Jefferis Turner comes to Brisbane
Doctor Alfred Jefferis Turner had an extremely distinguished career in Queensland. Born in 1861 of missionary parents in Guangzhou, China, he studied medicine at University College. London. He emigrated to Australia in 1888 and the next year became first medical officer of the Children’s Hospital, Brisbane. The first children’s hospital in Brisbane was founded only 10 years earlier in 1878 through the fund raising efforts of women in the community appalled by the high death rate amongst children. In the 1870s, 50% of children died before reaching the age of 5 and conventional wisdom was that sick children were best left in the care of their families and were not admitted to hospital.
Jefferis and Hilda are married
In 1898, Jefferis married Hilda Roehricht, the youngest daughter of Oswald Roehricht and Isabel Hampton. Isabel had died five years earlier at just 37 years of age. Her father Oswald was Chief Draftsman of the Queensland Railways. He never got over the death of his wife. This, combined with overwork, lead to severe depression and tragically he committed suicide in 1890.
Jefferis and Hilda Turner were long term residents of Highgate Hill, living in the delightfully named “Daisybank” on Dauphin Terrace from around 1921 after Jefferis returned from war hospital work in England, until his death in 1949.
The house had been built by Thomas and Charlotte Fraser. Thomas was the Under-Sheriff of the Supreme Court and Charlotte the daughter of John Sankey, who lived nearby (see John Sankey and Sankey Street ). They built the house in 1876 when the only access was a path through the scrub. Nearby Fraser Terrace bears their name.
Jefferis Turner’s significant contributions
An early contribution to local medicine came from Doctor Turner’s decision to travel to Europe in 1894 to discover what progress had been made in the study of diphtheria, which had a mortality rate of 42% due to the lack of effective treatment. In Germany, he found that an antitoxin had been discovered. His introduction of this method of treatment dropped the mortality rate in Brisbane to 9%.
He had a close working relationship with doctor John Lockhart Gibson. One of their important discoveries was the danger of soluble lead in paint. The high incidence of lead poisoning in Queensland children was found to be due to the use of lead paint on verandahs and fences, and in particular from children sucking their fingers after wetting them on railings after rain.
The death rate of Queensland children from lead poisoning was around 200 a year before this discovery. A prolonged battle from 1904 until 1922 was required, with opposition from the Master Painters Association, before a law was introduced to limit the lead content of paint.
Another cooperative effort was the first diagnosis of hookworm in Australia which was previously the unknown cause of anaemia. Dr. Turner prepared a pamphlet describing the disease and how it could be prevented, which was widely distributed.
He took a strong stand on health related social issues. For example he was involved in lobbying for the repeal of the 1868 Act for the Prevention of Contagious Diseases due to its innate discrimination. The Act dealt with men and women in completely different ways. It required the registration and subsequent compulsory examination of women but not of men.
Problems with milk
Turner was passionate about children’s health and was a strong advocate of breast feeding. He also fought for the introduction of safe milk supplies for children .
He was a founder of the Lady Chelmsford Milk Institute that had the aim of reducing infant illness and mortality. Problems included the lack of refrigeration plant at dairies, no chilled railway transport and the reliance on ice for cooling. The ice carried by delivery carts would soon melt in the hot Brisbane summer. Poorer families could not afford an ice-box and ice for home storage.
Dr. Turner was later a strong advocate for the introduction of pasteurised milk.
His efforts were important in the passing of the Infant Life Protection Act (1905). Dr. Turner established the first infant welfare clinic in Queensland in 1909. At the age of 65, he became part time Director of Queensland’s Infant Welfare Service, continuing in this role until his retirement at the age of 76.
Moths and Modernism
In addition to his medical career, Jefferis Turner was a noted amateur entomologist specialising in moths.
He left a collection of over 50,000 moths to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Canberra.
Jefferis Turner was the first president of the Modernist Society which flourished in Brisbane under the spiritual leadership of Douglas Price. I’ve described the events leading to the formation of the Society and its demise in another post, Douglas Price – Tragic Modernist .
Doctor Turner passed away at his Highgate Hill home at the age of 86. Hilda lived until 1965 when she was around 93 years old. The Turners had no children.
Further Reading :
Australian Dictionary of Biography Entry for Doctor Alfred Jefferis Turner
The book “Horsewhip the Doctor – Tales of our Medical Past ” by Ross Patrick contains a chapter from page 136 on Doctor Turner with much interesting detail. It can be read online here.
THEY ALL CALLED HIM “GENTLE ANNIE” (1947, December 30). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved December 11, 2016,
‘Gentle Annie’ museum gift (1949, February 16). The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved December 11, 2016,