Physicians and in 1946 of the Australasian Association of Psychiatrists (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists); he served as president of the AAP in 1948. He was president of the Royal Society of Queensland (1943) and of the Crèche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland (1943-44), chairman (1957-68) of the Lady Gowrie Child Centre, president of the Australian-American Association and a supporter of the (Royal) Historical Society of Queensland.

Known as `J. B.’, Bostock was tall and austere, but sociable. He valued the friendship of other medical practitioners; William Forgan Smith was also a close friend. Nevertheless, he could be intensely private and, according to Jarvis Nye’s son John, `hard to get to know, reserved and thoughtful’, but `warm and caring’ with children. Retiring from his university post in 1962, he maintained a wide range of hobbies and pastimes, including fly fishing, boating, lawn bowls, gardening and stamp collecting, all of which, as in his professional life, he pursued with vigour. He had told his patients `the one thing that matters is that you should have a passion for something’. On 1 March 1947 at St Andrew’s Scots Church, Rose Bay, Sydney, he had married with Presbyterian forms Alice Dulcie Trout, a stenographer and sister of (Sir) Leon Trout. Survived by his wife, and the three children from his first marriage, he died on 26 September 1987 at Clayfield, Brisbane, and was cremated with Anglican rites. In 1988 the psychiatry ward at Royal Brisbane Hospital was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. L. Doherty (ed), A Medical School for Queensland (1986)
  • J. H. Pearn, Focus and Innovation (1986)
  • J. H. Tyrer, History of the Brisbane Hospital and Its Affiliates (1993)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 5/19 Dec 1988, p 695
  • Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol 22, 1988, p 116
  • Bostock papers (University of Queensland Library)
  • personal information.

Citation details

Tom O'Brien, 'Bostock, John (1892–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 January, 1892
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


26 September, 1987 (aged 95)
Clayfield, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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