Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John William Springthorpe (1855–1933)

by Bryan Egan

This article was published:

John William Springthorpe (1855-1933), physician, was born on 29 August 1855 at Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England, second son of John Springthorpe, mercer, and his wife Hannah, née Newell. Brought in infancy to Balmain, Sydney, he was educated at Fort Street Model School, Sydney Grammar School and, from 1872, at Wesley College, Melbourne. He was a brilliant student at the University of Melbourne, winning several exhibitions and graduating M.A., M.B., B.S. in 1879 and M.D. in 1884. After working as a medical officer at Beechworth Asylum, he went to England and became in 1881 the first Australian graduate admitted to membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

Returning to Melbourne in late 1883, Springthorpe obtained posts as pathologist to the Alfred Hospital and out-patient physician to the Melbourne Hospital. His election as an in-patient physician in 1887 caused a storm in medical circles which provided copy for the newsmongers: he was alleged to have breached professional ethics by using an unsuitable election circular, but was vindicated. In 1887 he also became university lecturer in therapeutics, dietetics and hygiene; his Collins Street practice as a physician flourished; he wrote numerous articles for medical and other journals, and published a two-volume textbook, Therapeutics, Dietetics, and Hygiene (1914).

Springthorpe's energies flowed into many areas. He collected paintings and sculpture; he led in setting up a training and registration system in dentistry, and was the first dean of the faculty; he helped to found the Royal Victorian Trained Nurses Association, becoming its first president in 1901 and working with Felix Meyer in the production of its journal, Una; he was first chairman of the Masseurs' Registration Board; ambulance work, child welfare, mothercraft nurses' education and amateur cycling were other fields for his enthusiasm. He was an active member of the Yorick and Wallaby clubs. In medicine, apart from his private practice, his university and hospital work, Springthorpe was frequently an official in congresses, being president of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association in 1891 and president of the Melbourne Medical Association in 1900.

In 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps and, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, became senior physician to No. 2 Australian General Hospital. He was part of the fierce opposition to (Sir) James Barrett in Egypt, especially concerning the latter's work for the Australian Red Cross Society. Springthorpe returned to Melbourne in 1916, but was posted again to France and then to England where he worked with soldiers suffering from nervous disorders.

Returning home in 1919 with, he considered, little recognition of his war service, he found that his university and hospital appointments had lapsed; he resumed his post of visitor to metropolitan asylums, recommenced private practice and worked for repatriation and the infant welfare movement. His contributions again became prominent in the press. He enlarged his art collection and gave great care to the grounds of his Murrumbeena home. By this stage he was hampered by deafness.

Short, dynamic, an amusing companion, lively in mind and action, Springthorpe was appropriately known as 'Springy'. He was a distinguished physician whose influence extended beyond medicine through his writings and organizing activities. His energy, however, was accompanied by reflection and introspection: he recorded his deeper currents in notebooks which he kept, with interruptions, from 1883. He had married Annie Constance Marie Inglis with Methodist forms at Richmond, Victoria, on 26 January 1887. After her death in childbirth in 1897, he filled his diary with reflections, prayers, poems and pictures relating to her. These entries, with his plans for her mausoleum in the Kew cemetery executed by Bertram Mackennal, showed the extremes of his grief. Having gradually recovered, on 15 March 1916, at Hawthorn, Springthorpe married Daisie Evelyn Johnstone, a nurse and daughter of his housekeeper.

Springthorpe died at Richmond on 22 April 1933 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew, with Methodist forms. He left an estate valued for probate at £8280. His second wife and three of the four children of his first marriage survived him. His youngest son, Guy, became a well-known Melbourne psychiatrist.

Select Bibliography

  • B. K. Rank, Jerry Moore and Some of His Contemporaries (Melb, 1975)
  • Melbourne Hospital Clinical Reports, 4, no 1, June 1933, p 1
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 1 July 1933, p 26
  • Springthorpe diaries (State Library of Victoria).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Bryan Egan, 'Springthorpe, John William (1855–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 21 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


29 August, 1855
Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England


22 April, 1933 (aged 77)
Richmond, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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