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Clifford Craig (1896–1986)

by John Morris

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Clifford Craig (1896-1986), surgeon, radiologist, author and collector of antiques, was born on 3 August 1896 at Box Hill, Melbourne, third of five children of Victorian-born parents Walter Joseph Craig, medical practitioner, and his wife Jane, née Hughston. Educated at Scotch College, in 1915 he was captain of the school and of the first XI. On 17 February 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He served in the Middle East in 1916-18 as a medical orderly with the 14th Australian General Hospital and the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance, from which he was detached to the mobile Desert Mounted Corps Operating Unit led by Lieutenant Colonel John Storey. Almost immediately after his discharge on 14 April 1919 in Victoria, he began medical studies at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1924; MD, 1926; MS, 1930), where he won a cricket Blue. He was a resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital (1924-25) and at the (Royal) Children’s Hospital, Melbourne (1925-26).

In 1926 Craig was appointed surgeon-superintendent at the Launceston General Hospital, shortly after the resolution of a damaging eight-year dispute between the State government and the local branch of the British Medical Association, which had banned its members from working in Tasmanian hospitals. Supported by some very capable medical practitioners now free to undertake duties in an honorary capacity, he built up the hospital into an excellent regional medical and teaching facility. He envisioned it as `the spiritual centre of a medical community’. To improve nurse training, in 1927 he published a handbook of hospital technical procedures that served as a text for nurses in all Tasmanian and some mainland hospitals for many years. He was made a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1930. Next year he entered private practice and became an honorary surgeon at the hospital. He was again surgeon-superintendent in 1941-49. In World War II he held the rank of squadron leader as a part-time specialist surgeon with the Royal Australian Air Force.

From 1927 Craig contributed many articles to medical journals, mostly on clinical aspects of medicine. Always an innovator, in the early 1940s he attempted to cure diabetes by transplanting foetal pancreatic tissue, considering that such tissue was less likely to be rejected—a concept well before its time. He was president (1941) of the Tasmanian branch of the BMA and chairman (1949-52) of the State committee of the RACS. In 1951 he was appointed CMG.

Forced to give up surgery in 1951 because of a soap allergy that affected his hands, Craig studied at the University of Melbourne for a diploma in diagnostic radiology (1954). He worked as a radiologist in private practice and at the Launceston hospital until he retired in 1977; he was a member (1961), State chairman (1966-76) and life member (1975) of the (Royal) Australasian College of Radiologists. President (1953-65) of the Medical Council of Tasmania, he was chairman (1951-76) of the Tasmanian Cancer Committee and president (1970-73) of the Australian Cancer Society.

Craig shared a keen interest in early Tasmanian homes and colonial furniture with his wife EDITH NANCE, née Bulley (1905-1978), whom he had married with Anglican rites at All Saints Pro-Cathedral, Bendigo, Victoria, on 14 July 1927. Edith was born on 3 July 1905 at Bendigo, Victoria, youngest of four daughters of Victorian-born parents Charles Edward Bulley, commercial traveller, and his wife Clara Jane, née Collings. In 1960 Mrs Craig, assisted by a lawyer, R. M. Green, established the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania) and arranged for it to purchase its first property, The Hollies (since renamed Franklin House), on the outskirts of Launceston. Mrs Craig was a leading member of the house’s furnishings committee and later that of another trust property, Clarendon House. In collaboration with Graeme Robertson she published Early Houses of Northern Tasmania (1964). She died on 26 June 1978 at Launceston and was cremated.

Clifford was also a founding member (1960) of the Tasmanian branch of the National Trust, and chairman in 1963. He helped to raise community awareness of the beauty and value of the State’s colonial buildings, and to prevent the destruction of many. When the Hobart City Council proposed to allow demolition of early houses in Davey Street to permit construction of a petrol station, he remarked: `no one will ever visit Hobart to see a petrol station’. He edited the trust’s newsletter from 1965 to 1986, apart from a break in the early 1970s. With his wife he had accumulated a collection of colonial furniture that came to be considered one of the best of its kind in Australia. Having amassed an extensive assortment of early Tasmaniana, comprising documents, books, maps and prints, he sold 2350 items at a three-day auction at Launceston in 1975. In 1979 he donated over 450 books on the history of medicine to the Launceston hospital.

At 65 Craig began a new phase of his life as author of eight books including The Engravers of Van Diemen’s Land (1961), The First Hundred Years (1963)—a history of the Launceston hospital—and Early Colonial Furniture in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (1972), co-authored with Kevin Fahy and Graeme Robertson. His last book was published shortly after his death. A member of the Royal Society of Tasmania and of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, he also contributed papers to their proceedings.

Craig maintained a lifelong interest in cricket and enjoyed playing tennis and golf. He was president of the Launceston Rotary Club in 1950. Rather slightly built and a little stooped, he had eyes that were alert and searching, but that twinkled when he was amused. He spoke with certainty and authority. Survived by his daughter and two sons, he died on 5 September 1986 at Launceston and was cremated. In 1992 the Clifford Craig Medical Research Trust was set up to aid research at Launceston hospital. A portrait of him by Audrey Wilson is held by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Jetson, `In Trust for the Nation’ (2000)
  • J. Morris, Dr Clifford Craig (2002)
  • J. Morris, `Pioneer Attempts to Cure Diabetes by Pancreatic Transplantation’, Medical Journal of Australia, 5/19 Dec 1988, p 634
  • Australasian Radiology, vol 31, 1987, p 224
  • Examiner (Launceston), 10 Sept 1986, p 35
  • Craig papers (Tasmania State Archives)
  • Craig collection (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston).

Citation details

John Morris, 'Craig, Clifford (1896–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 May 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

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