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Alan Worsley Holmes à Court (1887–1957)

by Ann M. Mitchell

This article was published:

Alan Homes a Court, 1910

Alan Homes a Court, 1910

NSW State Archives

Alan Worsley Holmes à Court (1887-1957), physician, was born on 19 June 1887 in Brisbane, second surviving son of the Honourable Charles George Holmes à Court (fourth son of the 2nd Baron Heytesbury), parliamentary officer, and the second of his four wives Mary West, née Howe. He was educated at Brisbane Grammar School and St Andrew's College, University of Sydney (M.B., 1910; Ch.M., 1911; M.D., 1920), where early studies ran a poor second to his rowing. In 1911-12 he was a resident and later a registrar at Sydney Hospital. In 1913 he began general practice at Manly and on 3 June married a Sydney Hospital nurse Eileen Rouse.

In 1916-17 Holmes à Court served as a captain with the Australian Army Medical Corps in the hospital ship, Karoola. He was then posted to the 2nd Australian General Hospital in France, and promoted major on 28 January 1918. In May he transferred to the 4th Australian Field Ambulance and trained forward resuscitation teams whereby severely wounded patients were revived, emergency surgery performed earlier, and many lives were saved. He was mentioned in dispatches in December 1918 and awarded the French Médaille des Epidémies in January 1919. He qualified M.R.C.P. in London and returned to Australia in August. He was admitted F.R.C.P. in 1930 and remained in the army reserve until 1943.

Holmes à Court returned briefly to his Manly practice. For six months in 1920 he was assistant editor of the Medical Journal of Australia and by 1921 was a consultant physician at Macquarie Street, Sydney. He was a council-member of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association (1925-29 and 1931-35) and president in 1933-34. He was a member of the New South Wales Medical Board (1932-38), honorary physician at the Coast (Prince Henry) Hospital (1920-32) and at the Royal Hospital for Women (1935-46).

At Sydney Hospital he was honorary assistant physician from 1914, physician (1923-47) and finally consulting physician. He helped pioneer blood-transfusion techniques and was the hospital's first tutor in anaesthetics in 1920-21, but waited until 1931 for appointment as lecturer in clinical medicine. On retiring he expressed regret at leaving the clinical school and distaste for hospital politicking, yet his desire for 'peace and harmony' at all costs and his unwillingness to vent open disapproval of anyone or anything often confused those who did not know him well.

To his patients and students Holmes à Court was charming if somewhat austere, always immaculately dressed, learned and kind. To nervous examinees of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians he was 'smiling death'. He had represented the earlier Association of Physicians of Australasia in negotiations leading to the foundation of the college in 1938. As censor from 1938 and censor-in-chief in 1945-50, he was one of its most influential servants—continuously a member of its council and senior standing committees, president in 1950-52 and first chairman of the editorial committee for its journal, Australasian Annals of Medicine. His remarkable memory, reputation as a fine clinician and teacher, and the demands of professional office, combined to put him on the lecturing platform and to publish numerous articles in the Medical Journal of Australia that had practical teaching value but displayed little investigative patience or originality.

Holmes à Court had a retiring disposition and was uninterested in material advancement. In his younger days he had flirted briefly with the New Guard and with Freemasonry. He was a member of the Union and Royal Sydney Golf clubs and his preferred relaxation was with his family, to whom he was the mildest of men, or sailing his yacht Brilliant, fly-fishing, or swimming. He loved Nature and had a special affinity with his dogs who were inconsolable for weeks as he grieved for his son Brian, a Royal Australian Air Force pilot killed whilst training in 1943.

Holmes à Court was well built, moderately tall, blue eyed, thin lipped, high domed and, in maturity, almost completely bald. The posthumous portrait painted by William Dargie and presented to the R.A.C.P. in 1959 is a convincing likeness. A director of the Colonial Mutual Life Assurance Society Ltd since 1942, he collapsed on 16 April 1957 at a board meeting and died of coronary vascular disease soon after admission to Sydney Hospital. He was cremated after a large funeral at St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, attended by the governor Sir John Northcott, to whom he had been medical adviser. He was survived by his wife (d.1971), daughter and son.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918 (Canb, 1940)
  • Faculty of Medicine, University of Sydney, Senior Year Book, 1925-46
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 27 July 1957
  • Sydney Hospital Board and House Committee, minutes, 1910-47
  • New South Wales Medical Board, minutes (7/5153, State Records New South Wales, )
  • Benevolent Society of New South Wales, Annual Report, 1957
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Holmes à Court, Alan Worsley (1887–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Alan Homes a Court, 1910

Alan Homes a Court, 1910

NSW State Archives

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Holmes a Court, Alan Worsley

19 June, 1887
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


16 April, 1957 (aged 69)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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