Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Peter Bede English (1904–1984)

by Ronald Wood

This article was published:

Peter Bede English (1904-1984), ophthalmologist and army medical officer, was born on 11 March 1904 at Goonengerry, near Lismore, New South Wales, youngest of nine children of James English, a New South Wales-born dairyman, and his wife Catherine Jane, née Buckley, who came from Ireland. In 1908 Peter’s father, lured by the stands of red cedar on the Atherton Tableland, North Queensland, moved the family to Malanda. With his older sons he established a dairy farm and a sawmill. In 1911 he built the Malanda Hotel.

Peter was educated at Malanda State School, Mount Carmel College, Charters Towers, and the University of Sydney (MB, BS, 1927). Back in Queensland, he was a general practitioner, first at Capella and then at Cairns. On 13 May 1929 at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Sydney, he married Mona Elliott, a nurse; they had two daughters and a son. Interested in local politics, he served on the Cairns City Council and the Barron Falls Hydro-Electricity Board (1933-35).

After the death of his wife in 1935, English left his children in the care of his sister Mary and sailed, as a ship’s doctor, to London. He enrolled in an ophthalmology course at Moorfields Eye Hospital and gained the diploma of ophthalmological medicine and surgery (1935), awarded by the Royal colleges of Physicians and Surgeons, London. After travelling on the Continent he returned to Australia and set up an ophthalmology practice in Wickham Terrace, Brisbane. On 6 June 1940 at St Agatha’s Catholic Church, Clayfield, he married Evelyn Twiss (d.1961), a secretary. They were to have three sons and a daughter.

Appointed a captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Militia, on 23 January 1942, English began full-time service as a temporary major in July. He worked in army hospitals in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Queensland. In Brisbane in 1945 he and another ophthalmologist, James McBride White, performed the first recorded corneal graft in Australia. English transferred to the Retired List on 30 April 1946, returning to private practice and work as a consultant at the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital, South Brisbane. In 1945 he had become a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Maintaining his interest in corneal surgery, he established an eye bank (1953) and a glaucoma unit (1956), both among the first of their kind in Australia. He practised medicine until 1984.

English served on the council of the Ophthalmological Society of Australia for many years and was president in 1956. Chairman of the fund-raising appeal for the new Holy Spirit Hospital, Brisbane, he was also president of the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke. He enjoyed fishing, shooting and racing, and published a family history, North to the Timbers (1964). Five ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall, with hazel eyes and a fair complexion, he wore a moustache. He was appointed MBE in 1970. Survived by the three children of his first marriage and the three sons of his second, he died on 3 July 1984 in Brisbane and was buried in Nudgee cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Clinical Problems of War (1952)
  • Malanda (1995)
  • Australian Journal of Ophthalmology, vol 12, no 3, 1984, p 299
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 13 Oct 1984, p 542.

Citation details

Ronald Wood, 'English, Peter Bede (1904–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 July 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]


11 March, 1904
Goonengerry, New South Wales, Australia


3 July, 1984 (aged 80)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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