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Sir John Kempson Maddox (1901–1990)

by Robert A. B. Holland

This article was published:

Sir John Kempson Maddox (1901-1990), physician and cardiologist, was born on 20 September 1901 at St Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand, one of three children of English-born parents Sidney Harold Maddox, importer, and his wife Mabel Adeline, née Kempson.  The family moved to Sydney when Kempson was aged 3, and his secondary education was at North Sydney Boys’ High School.  He studied medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, 1924; Ch.M., 1924; MD, 1931).  A resident medical officer (1924) and anaesthetist (1925) at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, he was a resident at the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in 1926-27.  Maddox proceeded to London, where he became a member of the Royal College of Physicians in 1928.  Back in Sydney, he took up the appointment of honorary assistant physician at Prince Alfred and in 1930 completed his doctoral thesis on renal dwarfism.

While in practice in general medicine Maddox became interested in the emerging specialty of cardiology, helping to found the electrocardiography department at Prince Alfred in 1932.  He also began the rheumatology and diabetic clinics there.  In 1938 he became a foundation fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.  He married Madeleine Marion Caldecott Scott, the sister from the diabetic clinic, on 26 February 1940 at St Stephen’s Church of England, Chatswood.  They had jointly published an article on heredity in diabetes.

Having been active as a surgeon lieutenant, Royal Australian Naval Reserve, from 1934, Maddox began full-time duty when World War II broke out in 1939.  He served in the armed merchant cruiser Westralia (1941-42) and in naval medical facilities ashore in Australia, rising to acting (1945) and substantive (1946) surgeon commander.  Demobilised in December 1945, he resigned from the RANR in 1950 but remained a consultant to the navy until 1964.

In 1946 Maddox travelled to the United States of America on a Carnegie fellowship and studied the latest techniques in cardiology, bringing back a cardiac catheter, possibly Australia’s first.  With his colleagues he helped to increase postgraduate activities at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.  He was elected to the council (president, 1950-51) of the New South Wales branch of the British Medical Association.  A member of the State committee of the RACP in 1954-56, he was an acting censor in 1957.  Maddox had become an honorary physician at Prince Alfred and was elected FRCP (London, 1956).

In 1948 (Sir) Edward Hallstrom had endowed a fellowship in cardiology at Prince Alfred and in 1949 funded the Hallstrom Institute of Cardiology.  Involved in these moves and active in the institute, Maddox joined with colleagues in 1951 to found the Australasian Cardiac Society (from 1957 the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand); he became its second president (1956-58).  He also helped to found the Asian-Pacific Society of Cardiology and was its president (1960-64).  Keen to establish the National Heart Foundation of Australia (1959), Maddox served on its national board, national executive and national medical and scientific advisory committee until 1966, and on the State board until 1971.  He was a consultant physician to several hospitals.

On reaching the statutory retirement age of 60 Maddox became an honorary consulting physician at Prince Alfred.  He was president of the International Society of Cardiology in 1966-70.  Knighted in 1964, he was elected a fellow of the American College of Cardiology (1964) and of the American College of Physicians (1975).  The Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand created the J. Kempson Maddox lectureship in 1974.  He was the first recipient of the National Heart Foundation’s highest award, the Sir John Loewenthal award (1982), and received honours from other countries, including France and Peru.

Maddox wrote many medical papers and a book, An Introduction to 'Avertin' Rectal Anaesthesia (1931).  He later wrote Schlink of Prince Alfred (1978), a de facto history of the hospital for fifty years up to Sir Herbert Schlink’s death in 1962.  In his busy private practice Maddox was well liked by his patients.  He always found time to talk to them, which perhaps contributed to his habit of being late.  He was conservative in his approach to treatment and, despite having encouraged the development of cardiac surgery, tried to avoid it for his patients.  Admiring things French, he delighted in visits to Noumea and delivered papers in Paris in French.  He enjoyed reading, sailing and fishing, and was a member of Royal Sydney Golf Club and the Australian Club.  Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, Sir Kempson died on 27 July 1990 at Darlinghurst and was cremated.  A memorial service was held at St Mark’s Anglican Church, Darling Point.

Select Bibliography

  • J. B. Hickie and K. H. 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
  • National Heart Foundation of Australia, Annual Review, 1990, p 36
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 2 September 1991, p 346
  • A6769, item Maddox J K (National Archives of Australia)
  • Maddox papers (Royal Australasian College of Physicians Archives, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robert A. B. Holland, 'Maddox, Sir John Kempson (1901–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


20 September, 1901
St Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand


27 July, 1990 (aged 88)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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