Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Walter Campbell (1868–1937)

by Edward Ford

This article was published:

Alfred Walter Campbell (1868-1937), neurologist, pathologist and research worker, was born on 18 January 1868 at Cunningham Plains, near Murrumburrah, New South Wales, son of David Henry Campbell, pastoralist, and his wife Amelia Margaret, daughter of T. C. Breillat. He was educated at Oaklands, Mittagong, and in 1885 entered the medical school of the University of Edinburgh (M.B., Ch.M., 1889; M.D., 1892); he captained the university cricket and football teams. Interested in the developing mental science, he sought experience in various British institutions, then visited the main clinics and laboratories in Europe. In Vienna he was assistant to Krafft-Ebing. He published his first scientific paper—in German—while he was in Prague.

Returning to Britain in 1892, Campbell gained his doctorate with a thesis on 'Alcoholic neuritis: its clinical features and pathology'. That year he was appointed medical officer and director of pathology at Rainhill County Mental Hospital, near Liverpool. His investigations placed him in the forefront of British neuropathologists, and caused the asylum to become a school of the University College, Liverpool, and a Mecca for overseas visitors. His research combined clinical observations with microscopic studies of rare completeness, and he advanced the knowledge of a wide range of ailments. In 1900-03 he completed an intensive study of the histological structure of the human cerebral cortex which defined the functional areas of the brain. His monograph, Histological Studies on the Localisation of Cerebral Function (Cambridge, 1905), was hailed as a landmark; it was partly illustrated with his own clear drawings.

Campbell returned to Australia in 1905 and next year set up in private practice in Sydney as a specialist in neurology and mental diseases; he became an honorary consultant to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and the Coast (Prince Henry) Hospital. On 30 May 1906 in St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, he married his childhood friend Walterina Jane (Jean) Mackay, daughter of a neighbouring pastoralist.

An honorary captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve from 1909, Campbell enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in November 1914 and embarked for Egypt. As a major he served at the 2nd Australian General Hospital in Cairo and organized the treatment of nerve injuries and of the results of mental stress. He returned to Australia in December 1915 and was appointed to the Military Hospital, Randwick. In 1916 he published in the Medical Journal of Australia 'Remarks on some neuroses and psychoses in war'. Despite his outstanding ability his advice to segregate mental cases was 'very imperfectly implemented'. After the war he became a consultant to the Department of Repatriation.

Though his busy practice restricted research, Campbell continued to publish numerous papers, notably on further work on the brain, poliomyelitis and 'Australian disease', later known as Murray Valley encephalitis. An able linguist, he also published in French, German and Italian. A member of the Royal Society of New South Wales from 1907, he helped to convene the section of neurology and psychiatry of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association in 1924 and was chairman of the section in 1925 and in 1932. Campbell enjoyed golf and knew all names and habits of the birds that found sanctuary in his garden at Rose Bay. Widely read and with a keen sense of humour, he was 'an excellent companion'.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, Campbell died of cancer on 4 November 1937 in his home at Rose Bay and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was 'one of the most scientific, broadminded and able neurological specialists that the country has produced'.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Tilney and H. A. Riley, The Form and Functions of the Central Nervous System (Lond, 1921)
  • F. W. Jones and S. D. Porteus, The Matrix of the Mind (Lond, 1929)
  • J. F. Fulton, Physiology of the Nervous System (Lond, 1938)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vol 3 (Canb, 1943)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 22 Jan 1938, and for publications
  • Lancet (London), 3 Sept 1938.

Citation details

Edward Ford, 'Campbell, Alfred Walter (1868–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 January, 1868
Murrumburrah, New South Wales, Australia


4 November, 1937 (aged 69)
Rose Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.