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John Howell Halliday (1899–1990)

by Robert A. B. Holland

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John Howell Halliday (1899-1990), cardiologist, and Sir George Clifton (1901-1987), ear, nose and throat surgeon, were born on 17 September 1899 and 22 April 1901 at Cooma, New South Wales, eighth and ninth of thirteen children of Edward James Halliday, staff surveyor, and his wife Isabel Wild, née Howell, both born in New South Wales. Despite early fears that John would not survive to adulthood, he attended King’s College, Goulburn, and matriculated in 1916 with first-class honours in mathematics. He studied medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1923), residing at St Andrew’s College. After graduation he was a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1923-24), and at the Coast Hospital (1924-25). He married Muriel Margaret Burkitt on 9 June 1925 at Holy Trinity Church of England, Dubbo, and then practised medicine at Muswellbrook.

In 1931 John Halliday went to Britain, where he studied for two years at the London Hospital, the Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest, Brompton, and the National Hospital for the Relief and Cure of Diseases of the Nervous System, Queen Square. On his return to Australia he was appointed to Lewisham and Callan Park Mental hospitals and in 1934 became an honorary assistant physician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. His interest in electrocardiography began with his early association with Dr Sinclair Gillies and developed in London. In 1938 he became a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, of which he was later councillor (1958-64), vice-president (1964-66) and chairman of the finance committee (1966-71).

On 21 May 1940 Halliday was commissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, and next day was promoted to major. When he embarked for the Middle East in October to join the 2/5th Australian General Hospital, he took a portable electrocardiograph with him and, after his arrival, did cardiac assessment for the British and Australian armies. In 1942 he was repatriated and promoted to lieutenant colonel. He served in Australia until he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 7 May 1944.

Continuing at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Halliday joined (Sir) J. Kempson Maddox and others in establishing (1949) the Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology. He was a medical officer (from 1946) and chief medical officer (1952-64) at the Australian Mutual Provident Society. There he helped to revise the rating system for `substandard lives’, and played a key part in establishing the Life Insurance Medical Research Fund of Australia and New Zealand serving as its first medical director (1953-59). He was a founder (1952) and president (1962-64) of the Australasian Cardiac Society (Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand) and one of the committee (1958) that established the National Heart Foundation of Australia. In 1955 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London. A fine teacher and excellent clinician, he maintained a busy private practice, encouraged the development of younger cardiologists and wrote many papers.

John Halliday was a member of the Union and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. In his younger days he had played good tennis; later he enjoyed golf, bowls and bridge, and was an expert fly fisher. He retired to Moss Vale in the late 1960s but found he was in demand there as a consultant until illness in the mid-1970s caused him to give up practice. With his wife, who had become blind, he later returned to Sydney. Survived by his daughter and two sons, one of whom, Peter, was a surgeon, he died on 27 December 1990 at Elizabeth Bay and was cremated.

George Halliday, also educated at King’s College, Goulburn, took his final year at The King’s School, Parramatta, where he was dux. Winner of the State under-16 lawn tennis singles championship, he was also in the Great Public Schools first XI (cricket) and a State country hockey representative. His application to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, was rejected on the grounds that his body was asymmetrical; the right side was hypertrophied because of his sporting activities. After teaching mathematics at The King’s School for a term, he studied medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, Ch.M., 1925) residing at St Paul’s College.

On 2 June 1927 at St James’s Church of England, Sydney, Halliday married Hester Judith Macansh. A general practitioner at Tamworth for several years, he then went to Edinburgh (FRCS, 1934) to train in otolaryngology. He returned to Sydney and was appointed to the otolaryngology staff at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he served until 1961; he also practised as senior surgeon (1936-47) in that specialty at St George Hospital.

Appointed as a captain in the AAMC, AIF, on 1 July 1940 and promoted to major in November, Halliday joined his brother in the Middle East. In April-May 1941, with the 2/6th AGH, he took part in the disastrous campaigns in Greece and Crete. Back in Australia in 1943, he served in North Queensland before transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 23 August 1943.

In 1946 George Halliday went to New York for further study. He combined his busy private practice with lecturing (1948-60) on diseases of the ear, nose and throat at the University of Sydney, and further study visits abroad. His service (councillor 1945-56; president 1950-51) on the State branch of the British Medical Association included the period in the late 1940s when it was resisting the Federal Labor government’s attempts to nationalise the profession. In 1950 he was the Halliwell prime mover in the formation of the Oto-Laryngological Society of Australia, of which he became president in 1962. An honorary member (1970) of the otology section of the Royal Society of Medicine, London, he was an invited speaker at international congresses. He introduced to Australia the fenestration operation to cure deafness caused by otosclerosis. Knighted in 1967, he was a fellow of the Australasian College of Surgeons and an honorary fellow (1985) of the University of Sydney.

Halliday was governor (1954-77) and honorary secretary (1975-77) of The King’s School council. He remained a keen competition tennis player. A sociable man, he belonged to the Union, Elanora Country and Royal Sydney Golf clubs. Sir George died on 25 July 1987 at his home at Rose Bay and was cremated. His wife and their daughter and two sons, one of whom, George (`Mac’), was also an ear, nose and throat specialist, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. and K. P. Hickie (eds), Cardiology in Australia and New Zealand (1990)
  • J. C. Wiseman and R. J. Mulhearn (eds), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 2 (1994)
  • Archives of Otolaryngology, vol 86, Aug 1967, p 127
  • series B883, items NX34865 and NX70333 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert A. B. Holland, 'Halliday, John Howell (1899–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 April 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]


17 September, 1899
Cooma, New South Wales, Australia


27 December, 1990 (aged 91)
Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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