Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Gerald Hayden (1901–1960)

by Bryan Egan

This article was published:

John Gerald Hayden (1901-1960), physician, was born on 3 April 1901 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest of six children of Edward John Hayden, insurance company manager, and his wife Laura, née Higgins, both Victorian born. John was educated at St Patrick's College, Ballarat, where he was dux, and (on a scholarship) at Newman College, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1923; M.D., 1925). Graduating with first-class honours, he became resident medical officer, then registrar, at St Vincent's Hospital, Fitzroy. He studied in the United States of America and in 1927 qualified as a member (fellow 1941) of the Royal College of Physicians, London.

In 1928 Hayden began practice as a consultant physician in Melbourne. His first room was in the rear portion of (Sir) Hugh Devine's establishment at 55 Collins Street. That situation, coupled with Hayden's skill and energy, and aided by Devine's referrals of patients, helped him to acquire a large practice. He was appointed physician to out-patients (1928) and to in-patients (1934) at St Vincent's.

Commissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1925, Hayden was active in the Militia and commanded the 15th Field Ambulance from 1938. He transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 1 July 1940 as lieutenant-colonel and was sent to the Middle East in February 1941 as officer-in-charge of the 2nd/7th Australian General Hospital's medical division. In September 1942 he was promoted colonel and placed in command of the hospital. He led the unit in New Guinea in 1943-44 and was subsequently consulting physician, Directorate of Medical Services. In 1944 he was appointed C.B.E. and mentioned in dispatches. Transferring to the Reserve of Officers on 1 December 1945, he served as an army consulting physician from 1948 to 1960.

The years from 1945 were those of Hayden's greatest influence—at the University of Melbourne where he was Stewart lecturer in medicine in 1949-55, at St Vincent's Hospital, in the Royal Australian College of Physicians and in the wider community. His medical knowledge seemed encyclopaedic, his experience was enormous, and his confident, eloquent and expert teaching of both undergraduates and postgraduates made him for a period the star attraction of the St Vincent's Hospital Clinical School. A wise adviser and committee-man at the hospital, he played an important role in setting up St Vincent's School of Medical Research. Hayden was one of the earliest clinicians in Australia to understand the importance of molecular biology in medical science. After interviewing Pehr Edman in Europe, Hayden had no hesitation in recommending him for appointment as the first John Holt director of the new research school. In 1956 Hayden was appointed to the second chair of medicine at the University of Melbourne, to be held at St Vincent's.

A foundation fellow (1938), executive-member, vice-president (1952-54) and president (1958-60) of the R.A.C.P., Hayden was also a member of the National Heart Foundation, of the scientific committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council, and of the medical advisory committee of the Hospitals and Charities Commission.

While his public and professional career was marked by success and eminence, Hayden bore heavy trials in his private life. At Newman College chapel on 19 December 1929 he had married with Catholic rites Ida Margaret Kelly, a nurse; after suffering poor health, she went missing in 1947 and was subsequently presumed dead. With the support of their adopted daughter, he continued with his work in a way that brought him admiration. On 4 March 1953, again at Newman chapel, he married a divorcee Patricia Constance Bell, née Leihy. The later 1950s were a happier period for him, marked by professional and academic honours, but still dimmed by physical troubles. He underwent a gastrectomy for a penetrating stomach ulcer in 1955; his final illness struck him before he had the time to realize his potential as professor of medicine.

'Jack' Hayden, as he was affectionately known at St Vincent's, was a Catholic of deep religious faith. Survived by his wife and their 1-year-old son, and by his adopted daughter, he died of cancer on 26 December 1960 at St Vincent's and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £29,697. Justus Jorgensen's portrait of Hayden is held by the R.A.C.P.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-75 (Syd, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 15 Apr 1961, p 572
  • Council of School of Medical Research, St Vincent's Hospital (Melbourne), minutes
  • private information.

Citation details

Bryan Egan, 'Hayden, John Gerald (1901–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 12 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


3 April, 1901
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


26 December, 1960 (aged 59)
Melbourne, Victoria, 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.