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Alwyn Tom Hays Nisbet (1892–1953)

by Audrey Tate

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Alwyn Tom Hays Nisbet (1892-1953), radiologist, was born on 5 February 1892 at Townsville, Queensland, second of five children of Walter Blake Nisbet (1861-1920), medical practitioner, born at Durham, England, and his wife Mildred Janet, née Booth, from Northamptonshire. Walter was a pioneer Queensland radiologist who used X-rays in the South African War; inspired by this, Tom studied medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., 1915; Ch.M., 1916). Commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 March 1916, he was 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall and weighed 136 lbs (61.7 kg). He left for England on 1 May in the Marathon, as captain, 9th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, and began his lifetime involvement in radiology.

On 13 September that year, at the parish church, Durrington, Wiltshire, Nisbet married Eva Buchanan Lambert. He served with the 3rd and 5th Australian General and the 2nd Australian Auxiliary hospitals, and gained a diploma in sanitary science from the University of Cambridge in 1919. Returning to Australia in June, he was discharged in Brisbane on 4 August. Nisbet was acting medical officer of health at Townsville from 1919, then held appointments as honorary senior radiologist at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, the Hospital for Sick Children, the Department of Repatriation and Ipswich Hospital. In 1926 he undertook postgraduate work overseas, and from 1928 was director of the Queensland Cancer Clinic.

In 1929 Nisbet moved to Sydney and into private practice with Leila Keatinge, one of the first Australian female radiologists. In addition, he held honorary positions as both diagnostic and therapeutic radiologist at Royal Prince Alfred, Royal North Shore and Sydney hospitals, and the Department of Repatriation. He published two journal articles on X-ray therapy. On 25 September 1929, now divorced, he married Dorothy Irene McGill at the district registrar's office, Paddington.

Both a visionary and an activist, from the 1920s Nisbet was the 'guiding light' in motivating the radiologists to create an Australasian specialist organization. The Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiologists was formed in 1935; he became its first president, holding this position until 1947. During this time he nurtured the infant association, holding meetings in his consulting rooms and in his home. With an engaging personality and hugely energetic, he then threw himself with the same driving enthusiasm into fulfilling his vision of an autonomous Australasian college, outside the umbrella of the English body. This was achieved in 1949. Ill health prevented Nisbet from becoming the first president of the College of Radiologists (Australia and New Zealand) and internal politics denied him the honour of giving the first Roentgen oration as promised; the annual Nisbet symposium (continuing in 2004 as a lecture) was instituted to commemorate him.

Nisbet had gained his diploma in radiology from the University of Sydney in 1942. In 1950 he was made an honorary fellow of the Faculty of Radiologists (England). A widower, he married Eileen Gladys Stephenson at the district registrar's office, Chatswood, on 27 September 1950. Nisbet died of coronary heart disease on 5 November 1953 at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, Crows Nest, and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, the son and two daughters of his first marriage, and three daughters of his second, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Ryan et al, Australasian Radiology: A History (Syd, 1996)
  • A. Tate, Shadows and Substance (Syd, 1999)
  • Australasian Radiology, 14, no 2, May 1970, p 126, and 25th anniversary issue (The Silver Book), 1982, pp 28 & 38
  • A. T. Nisbet, (manuscript, no date) and H. Ham, Memoirs of a Senior Radiologist, (manuscript, 1991, both held at Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists’ archives, Sydney)
  • service records (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Audrey Tate, 'Nisbet, Alwyn Tom Hays (1892–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1892
Townsville, Queensland, Australia


5 November, 1953 (aged 61)
Crows Nest, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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