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Charles Halliley Kellaway (1889–1952)

by Macfarlane Burnet

This article was published:

Charles Halliley Kellaway (1889-1952), medical scientist, was born on 16 January 1889 in the parsonage attached to St James's Old Cathedral, Melbourne, second of five children and first son of the curate Rev. Alfred Charles Kellaway, from Dorset, England, and his wife Anne Carrick, née Roberts, who was born at Longford, Tasmania. With his elder sister Charles was taught at home by his father up to the age of 11. After a year at Caulfield Grammar School he went with a scholarship to Melbourne Church of England Grammar School (1902-06), crowning a good scholastic record with first-class honours in physics and chemistry in the Senior Public Examination. He did a brilliant medical course at the University of Melbourne, heading each year's honours list and graduating M.B., B.S. (1911), M.D. (1913) and M.S. (1915).

Kellaway's professional career falls into four phases. In the years after his graduation he held the usual hospital appointments and junior teaching posts; he was tutor in physiology at Trinity College, and in the early months of 1915 acting professor of anatomy at the University of Adelaide. In 1915-18 he served in various capacities in the Australian Army Medical Corps in Egypt, France where he was awarded the Military Cross, and England where he was promoted major in September 1918. Then came four years of physiological research in London and in 1923 the call to become director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, where he remained until 1944. The last phase began when, in the midst of his wartime activities, he moved to London to take over from Dr C. R. Wenyon the post of director of scientific policy for the Wellcome Foundation Ltd, which he held until 1952.

Kellaway's induction into the field of experimental physiology began in 1918 after his service in France had been cut short by phosgene poisoning in a German gas attack. Sent to London to convalesce and attached to the Australian Flying Corps, he was seconded to the newly formed Medical Research Committee to work on the problems of oxygen lack in air crew flying in unpressurized machines at high altitude. A close association began with (Sir) Henry Dale which continued to the end of Kellaway's life. The work on anoxia was published in the Journal of Physiology, 1919, and was his first significant contribution to science.

During a brief sojourn in Australia in 1919 he was acting professor of physiology at the University of Adelaide and on 12 December at Trinity College Chapel, Melbourne, married Ethel Eileen Scantlebury, the daughter and sister of medical practitioners. He was then appointed as a Foulerton research student of the Royal Society. His work with Dale, which resulted in two classic papers that firmly established the nature of anaphylaxis, determined the general direction of almost all Kellaway's subsequent research. He continued such work in collaboration with S. J. Cowell in T. R. Elliot's department of clinical medicine at University College Hospital. Here they studied the anti-histamine effect of extracts of the adrenal gland. Kellaway also found opportunities to develop a variety of physiological techniques and to gain the good opinion of his seniors; in 1923 he was unanimously recommended by the institute's London advisers as successor to S. W. Patterson at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

The new director found the still very immature institute a challenge. Its building was shared with the clinical laboratories of the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital; Kellaway himself was the only member of the staff with any research experience and, apart from some very small research grants, the £2800 provided by the Walter and Eliza Hall Trust was its only financial support. Kellaway's first task therefore was to find funds and begin to build up his research staff. From the beginning he envisaged three research groups — in physiology, biochemistry, and microbiology — but the Depression delayed progress and World War II was looming before his plans came to fruition. Nevertheless, by 1939 the institute had an established position in the world of science and a steady stream of significant research was being published. Kellaway was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1929 and was foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938; he received the Walter Burfitt prize and medal from the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1932 and in 1940 became a fellow of the Royal Society of London.

Soon after the outbreak of war, Kellaway's personal research career virtually ended. He had advised the Federal government on several occasions, in particular in 1928 as chairman of the royal commission into the fatalities attending the immunization of children against diphtheria at Bundaberg, Queensland. In 1923-36 he had served as army director of hygiene in Victoria. In 1940-42, as colonel, he was the first director of pathology at Army Headquarters and later became scientific consultant to the medical services of all the Australian armed forces. He was deeply involved in the development of transfusion services and, when war moved to the Pacific theatre, with the physiological problems of tank crews in tropical war zones. As scientific director for the Wellcome Foundation from 1944 his main task was the difficult one, characteristic of the times, of converting the pattern of war-directed research activities to new peacetime aims. This he achieved successfully. Kellaway's scientific work was directed mainly to the study of the effects on certain organs and tissues of the body, of natural poisons of animal origin, and of toxic substances generated in the body itself by injury or immune reaction. His place in the history of physiology will probably be as one of the workers who extended and clarified the fields that Dale had opened up at the borderland of physiology and pharmacology. Kellaway's application of the techniques he had learned in London to analyse the pharmacological actions of Australian snake venoms was probably his most important contribution. The papers on snakes and snakebite in Australia that he published in association with (Sir) Hamilton Fairley were masterly. In modern physiology laboratories he is probably best remembered for his discovery, with E. R. Trethewie, of a 'slow reacting substance' produced by a variety of tissue injury.

Kellaway is also remembered for having a 'genius for friendship'. He was a keen fisherman and in the 1920s a bird-photographer. He died of cancer at St Pancras, London, on 13 December 1952, survived by his wife and three sons.

Select Bibliography

  • F. M. Burnet, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute 1915-1965 (Melb 1971)
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 (1953), p 203
  • Royal Society of London, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 8 (1953), p 503
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Dec 1952
  • Times (London), 16 Dec 1952.

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Citation details

Macfarlane Burnet, 'Kellaway, Charles Halliley (1889–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 19 June 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

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