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William Prout Holman (1899–1972)

by Mollie E. Holman

This article was published:

William Prout Holman (1899-1972), radiologist, was born on 16 September 1899 at Mooroopna, Victoria, youngest of four sons of Charles Holman, schoolteacher, and his wife Eliza Gertrude, née Williams, both Victorian born. Educated at the local state school and (on a scholarship) at Scotch College, Melbourne (1913-18), Bill proceeded to Ormond College, University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1923), where he was an enthusiastic member of the dramatic society. After a year as a resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, he was appointed registrar under L. J. Clendinnen. Holman moved to Tasmania in 1925 as radiologist to the leading surgeon (Sir) John Ramsay and practised from rooms in Ramsay's private hospital, St Margaret's, in Frederick Street, Launceston; he was also active in the local dramatic society. On 17 April 1929 he married Mollie Bain at St John's Anglican Church, Launceston.

During the 1930s Holman was responsible for the installation of an advanced deep-therapy machine at the Launceston General Hospital. Keenly interested in the development of new and improved techniques for the delivery of radiotherapy, he played a major role in the formation and administration of the Tasmanian Cancer Committee. A foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, he was aware of the plans of (Sir) Peter MacCallum, professor of pathology at the University of Melbourne, to establish a cancer hospital in that city. From the 1930s, when he had first used radon needles for treating breast cancer, Holman had pioneered the use of ionising radiation for the disease. For the remainder of his life he continued to search for an alternative to surgical mastectomy. His work attracted international interest and he was elected a fellow of the Faculty (later Royal College) of Radiologists, London, in 1939. That year he became president of the Tasmanian branch of the British Medical Association.

The State government decided in 1943 that Tasmania's radiotherapy services should move towards amalgamation with a centralized institution in Victoria. In 1952 the newly formed Cancer Institute Board of Victoria established Peter MacCallum clinics at Launceston and in Hobart, over which Holman was given responsibility. He became assistant medical director (1952) of the board and moved with his family to Melbourne; in 1954 he was promoted to medical director. His longstanding interest in cancer of the breast led to a rewarding collaboration with Dr Graham Godfrey and the Royal Women's Hospital. Holman served as an honorary radiotherapist at the R.W.H., the R.M.H. and the Austin Hospital, and as a consulting radiotherapist at the Launceston General and Royal Hobart hospitals. He retired from the board in September 1966, but continued to work with the institute as a specialist radiotherapist. He was a member of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiologists, and a foundation fellow (1949) and president (1950) of the College of Radiologists of Australasia (later the Royal Australasian College of Radiologists).

Described as a 'powerful force for the good practice of medicine' and as a 'renaissance man', Holman had a great range of interests, including poetry, drama and history. On his death, he left a small folio of love poems to his wife. He was a practising Anglican and a board-member of the Church of England Girl's Grammar School (Broadland House), Launceston; he enjoyed the mountains and lakes of Tasmania, played golf, showed interest in the developing wine industry and belonged to the Launceston Club. Survived by his wife and four daughters, he died on 12 August 1972 at Canterbury, Melbourne, and was cremated. In 1986 the clinics at Launceston and in Hobart were named in his honour. His eldest daughter became professor of physiology at Monash University, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Craig, Launceston General Hospital (Launc, 1963)
  • G. L. McDonald (ed), Roll of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, vol 1, 1938-75 (Syd, 1988)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 Oct 1972, p 966
  • Examiner (Launceston), 19 Aug 1972, 11 Oct 1986
  • private information.

Citation details

Mollie E. Holman, 'Holman, William Prout (1899–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 20 June 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

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